Friday, March 26, 2010
A church is both a human and a divine institution. Because of its human element, there will always be sin among its people, including its leadership. As the famous saying goes, if you find a perfect church, join it, but know that the minute you yourself walk in the door, it will cease to be perfect any longer. It is hopelessly unrealistic to expect that the clergy of any church will always be free from sin. What matters is how those in authority deal with that sin once they become aware of it. The Catholic scandal is not really over priests molesting children, but over bishops who became aware of it refusing to deal effectively and justly with the sins and crimes.
When I joined the OCA, it was embroiled in a very serious scandal at its summit. The then-Metropolitan, one Herman, stood accused of fraud and corruption, possibly criminal. As I understand it, the scandal was primarily financial, but it was a messy one indeed. There had been longstanding attempts by concerned laity and priests to compel the Holy Synod to deal forthrightly with this cancer growing in the church, but they kept kicking the problem down the field. Whether out of weakness, naivete, loss of nerve, or whatever, the Synod of Bishops, who had the authority to act, did not. Meanwhile, the laity and some prominent voices in the clergy grew ever angrier.
Note well: they did not want to change church doctrine. They wanted rather the Metropolitan to live by church doctrine, which included not committing fraud, and involving the church in potentially criminal activity (btw, the OCA just released the executive summary of its own investigation into Herman’s corruption). They kept up the pressure in a direct way. The church really was coming apart over all this, and over the inexplicable paralysis of the Holy Synod in the face of Herman’s behavior. And then, at an anxious All-American council of bishops, priest and laity called to elect a new Metropolitan, the newly ordained Bishop Jonah was told he had to address the assembly. He had three minutes to prepare.
If you go to this item on my old Crunchy Con blog, you can find your way to an audio link of the speech Jonah gave that fateful night. I remember standing in my kitchen in Dallas listening to it. Jonah, who had only recently left the monastery of which he was abbot, spoke with a gentle but firm voice, but he said things that that landed like thunderclaps. He said the two previous Metropolitans were “corrupt,” and had “raped the church.” He said that the OCA had been without leadership for 30 years. He said that had to end, and it was going to end. He said that if the church is only about beautiful liturgy, nobody should care about it. And then he said:
“Authority is responsibility. Authority is accountability. It’s not power.”
A friend of mine in the audience said as he spoke, you could feel the atmosphere in the room changing. Suddenly, people had hope, and could see the way clear. Shortly thereafter, his brother bishops elected him the next Metropolitan.
He has had a very, very difficult time trying to clean up the filthy messes his predecessors left. But his view of the primate as a servant of Christ and his people, and not as an enabler of episcopal power exercised for its own sake, and in service to lavish episcopal lifestyles, was not only the correct one, but had the power to renew a church in despair over decadence among its bishops. Jonah spoke the truth — and it changed everything. But if his were only words, and had not been accompanied by the Synod, under fire from the laity and the lower clergy, forcing Herman to resign, they would likely have made people cynical.
Words and deeds. Humility. Authority inseparable from accountability. That’s what a true servant-leader of mine or any church should be about. With great power comes great responsibility.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Thursday, March 11, 2010
by Parker J. Palmer
Dr. Palmer is dean of studies at Pendle Hill, a Quaker living-learning community near Philadelphia. This article appeared in the Christian Century March 16, 1977, p. 252. Copyright by the Christian Century Foundation and used by permission. Current articles and subscription information can be found at www.christiancentury.org. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.
“We expect a theophany of which we know nothing but the place, wrote Martin Buber, “and the place is called community.” Surely his words in Between Man and Man are prophetic. God comes to us in the midst of human need, and the most critical needs of our time demand community in response. Today the thoughtful citizen might well ask: How can I participate in a fairer distribution of resources unless I live in a community which makes it possible to consume less? How can I learn accountability unless I live in a community where my acts and their consequences are visible to all? How can I learn to share power unless I live in a community where hierarchy is unnatural? How can I take the risks which right action demands unless I belong to a community which gives support?
In contrast to the difficulties raised by such hard questions as these, the popular image of community is distressingly pastoral and sentimental. White middle-class folk especially value community for the personal nurture it promises us, while we ignore its challenge of political and economic justice. We speak of “life together” in romantic terms which bear little resemblance to the difficult discipline of a common life. But the problems of our age will yield neither to personalism nor to romance. If the idea of community is to speak to our condition, we must change the terms of the discussion. And the church must play a central role in setting these new terms. For if the church would search its faith and history it would relearn those truths about community which we most need to hear. We would remember that God calls us to live in community not for ourselves but for others. We would recall that there are true communities and false ones -- and that God will know the difference even if we do not. We would learn again that true community leads inevitably to politics, to confronting the powers arrayed against the human interest. Although the contemporary church is a main source of sentimentalism about community, our history will remind us that community is no flourishing utopian garden but a place of promise and discipline where God prepares parched earth for the planting of the kingdom.
The Political Role of Community
Much current enthusiasm for community comes from our longing to cure loneliness. But when we define community simply in these terms, we not only fail to see community whole; we also fail to grasp the vital connection between personal problems and political facts.
For loneliness is not just a personal problem; it has political causes and consequences. We are lonely because a mass society keeps us from engaging one another on matters of common destiny. And loneliness makes us prey to a thousand varieties of political manipulation. Our loneliness renders us not only pathetic but politically dangerous. If we could understand that fact, we might create communities which contribute to political as well as personal health.
Political scientists have long known that community in all its forms can play a key role in the distribution of power. Families, neighborhoods, work teams, church and other voluntary associations mediate between the lone individual and the power of the state. They provide the person with a human buffer zone so that he or she does not stand alone against the state’s demands. They amplify the individual’s small voice so that it can be heard by a state which can turn deaf when it does not want to listen. In such communities most of us gain whatever skill we have in negotiating our interests with those of the group.
If these communities decline in number or in quality, the condition known as “mass society” sets in. Mass society is characterized not simply by size but by the fact that individuals in it do not have relations to one another which are free of state interference or control. In mass society the person stands alone without a network of associations to protect personal meaning, to enlarge personal power, or to learn the habits of democracy. The loneliness of men and women in such a society is a measure of their political impotence; and it is a short step from mass society to a totalitarian one.
