Communities of Service
When Episcopalians renew their baptismal vows, they promise to act on God’s behalf in service to those in need. They promise to “serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as our self.” Now whether or not this actually happens is a different story. How do we serve? How do we love our neighbors without judgment, embodying the kind of love that Christ showed us? In The Future Church, service will be made a priority, as we will learn that the future of the Church is dependent on our ability to connect and form partnerships with our surrounding communities. In the future, the ministry of service must focus on improving the intrinsic value of individuals, their community, and the geographical context in which they live.
John the Baptist believed that the spirit of the Gospel could be summed up in this way: “anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none.” (Luke 3:11) We are called to do the work of the Lord by providing grace and love through service to our communities. In the Bible, Jesus often speaks about the poor and he makes it clear that those who decide to follow Him are to engage in service to the sheep who have no shepherd. We are reminded in the Gospels that we are being held accountable to transform the world around us and the people that directly impact our lives. This goes beyond the rich tending to the poor and charity for the sake of giving; all sheep are our responsibility. We believe our work should create change where there are societal woes and that we are to become invested in the sustainability of our God given resources.
The Future Church will practice and engage in service differently. The charity that we have become so accustomed to often leaves people stuck in their circumstances. Instead we must become more directly engaged with the health and vitality of our communities. As so often happens, churches choose who they want to help without any input from those actually receiving the help. The Future Church will seek input directly from the communities they wish to work with, discovering the forefront issues as opposed to thinking they know what the communities want and need. In doing so they will create a partnership with the communities that overtime will become a sustainable and fruitful relationship. (In the Diocese of Texas we have information available here.)
To fulfill the goals of The Future Church, we must first begin to invest in capacity building. And while that sounds like a mouthful, it’s really just a fancy way of saying that we must prioritize our connections with local congregations and partners outside of the church in the community. Local congregations should work with their direct community to create a common vision that addresses and adheres to all needed services.
As we work to invest in capacity building, we must simultaneously consider new ways to accomplish common goals we share with surrounding communities. As local congregations work with neighboring organizations to integrate their ministry, a direct impact is made on the goal of creating partnerships. The local congregation will continue to cultivate their relationships, training and bringing up new leaders that can continue the work and service once it is passed the stage of establishment. The day of one-off short investments in community making are over.
In order for this type of service to have a lasting effect, a level of self-sufficiency must be put into place. This means that service ministry is successfully being organized on its own, that conversations are fruitful and institute new goals, and that relationships are long standing and established. It must be a true collaboration between church, community, and clients.
It is important to remember that to be in the ministry of service is not to be in the ministry of redistribution, but to be of the mindset of building relationships. The exchanges that we make are not to be monetary alone but are to be exchanges of stories. The church is called to go out and proclaim the good news in more ways than just words. We are called to serve the mission field that is in our own backyard by getting out of the pew, introducing ourselves to our neighbors and engaging in conversations that lead to planning and strategizing. We have the chance to be our neighbor’s best partner, because as the church we recognize their struggles as Christ’s own.