|... Love your neighbor as yourself...|
I continued into the church, thinking about our exchange. No one in the church’s neighborhood comes to this church that's tried a few outreach ministries into the community but with no long term effect.
A big reason is that mission is built on relationships. It took me a long time to get this as I’m generally task-driven (rather than people-driven), but I’ve seen that it’s so. It was the relationships that connected me with people in my last appointment, both in and out of the church.
So far I’ve been working on in-church relationships as I work to learn their ways and my role here, but I hope to build relationships in other communities as well. When my predecessor and I got together this spring, we went downtown for coffee. I was surprised (and impressed) when he stopped in almost every shop on the way to say “hello” or ask a question. And he called everyone by name. I want to work on this.
Shop people are easy. I can do that. You can do that. Cultivating relationships with people in the rental-properties, high-turnover neighborhood north of the church is harder. But it’s probably more important. First, because here we find underemployed people working multiple jobs while trying to raise their families. Wouldn’t we like them to believe that their neighbors at First Church really are neighbors? Important also because, for many of them, the image they have of church is a bad one – because of youthful experiences or, more likely, because the loudest Christian voices preach a “good news” that only a limited audience can appreciate. For the rest, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
For those few who will someday join a church, what a gift we offer in helping them dismantle that barrier. Whenever we cultivate respectful, compassionate relationships with people, then if or when our faith comes up, they may see Christianity in a better light. Yes, if or when. The goal is the connection. If religion comes up, let it be because we first reflect the love of God.
But back to my neighbor… I know that he’s male, youngish, and smokes. I think he lives there and by his attire that he just got up. Except for getting up in the morning and living in Wausau, so far we have nothing in common. Seeing him this morning, I faced again why it’s so hard to connect with strangers. They're different from us.
Then I think of the words we hear when people attempt religious or political dialog. I don’t know who first said it, but Ernest Gaines’ version is:
“We all have much more in common than we have differences. I would say that about people all over the world. They don't know how much in common that they have.”
This is where my hope comes in. "We all have much more in common than we have differences." I may not see much in common with a stranger until we get beyond the small talk, but after that, we almost always find more in common with each other than a shared humanity. Even if it takes longer than that, a shared humanity is a fine place to start.