As we seek relief from our loneliness, we must learn that personal health depends on our capacity to be concerned about more than ourselves. The ultimate therapy is to identify our own pain with the pain of others, and then band together to resist the conditions which create our common malady. Health ultimately requires the outgoing act of building communities which will empower us to guard and nourish our humanity.
True Community and False
Not all communities are capable of affirming life, so we must learn to tell true community from false. Selma, Cicero, South Boston: these were all communities, but false ones. As we learn the difference we will move even further from sentimentality about the common life.
The most notable example of false community is the very totalitarianism to which the decline of true community leads. In the midst of mass society people yearn to identify with something larger than themselves, something that will redeem their lives from insignificance. That hunger runs so deep that even the appearance of community will feed it, and totalitarianism always presents itself as food for the masses. What was Nazi Germany except a demonic form of “life together”? What is nationalism or racism except the idea of community run amok?
False forms of common life differ from true forms> in many ways. False community, for example, tends to be manipulated by the state, while true community is independent of government power. In false communities the group is always superior to the individual, while in true communities both individual and group have a claim on truth. False communities tend to be homogeneous, exclusive and divisive, while true communities tend to unite people across socially fixed lines.
But there is a theological way of making the distinction that brings us quickly to the heart of the matter: false communities are idolatrous. They take some finite attribute like race or religion or political ideology and elevate it to ultimacy. They confuse their own power with the power of God, and eventually try to use that power to decide questions of life and death. False communities are ultimately demonic, which is not to say that true communities are divine, for both retain their human character. But true communities will take the form of covenant; they will experience both the mercy and the judgment of God.
Community is finally a religious phenomenon. There is nothing capable of holding together a group of willful, broken human beings except some transcendent power. What that power is, and what it demands of those who rely upon it -- these determine the quality of a community’s life.
Any effort to define true community will require the destruction of certain romantic myths common in contemporary thought -- myths which have replaced the reality of community. There is first the myth that community is a creature comfort which can be added to a life full of other luxuries. For the affluent, community has become another consumer item: you can buy it in weekend chunks at human potential centers, or you and your friends can have it by purchasing a stretch of rural property. But community is one of those strange things which will evade you if you aim directly at it. Instead, community is a by-product of commitment and struggle. It comes when we step forward to right some wrong, to heal some hurt, to give some service. Then we discover each other as allies in resisting the diminishments of life. It is no accident that the most impressive sense of community is found among people in the midst of such joyful travail: among minority groups seeking identity and justice, among women seeking liberation into fully humane roles, among all who have said No to tyranny with the concrete affirmation of their lives.
Another myth tells us that community equals utopia, that in easy access to one another and the comfortably supportive relationships which will result, we will quickly find ourselves brothers and sisters again. But community is not like this; it is more like a crucible or a refiner’s fire. Community means the collision of egos, and while there is the pain of not getting our way, there is the promise of finding the Way.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew this situation very well:
Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a dream wish. . . . God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves. . . . God is not a God of the emotions but the God of truth. . . . He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial [Life Together (Harper, 1954), pp. 26-27].
The great danger in our utopian dreams of community is that they lead us to want association with people just like ourselves. Here we confront the third myth of community -- that it will be an extension and expansion of our own egos, a confirmation of our own partial view of reality. But in true community we do not choose our companions. Instead, they are given to us by grace. In fact, true community might be defined as that place where the person we least want to live with always lives!
If we live this way we can avoid the trap that Richard Sennett in The Uses of Disorder (Random House, 1970) has called “the purified community.” Here, as in the typical suburb, one is surrounded by likeness to the extent that challenge is unlikely and growth impossible. In true community there will be enough diversity and conflict to shake loose our need to make the world in our own image. True community will lead us to risk the prayer that God’s will, not our own, be done.
In examining each of these myths about community we are reminded again that true community is a spiritual reality which lies beyond psychology and sociology. Community is a by-product of active love. Community can break our minds and our egos open to the experience of a God who cannot be contained. Community will constantly remind us that our grip on truth is fragile and incomplete, that we need many ears to hear, the fullness of God’s word. And the disappointments of community life can be transformed by our discovery that the- only dependable power for life lies beyond all human structures and relationships.
The Risk of Seeking Community
The hard facts which lie behind these wish-dreams of the common life help explain why American rhetoric about community has always outdistanced commitment to it. For despite our dreams, Americans operate on the assumption that the possibility of true community has passed and that we had better learn to stand on our own two feet.
Such is the thesis of Philip Rieff’s The Triumph of the Therapeutic (Harper & Row, 1968). Rieff argues that community itself was once the vehicle by which individuals maintained or regained psychic health. But as community began to wither under the impact of industrialism and urbanism, a new mode of therapy emerged (notably Freudian) whose aim was to make the individual strong, autonomous, less dependent on others. Behind this therapy lies the assumption that seeking to integrate our lives through community is, in the modern world, a foolish risk.
The same assumption and strategy can be found in our systems of education. Schools, which once came from and created community, now teach students that they have to make it on their own and at the expense of others. Education is essentially competitive, not cooperative, as illustrated by the common practice of grading on a curve, or the fact that students getting together to cooperate on their work are said to be “cheating” -- so highly are the communal virtues regarded in our schools. But what else should we expect from an educational system whose primary social function is to monitor competition over the scarce resources of wealth and power? If we did not teach young people to compete (the argument goes), we would not prepare them for the “real world.”
The assumption that community is gone can also be found in much that passes for the “new spirituality” these days. The community called church having disappointed us, the religiously obsessed in the ‘70s turn to the glory of the self: its nurture, its growth, its destiny. In quarters where the self appears to be taken as the true referent of the word “God,” “spiritual development” consists largely in “getting in touch with one’s self.” Lost is the confrontation between the self and the living God who comes to us in the history of human communities.
The assumption that it is risky to count on community must be credited with utter realism; community in any form is hard to find and even harder to create. But C. Wright Mills was correct when he called such assumptions “crackpot realism,” for when we act on them we help guarantee that the future will contain only more of the same. Such a future we cannot survive. Every soul shaped by the “go it alone” strategy in therapy, education or religion is a soul lost to the vital task of reconstructing a common life and is a danger to us all. We must replace such short-run realism with the long-term truth. We must cultivate in ourselves and each other the courage to risk community despite all the evidence to the contrary. The alternative is the war of all against all.
Models of Community
The communal movement of the past ten years has contained much cultural arrogance in its assumption that the small intentional community, withdrawn from the larger society, is the only worthy form of common life. Clearly the emergence of such communes is important to us; they do provide models, and they serve as schools for less intensive forms of community life. But they are out of reach for many people. We need to help each other build community where we are rather than encouraging dreams which turn to despair over a community that will never be for us,
For some people the community to build is the extended family. If we are drawn to do so, however, we must weigh our own aspirations against the economic pressures which have torn the family apart for three generations. On a large scale Americans have readily weakened family ties in favor of the mobility necessary for personal advancement and economic success. We will rebuild community in the family only if the lure of achievement can take second place to the cultivation of our roots. (And this may be the right moment in history to reconsider our commitments, as we begin to see that the economic escalator will not go up forever.)
For some of us the place for building community is in our neighborhoods, which tend to be held together more by mortgages and zoning laws than by the religious understanding of the word “neighbor.” But again, we must test our motives. Don’t we want to protect some private space in our busy lives, to stay loose of entanglements with those who live next door, to be free to move without breaking bonds when job advancement calls us elsewhere? We will be able to place the neighborly ethic above our precious privatism only if we have a larger commitment to public health, to the commonweal.
For others among us the community to build is in the places where we work or go to school, for these have become the major arenas of alienation for many Americans. In them we are pitted against one another in hierarchy and competition so that something called “higher performance” can be achieved. But when we destroy the community of work, we get unethical products and degrading services. When we destroy the community of scholars, cruel teaching and learning are the result. We will build community in these places only if we see that performance at the expense of community is no achievement at all.
Community and the Church
Finally, there may be those among us who are called to build community in our churches. There is irony in that suggestion since the very idea of church is the idea of community, and if we have any model of true community it is in the biblical vision of what the church should be.
So the church falls far short of God’s intent. And it fails to conform to our fantasies of what a community should be. But if we could drop those fantasies, as Bonhoeffer advises us to do, we might find it easier to know God’s will for the church. More than any other major institution in our society, the church still contains the potential for life together. The symbols of community are there; the tradition of community stands behind us; and sometimes the leadership for community is also present.
Most important, the church contains a more typical cross-section of people than any institution around, a human diversity which is held together in theory by commitment to a transcendent truth. In practice the church usually tries to suppress the diversity it contains, and when the suppression fails, fragmentation is the result. But the church might yet learn to deal with its secondary differences in the context of its ultimate unity. If so, the church could become the most compelling model of community in American culture.
That will not happen until we reconceive the task of theology. Theology should be no more and no less than constant reflection upon the human experience within the community of faith -- without fantasies. Theology should face the disillusionments of community squarely, while continually reminding us that God calls us to live life together. And theology should help us cultivate the courage to risk community in that place between the difficult facts and the joyful hope. This will be no simple task, for theology has largely divorced itself from community; it is shaped more by academic norms than by the experience of the church. Shall the specialization of our institutions go so far that congregations will live the religious experience while seminaries will think about it? If so, then neither the living nor the thinking can bear fruit since one is lifeless without the other.
The difficulty of the questions will not discourage those who truly seek life together. In community one learns that the problems we pose for one another are not obstacles blocking our progress but ways of refining our understandings, and if we can embrace the problems (and each other) then the possibilities appear. That is so because we know that as we turn to one another we turn to God. And as we turn, God’s promise of life in communion will be fulfilled.
by Gilbert R. Rendle, Jr.
Gilbert R. Rendle, Jr., is pastor of Central United Methodist Church, Reading, Pennsylvania. This article appeared in the Christian Century May 2, 1984, p. 464. Copyright by the Christian Century Foundation and used by permission. Current articles and subscription information can be found at www.christiancentury.org. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.
Running a soup kitchen and a food pantry has turned out to be a pretty tough job -- for surprising reasons. Donations of food and money are sufficient. There is a core group of volunteers, each of whom gives ten to 20 hours every week to keep things running. They are backed up by 150 volunteers who cook the soup, clean the kitchen, buy the foodstuffs, and tend to a thousand other jobs. And the 150 to 300 people who come to us for food on any given day are great. They are, for the most part, polite and gracious. We laugh with them, cry with them, sometimes argue, sometimes yell with them. So, all things considered, the daily operations run pretty smoothly.
What makes running a soup kitchen and food pantry such a tough job is that so many others want us to do it differently. Some of our sister churches want us to “save their souls before we warm their bellies.” Some of our contributors want us to help the hungry, but to “keep them in their place” while we do it. A local state legislator wants us to screen people according to income and possessions before we feed them. And the local neighborhood historic district committee wants us simply to close down or move our operation out of the neighborhood because its members don’t like the way we attract “those people” to our church building; it’s bad for property values.
All in all, one of the hardest parts of running a food program is trying to remember who we are: a local church in an urban setting that has extended its active ministry to address the issue of hunger as it manifests itself on the streets of our own city. What posture are we going to assume in our relationship with the hungry? Experience over the past two years has taught us that different people (and different institutions) choose different postures from which they offer help.
As a matter of fact, one of the gifts and challenges the food ministry has given us is the opportunity to learn about the various helping postures that institutions adopt toward groups of people with substantial needs. We have learned the differences between “welfare” “charity” and “ministry.” We have come to understand some of these postures more clearly, to fight openly against others, and to struggle to achieve the one we cherish most. Perhaps a description of these positions would help in explaining our struggle.
Welfare: This is the institutionalized stance that many community agencies and helping groups take toward poor people in our society. It is backed by local, state and federal financial support and a bureaucratic organization. Welfare is clearly a major element in the helping relationships in our nation. It has a history that includes governmental participation under the New Deal and the Great Society. That history also includes substantial religious and secular participation by the local community through United Way and local crisis and support centers.
But there is an underlying factor in the posture characterizing welfare: the question of eligibility. The essential question asked from the posture of welfare is: “Who deserves to be helped?” Clearly, this question is asked because the helping agency needs and wants to be equitable. Nonetheless, the person turning to the agency or institution for help discovers that if one doesn’t meet the eligibility requirement, one doesn’t get helped. Working along with our local food bank, an outgrowth of the national Second Harvest net-work, we have been given recommendations (not requirements) that recipients of our food ministry have incomes under 125 per cent of national poverty guidelines ($6,075 for a family of one or $8,175 for a family of two. etc.) and that we inquire about any government assistance they might be receiving before we offer help.
We understand the need for such questions and can support the effort to be just and equitable. Limited resources in the face of growing local and national need for help require that ways be found to use resources to their best advantage; this is a matter of stewardship, a fundamental Christian principle. But in our own situation we fight quietly against two basic assumptions underlying the welfare system. The first is that someone other than the recipient can always determine that person’s need. At times others can perceive our real needs better than we can. But the fallacy of the assumption at the heart of welfare is that this determination can be made statistically for all people and defined in eligibility guidelines: “If you don’t have a need defined by our guidelines, you don’t have a need.”
Our food ministry experience has turned up many exceptions to that rule. For example, one man who eats at our soup kitchen sleeps outside under a local bridge for protection. The unemployment check he receives pays for a tiny apartment for his wife and children. But his marriage is failing and he can no longer live in harmony with his wife; however, he cannot provide for both himself and his family. According to the guidelines, he receives his fair share. But a man who sleeps under a bridge in winter without wanting to does have a need.
The second assumption we fight a against is that the institution and the workers who provide welfare are somehow “better than” the people coming for assistance. Accompanying this attitude is a technological approach analogous to the nation’s pervasive medical model. Like the cardiologist who treats the patient’s heart without ever listening to the patient’s concerns about relationships, work problems or diet frustrations; like the orthopedic surgeon who sets broken bones but never hears about the patient’s need for attention from family and friends (making a broken hip a “valuable” possession); so the posture of welfare offers prescribed help without paying attention to the underlying human need. How else can we explain “emergency assistance checks” that take six to eight weeks to reach recipients? How else do we explain FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) funds that can be poured into a community for a 16-week period, and then withdrawn -- as if the need had been satisfied and the help were no longer needed?
Charity: It is with this concept that we have our largest quarrel, for charity, unlike welfare, belongs to us. It is part of our Judeo-Christian history and tradition. Charity is hard to fight because it looks a lot like ministry (which will be described later). But charity has become distasteful to us because its sole foundation seems to be the personal (not institutional or national) assumption, “I am so much better than you that I will help you, even though you don’t deserve it.”
Charity is much more subtle than welfare because it often does help people according to their needs instead of according to prescribed guidelines. But the people helped are never included in the helper’s life, values or understanding. For example, a few volunteers in our soup kitchen work hard to get the soup ready, but tell racist jokes in the presence of a black volunteer who also eats his meals there. A few helpers in our kitchen make the classist assumption that cleaning the pots and wiping up spills on the floor are jobs for the kitchen’s clients who assist with the program, not for the church or community volunteers, who are “above” that kind of labor. The message, over and over, is that by virtue of race, class or status, the helper is better than and apart from the one being helped.
The posture of charity is the hardest for us to deal with, because it excludes awareness that we need the people whom we are trying to help. It considers only their need for us and assumes that although we participate in their salvation, they have neither the resources nor the abilities to participate in ours. For these reasons we must oppose charity forthrightly because it is for our own salvation that we are fighting. Charity is ultimately hardest on the helper, since it permits a false sense of power and independence and so undercuts our awareness of our dependence on God and interdependence with others in the gift of life.
Ministry: In our own church life and involvement we struggle to assume a posture of ministry. We acknowledge that we have come to this posture partially in reaction to the aspects of welfare and charity that most disturb us. We seek a helping relationship instructed by faith and informed by experience.
Ministry establishes no eligibility requirements for being helped. The posture of ministry does not allow room for numerical or statistical judgments of a person’s needs. Insofar as possible, eligibility is mutually determined -- by what we have to offer and what others feel they need. It becomes an issue of responsible “sharing.” People engaged in ministry run the risk of being “taken” or “used” by some who do not need what we offer but who take it nonetheless. We live with examples of this problem, but we continue to put the burden of eligibility on those who come to us. Our willingness to run this risk has kept our programs open to some people who might not meet an eligibility requirement but who come to our church because of personal needs. Eddie, for example, used the soup kitchen to get through a debilitating emotional depression-connected with a job loss; and Hill, though financially stable, is so socially limited that his personal contacts are only with people who share our lunchroom with him.
We try to address the differences we see between helpers and those being helped. without drawing the quick conclusion that the helper is somehow “better.” As we watched people’s hunger needs met by a bowl of soup or a bag of groceries, we have also watched helpers’ needs for self-understanding and self-acceptance met as they learn to live and work with people whose lives differ from their own. It has been a stroke of God’s grace to experience how nervous, self-conscious middle-class people whose identity, happiness and self-worth are tied to job, possessions and community status can be moved by people who continue to be happy and have feelings of worth -- yet have no job, possessions or status. We have come to understand that ministry is the paradox of the gospel: the first shall be last, and the last first. But contained in that paradox is the new awareness that first and last are in fact interdependently connected in a way that often makes it hard to distinguish who is first, who is last and why.
Ministry operates not only in relation to the human needs it seeks to satisfy, but also in relation to the promises and values of one’s own religious faith. According to the Bible, sometimes when one encounters the “stranger” one is, in fact, encountering God. Abraham welcomed passing strangers into his tent and was confronted by God. The two men who walked from Jerusalem to Emmaus, talking with a stranger, discovered to their surprise that their companion was the risen Christ. The parable of the last judgment in Matthew 25 tells us that when we have fed, clothed, visited and cared for the strangers in our midst we have done these things for God.
Ministry is the effort to grow past, to evolve beyond, the limitations of welfare and the indifference of charity. It recognizes that our own relationship with God is not different from our relationship with the people of our own world who may seem most unlike us. It is here that the notion of “hospitality” offered by Henri Nouwen in his book Reaching Out most applies. For ministry is possible when we are able to convert our hostilities (our racism, classism, sexism, ageism) to hospitality which will allow us to convert our enemies (those most unlike us) into our guests (those valued for their differences). Ministry discovers that in seeking to help others who become our guests, we paradoxically experience God’s grace in our own lives.
Is ministry the only posture the religious person should assume in helping others? Clearly, our answer must be No. The welfare model is necessary in American society because it is so difficult to effect an equitable distribution of our large portion of the earth’s resources. Major inequities between groups of people continue to necessitate a large-scale effort to gather resources from some and distribute them to others. Similarly, the posture of charity, as limited and as seductive as it is, has some value. It does permit people to participate directly through acts and indirectly through monetary gifts, in an effort to alleviate the injustice that is part of our world. And it invites people to share from a perspective of faith and from a desire to address need.
But above all, the struggle we are experiencing in our center-city church, its soup kitchen and pantry program is a struggle to recognize and defend the legitimacy of the posture of ministry. We are struggling to maintain a posture of ministry, while understanding stewardship as a process of gathering foodstuffs from a complex network of sources, and of making them available in a hospitable way to people who need them. We struggle to maintain an attitude that invites the stranger to be our guest; in this process we can discover our own relationship with God and the paradoxical truths about ourselves that God would have us know.
by Robert Bachelder
Mr. Bachelder, who has worked in banking, in 1987 was minister of Worcester City Missionary Society (United Church of Christ) in Worcester, Massachusetts. This article appeared in The Christian Century, August 2-9, 2000, pp. 802-804. Copyright by The Christian Century Foundation; used by permission. Current articles and subscription information can be found at www.christiancentury.org. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.
According to articles in the New Yorker and Business Week, churches are leading an urban renaissance. The media have celebrated the churches’ role in prompting economic development in distressed areas as well as the social services that churches offer to low-income residents. Presidential candidates are supporting measures to increase charitable giving so that churches and other nonprofit organizations can enlarge their role.
But there are serious problems with this scenario. It is true that the resurgence of the voluntary sector’s involvement has unleashed great energy and fostered some promising strategies for meeting social problems. But the prospects for sustained success are limited. We should remember that it was the limited effectiveness of church workers in the settlement house movement and other voluntary, local efforts in the 1880s that led to the large-scale government social programs of the 20th century.
As impressive as the churches’ work is, its long-term success depends on commitments and policies at the state and national levels. While religious leaders have the attention of politicians and the media, they must advance a comprehensive agenda for urban change informed by the principle of subsidiarity. Subsidiarity is the principle that local organizations maintain those functions that they perform effectively. As the U.S. Roman Catholic bishops wrote in a 1986 pastoral letter: "Government should not replace or destroy smaller communities and individual initiative," but should "supplement their activity when the demands of justice exceed their capacities."
During the 1960s, many people thought that government policies would replace the initiative of local communities. But passive, disorganized neighborhoods proved incapable of converting outside resources to productive use. At the cost of billions of "Great Society" dollars, we learned that neighborhoods as well as individuals must be motivated to help themselves.
Scholars, activists and foundation officials now believe that the key to revitalizing distressed neighborhoods is to rebuild the community’s social capital -- its capacity and resources for cooperation and collaboration. As political scientist Robert Putnam argues, prosperity grows out of the trust, the relationships and the norms of reciprocity that exist within a community. The Equal Opportunity Division of the Rockefeller Foundation, for example, maintains that simply transferring income to the poor does not reduce poverty because it has no impact on the problem of social isolation. Individuals need personal relationships, networks and connections. When the Worcester Area Mission Society in Worcester, Massachusetts, cosponsored a program to help women move from welfare to work, the program included training for jobs as practical nurses and legal secretaries. But the key to success was linking each participant with a mentor, someone who had already made the transition from welfare to work.
John McKnight of Northwestern University says that "neighborhoods must rebuild themselves from the inside out" by mobilizing their own assets, including residents, churches, colleges and businesses. Whether by creating new collaborative structures or working through existing agencies such as local community development corporations, neighborhoods need to assume the central role in designing and implementing strategies for their own improvement.
To be successful, development efforts must be comprehensive, because social problems are interrelated. The comprehensive effort considers every aspect of community life: economic opportunity, physical development and infrastructure, public safety, and services and institutions. This does not mean, however, that a neighborhood should try to do everything at once. Instead, it should address one or two high-priority issues, thereby building local confidence and talents. At the same time, it must develop a broader vision and strategy. Successful neighborhood leaders call this blending of process and product "learn as you go," and describe it as a spiral rather than as a straight line. Such initiatives transcend the divide that has existed since the ‘60s between human service advocates who focus on people, and community development professionals who think about neighborhoods.
The church’s role in mobilizing neighborhood action is often overlooked. In Worcester, All Saints Episcopal Church, St. Andrews Roman Catholic Church, Worcester Interfaith and the Worcester Area Mission Society have played this role in four different neighborhoods. As neighbors gained greater control over their area, they saw a payoff in rebuilt housing, and in the number of children who left the streets for programs. Residents’ shared experiences and hope encouraged them to seek more progress. They saw that systems such as education and economics must operate in new ways in their communities. They learned that they needed government intervention to supplement their initiatives.
Some new and constructive responses are coming from local, state and national governments. Municipalities, for example, are now more open to partnerships with neighborhood groups. Realizing that strong inner-city neighborhoods are crucial to its regional economic and social health, Indianapolis shifted the focus of its redevelopment efforts from downtown to seven inner-city neighborhoods, and implemented a program to train community leaders and pay for neighborhood coordinators. At the national level, the Empowerment Zone/Enterprise Community program awards block grants to foster local collaboration, and tax incentives to encourage private sector investment,
The former mayor of Albuquerque, David Rusk, believes that inner cities will continue to deteriorate unless cities and their suburbs are politically connected, either through metropolitan government or through policies. His study of 320 metropolitan areas confirms that poverty and crime are much less likely to reach critical mass in politically integrated metropolitan areas. This approach breaks the impasses created when a concentration of poverty overwhelms individuals and exacerbates social chaos. Political integration can create opportunities in housing, jobs, schools and services.
Legislative measures are needed to achieve political integration. Poor neighborhoods need fair housing policies to encourage low- and moderate-income housing in all jurisdictions; fair employment and fair housing policies to ensure minority access to job and housing markets; and tax-sharing arrangements to offset tax-based disparities between cities and suburbs.
We also need new policies at the national level. William Julius Wilson proposes several measures targeted at Americans who are experiencing declining incomes and job displacement. Changes would include a system of national performance standards in public schools, a national system fostering the transition from school-to-work, further expansion of the earned income tax credit, additional child care programs, and universal health insurance. Wilson hopes that such race-neutral proposals might become the basis for a new political coalition of groups pressing for economic and social reform.
Of course, any plan that implements concurrent strategies at different levels will be frustrated when the strategies conflict with each other. Improving economic opportunity for individuals and families, for example, does not necessarily lead to improving a neighborhood. Once residents gain training, resources and connections, many move to a better area, leaving behind the most distressed families and significantly increasing the challenge of renewing the neighborhood. Robert D. Yaro of the Regional Plan Association in New York City observes that inner cities are in trouble in part because of the country’s success in creating an African-American and Latino middle class. As members of these groups prosper, they head to the suburbs for the same things other Americans have sought: safe neighborhoods with good schools and services.
Some have suggested that we should skip the task of rebuilding social capital in inner-city neighborhoods by moving the poor to neighborhoods and suburbs where social capital already exists. But as Peter Edelman points out, such efforts would be doomed to failure even if they were coupled with an effective income maintenance system. It is the place-based social infrastructure, including social networks and institutions, that gives people sufficient security to think about getting out in the first place.
Churches should be realistic about the limits of what they can accomplish in the inner city. Perhaps their goal should be simply to build a city that creates conditions for social mobility like those that existed a century or so ago, before African-American workers encountered racism and segregation in the northern cities and began to feel imprisoned in inner-city neighborhoods. As Richard Wade reminds us, the cities of 80 to 100 years ago were more dirty, dilapidated and dangerous than those of today. But there was this major difference: these conditions were tolerable to the immigrants because they considered them to be temporary. The neighborhoods were seen as staging areas for upward and outward mobility.
In a "good enough" city, the city that the churches seek to build, unskilled immigrants, single women with children and young adults would be able to secure a promising foothold. Bolstered by national and state policies, local initiatives would generate the necessary social capital, physical infrastructure and human development programs to help the neighborhood even as mobile residents move out. In a good enough city, social progress would be possible and meaningful, but the work of justice would never be finished. Moses and the Hebrews learned that they had to gather manna each morning, that they had to look to God each day. In a city where poor newcomers are always arriving and successful residents are leaving, the church must always be rebuilding community from the inside out, constantly replenishing the store of social capital, and creating human relationships and networks that work for the good of all.
by James R. Adams
James R. Adams is President, The Center for Progressive Christianity, which sponsors the Jesus Seminar. The following is a transcript from a workshop conducted by James Adams at the 1997 National Forum of The Center for Progressive Christianity. Information and resources from the Center for Progressive Christianity are available at www.tcpc.org.
Jim Kelley and I asked the participants in the two workshops to tell stories from their own experience about what has worked in creating open and welcoming churches. In the course of the workshops, we became clear that what works may differ depending on people's stage of involvement with the church.
Stage 1 -- People who want something
What people want most from the church may be food. A congregation that now averages over 100 people at a 7:00 a.m. Sunday service of Holy Communion began in earnest when the church offered a free breakfast to homeless people. This particular mission is supported by several parishes, and now members of those parishes often join the street people for worship and breakfast.
People may be longing for an experience of intimacy. If they have moved frequently, and if they have become disillusioned by institutions, they may be lonely and wanting to be a part of a community. Or they may want a safe place to discuss their most vexing problems, such as money, sexual orientation, family obligations, or trouble with religious dogma. These issues cut across lines of class and race. For example, a panhandler and a physician may discover that they have much in common when they talk together about money.
Some people may want boundaries and discipline to order their lives. They may feel as though they are drifting and want a place where they can be of service and be accountable for their behavior.
In being open to people in Stage 1, the church leadership must first discover what the people in the neighborhood around the church most want. That means getting to know the demographics of the area and getting to know some of the people who do not go to church. If the investigation shows that what people most want is dependable day care, then that is what the church offers. Giving people what they want may sound like crass marketing, but it may in truth be the only way that the established church can show that it cares about people who are not already members.
Advertising can sometimes be of help in letting people know the church may have what they want. One congregation decided to put an ad in a publication that is aimed primarily at gays and lesbians. They are they only church, except the predominately gay Metropolitan Community Church, that does so. Many new people have showed up as a result. The kind of publicity a new church uses to get started will have an impact on the way the congregation develops. Typically, contacting 3,000 people in a newly developing area will produce 300 people to organize as a congregation, but what if the appeal from the beginning was to those who had doubts and questions?
Stage 2 -- Permanent Guests
In finding something of what they want, people may decide to become regular participants in some aspect of the church's life, but they may be unwilling to make a formal or financial commitment. Some of these people may feel that their lives are too fragile to risk breaking their ties with the religious traditions of their childhoods. Others may have been emotionally burned by their involvement with churches or clergy and are leery about setting themselves up for further hurt. One person told us about a congregation that makes everyone feel welcome. Only 20% of the regular worshipers in this welcoming church make pledges of financial support. The money in the plate offering often equals the pledged money on a given Sunday, but the situation creates difficult problems at budget time.
One congregation has dealt with the budget problems that come with accepting permanent guests, by having two offerings each Sunday. The first is for the support of the church. The second is for people who need assistance. The second offering provides an opportunity for permanent guests who have received help from the church to provide help for others.
What often works with permanent guests, however, is to provide them with experiences in which commitment to a group or to a process can be life giving. In reaching out to people beyond the church walls, one congregation offers classes on a wide range of subjects, but each class carries the same fourfold demand: regular attendance, homework, class participation, and a fifteen minute period of quiet reflection or prayer every day. The study groups all meet on the same night so that they can eat together before gathering in small groups, no more than ten each. Some of these people never, or rarely, come to Sunday worship, but they have a place in the life of the church.
The mission to the homeless people also discovered that the people who attended regularly wanted some demand placed on them, even if they had no intention of joining the church. Some street people said that they felt demeaned when at first no opportunity was made for an offering at their 7:00 a.m. service. They may give only a bus token, but they want to give something. Many have responded to the daily opportunity for Bible study, and have accepted the discipline that such study requires. So valuable has this discipline been, that people with full-time employment have joined them.
Stage 3 -- Members
Early in our discussion, some participants felt a contradiction between welcoming all people to the Lord's table and requiring a rigorous catechumenate for potential members. In many congregations, new members have found substantial rewards in taking lengthy and demanding courses prior to their joining the church. For some, the apparent conflict in the two values -- welcoming all without question and demanding discipline for membership -- was resolved in part by recognizing the validity of each stage. A congregation can welcome everybody to the celebration of communion and can celebrate the welcome of those make a commitment to the community.
At the third stage, an appropriate commitment will include responsible financial support for the church and a willingness to volunteer time as well.
What is Required to Make an Open and Welcoming Community Work?
1. Honesty The most important ingredient for an open congregation is honesty. For a church to be genuinely open, people must be able to say what they think and not feel required to be a certain way. The congregation must be up front with faith issues. For an atmosphere of honesty to prevail, the pastor must clearly give permission for people to say what is on their minds.
2. Humility The obligation falls on the stage 3 people to accept people in the other two stages as their equals. They cannot look at themselves as more spiritually advanced, or righteous, or in any other way superior to people in stages 1 and 2. Stage 3 people have made choices that are different from the choices made by the other people, but their choices do not mean that they are better people. They do not speak contemptuously of "cheap grace" when they see the uncommitted receiving communion. The community includes people in all three stages.
3. Acceptance One of the hardest tasks facing progressive Christians is accepting people who are bigoted, racist, sexist, or homophobic. We can open our doors to gays and skeptics, but we have trouble welcoming members if the National Rifle Association or the local militia. A truly open church would make room for everyone.
4. Discretion Sometimes it may be necessary to push the limits of what the denomination allows, or even to break the rules. Open congregations risk open conflict with the authorities, but most often they quietly go about doing what they need to do in order to be faithful.
5. Diversity Even some of the most conservative congregations may tolerate small groups of questioning, agnostic, and skeptical people. As the progressive cells within a church develop, if they can accept the established members, the established members may grow to accept them.
What Gets in the Way?
1. Pastors Clergy have a way of squelching attempts at diversity, muzzling creative people, stifling questions, and inhibiting thinking along experimental lines. A change in staff can undercut lay initiatives. Congregations have a hard time transcending the limitations of their pastors.
2. Anxiety Congregations anxious about their own survival have a hard time being open. They are so fearful of alienating the few remaining members that they cannot welcome new people and give them a voice in the affairs of the church.
3. Theology Ways of talking about Jesus and the cross that were useful in a previous age may not be useful in our time. The purpose of the church today may be to offer holy community, with the message of the cross as a means to this end. We may have to talk of Trinity, not as a description of God, but as a reminder that the essence of community is diversity.
4. Impatience We may try to move people more quickly than they are able to move. We must be patient with newcomers letting them be among us until they are ready to ask questions, such as, "What is giving me the sense of wholeness, peace, and community?" We must be patient with a congregation dominated by narrow, prejudiced people, letting them die off and replacing them gradually with more open leaders.
At the end of one discussion, we were left with questions for progressive Christians to ponder:
1. What is the medium and/or the message for young people?
2. What is really important? What must we preserve from our tradition? Where must we innovate?
3. To what extent are we responding to pain in the world around us?
4. What is the source of our support?
5. Does the church really exist for those who do not belong?
6. If we get them to the table, what will be the menu?
7. What will be the cost of the meal?
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
The names of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste are Acacius, Aetius, Aglaius, Alexander, Angus, Athanasius, Candidus, Chudion, Claudius, Cyril, Cyrion, Dometian, Domnus, Ecdicus, Elias, Eunoicus, Eutyches, Eutychius, Flavius, Gaisus, Gorgonius, Helianus, Heraclius, Hesychius, John, Lysimachus, Meliton, Nicholas, Pholoctemon, Priscus, Sacerdon, Servian, Sisinus, Smaragdus, Theodulus, theophilus, Valens, Valerius, Vivanus, and Zanthias.
The Holy Forty Martyrs of Sebaste
Their Feast Day is on March 9th
When the pagan Licinius ruled the eastern half of the Roman Empire (307-323 AD), it was his evil intent to eliminate Christianity from the lands under his control, and especially, for fear of treason, among the troops. One of his supporters was a cruel man by the name of Agricola who commanded the forces in the Armenian town of Sebaste, in what is now eastern Turkey. Among his soldiers were forty devout Christians who wielded equally well the sword of battle and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God (Eph. 6:17). These men formed an elite bodyguard. When it came to Agricola's attention that they were Christians, he determined to force them to renounce their' faith and bow down to the pagan gods. He gave them two alternatives:
"Either offer sacrifice to the gods and earn great honors, or, in the event of your disobedience, be stripped of your military rank and fall into disgrace."
The soldiers were thrown into jail to think this over. That night they strengthened themselves singing psalms and praying. At midnight they were filled with holy fear upon hearing the voice of the Lord: "Good is the beginning of your resolve, but he who endures to the end will be saved" (Matt. 10:22 ).
The next morning Agrricola summoned them once again. This time he tried to persuade them by flattering words, praising their valor and their handsomeness. When the soldiers remained unmoved, they were again thrown into prison for a week to await the arrival of Licius, a prince of some authority.
During this time they prepared themselves for the trial of martyrdom. One of them, Cyrion by name, exhorted his fellow soldiers:
"God so ordained that we made friends with each other in this temporary life; let us try not to separate even in eternity; just as we have been found plea sing to a mortal king, so let us strive to be worthy of the favor of the immortal King, Christ our God."
Cyrion reminded his comrades in arms how God had miraculously helped them in time of battle and assured them that He would not forsake them now in their battle against the invisible enemy. When Licius arrived, the soldiers marched to the interrogation singing the psalm, "O God, in Thy name save me" (Ps. 53), as they always did when entering upon the field of contest.
Licius repeated Agricola's arguments of persuasion, alternating between threats and flattery. When he saw that words were of no avail, he ordered the soldiers sent to jail while he thought up a form of torture sure to change their minds.
After prayers that night, for a second time the soldiers heard the voice of the Lord:
"He who believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live. Be bold and have no fear of short-lived torment which soon passes; endure...that you may receive crowns."
The next day the soldiers were led to a lake. It was winter and a frosty wind was blowing. The soldiers were stripped of their clothes and ordered to stand through the night in the freezing waters. A guard was set to watch over them. In order to tempt the holy warriors of Christ, warm baths were set up on the side of the lake. Anyone who agreed to sacrifice to the idols could flee the bitterly cold waters and warm his frozen bones in the baths. This was a great temptation which in the first cruel hour of the night overpowered one of the soldiers. Scarcely had he reached the baths, however, than he dropped to the ground and died.
Seeing this, the rest of the soldiers prayed the more earnestly to God: "Help us, O God our Saviour, for here we stand in the water and our feet are stained with our blood; ease the burden of our oppression and tame the cruelty of the air; O Lord our God-on Thee do we hope, let us not be ashamed, but let all understand that we who call upon Thee have been saved."
Their prayer was heard. In the third hour of the night a warm light bathed the holy martyrs and melted the ice. By this time all but one of the guards had fallen asleep. The guard who was still awake had been amazed to witness the death of the soldier who had fled to the baths and to see that those in the water were still alive. Now, seeing this extraordinary light, he glanced upward to see where it came from and saw thirty-nine radiant crowns descending onto the heads of the saints, immediately, his heart was enlightened by the knowledge of the Truth. He roused the sleeping guards and, throwing off his clothes, ran into the lake shouting for all to hear, "I am a Christian too!" His name was Aglaius, and he brought the number of martyrs once again to forty.
The next morning the evil judqes came to the lake and were enraged to find that not only were the captives still alive, but that one of the guards had joined them. The martyrs were then taken back to prison and subjected to torture; the bones of their legs were crushed by sledge-hammers. The mother of one of the youngest, Heliton, stood by and encouraged them to endure this trial. To their last breath the martyrs sang out, "Our help is in the name of the Lord," and they all gave up their souls to God. Only Meliton remained alive, though barely breathing.
Taking her dying son upon her shoulders, the mother followed the cart on which the bodies of the soldiers were being taken to be burned. When her son at last gave up his soul, she placed him on the cart with his fellow athletes of Christ.
The funeral-pyre burned out leaving only the martyrs' bones. Knowing that Christians would collect these relics to the eternal glory of the martyrs and their God, the judges ordered them to be thrown into the nearby river. That night, however, the holy martyrs appeared to the blessed bishop of Sebaste and told him to recover the bones from the river. Together with some of his clergy, the bishop went secretly that night to the river where the bones of the martyrs shone like stars in the water, enabling them to be collected to the very last fragment. So also do the holy martyrs shine like stars in the world, encouraging and inspiring believers everywhere to be faithful to Christ even to the end.
Thus they finished the good course of martyrdom in 320, and their names are: Acacius, Aetius, Aglaius, Alexander, Angus, Athanasius, Candidus, Chudion, Claudius, Cyril, Cyrion, Dometian, Domnus, Ecdicius, Elias, Eunoicus, Eutyches, Eutychius, Flavius, Gaius, Gorgonius, Helianus, Herachus, Hesychius, John, Lysimachus, Meliton, Nicholas, Philoctemon, Priscus, Sacerdon, Severian, Sisinius, Smaragdus, Theodulus, Theophilus, Valens, Valerius, Vivianus, and Xanthias.
The Troparion of the Forty Martyrs in Tone 1
Those noble soldiers of the Master of all let us honor, for they were united by their faith as they passed through fire and water, and being enlisted by Christ they entered to divine refreshment. Now those pious warriors stand and intercede with Christ God for those who cry out. Glory to Him that hath given you strength. Glory to him that hath crowned you. Glory to Him that made you wondrous, Holy Forty Martyrs.
Another Troparion of the Forty Martyrs in Tone 1
Be Thou entreated for the sake of the sufferings of Thy Saints which they endured for Thee, O Lord and do Thou heal all our pains, we pray, O Friend of man.
The Kontakion of the Forty Martyrs in Tone 2
Having left every military array on the world, ye cleaved unto the Master Who is in the Heavens, O Forty Prizewinners of the Lord; for having passed through fire and water, O blessed ones, ye rightly received glory from Heaven and a multitude of crowns.
Monday, March 8, 2010
looking for a place to play? Looking for an evening of entertainment and
fun? This Friday the place for you is the Mor Gregorios Community Center and
their Open Mic Night.
Everyone is invited to the Mor Gregorios Community Center¹s next Open Mic
Night, Friday, March 12, starting at 7:00 PM. The Community Center will
also host a free supper of homemade soup and more starting at 6:00 PM. It
is an evening of food, entertainment, fun, and friends and neighbors.
All levels are invited to perform from beginners to advance. Poets,
jugglers, musicians, singers, comedians are all invited. If your talent is
just listening and having fun, you are encouraged to attend. The Open Mic
starts at 7:00 pm in the Great Room. You do not need a talent to attend and
be entertained. If your talent is listening, you are also invited. The
evening¹s entertainment is free.
The center¹s computer center will also be open that evening.
The Mor Gregorios Community Center is located at 1000 South Michigan Street,
Plymouth, Indiana. The center is located in the white A-frame building on
the corner of Oak Hill and Michigan streets across from the Webster
For more information, you can call the center at 574-540-2048, or by email
Friday, March 5, 2010
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America is working with affiliates nationwide, urging them to broadcast the program within their local area. Broadcast information will be posted as soon as it becomes available from affiliates. Below you will find a listing of NBC affiliates by state. Please check the listing for exact date, time and station. Please contact the Department of Communications if you need assistance. You may also contact the Program Manager locally to request coverage.
For more information on coverage please log on to www.goarch.org/special/paschatv
DVD copies of the program available for pre-sale ($25, plus $6 shipping). To pre-purchase please contact the Department of Communications at 212.774.0244 or email email@example.com.
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