I’m not ashamed to say it.
I became active in church when I realized that my parents weren’t going to pony up for college. I chose the Episcopalian church because Trinity was right up the street and Episcopalians were wealthy.
I thought I was shallow but crafty. God knew what had to be done to get my attention. I’ve grown since then and am now serious, but I hope not humorless, about my faith.
This month, there was a terrific article in the Trinity News. “Life Here in the Sacramental Universe” by Matthew Heyd.
To escape the missionary trap, we have sometimes run in the wrong direction and tried to imitate nonprofit organizations. Whatever our formal tax status, for churches (and synagogues, temples, and mosques) nonprofit service delivery should never be our primary purpose.
My observation over sixteen years of work with churches is that most do not have the capacity to sustain initiatives that focus on outputs. It requires a professionalization that strains resources and separates them from parish life.
This is not a call to walk away from feeding the hungry, helping the homeless or the traditional things that the church is charged to do — even as unto the least of these.
It’s about how and why we do it. Ministries should focus on forming “communities of hospitality, invitation, and stewardship [that] support spiritual discernment and growth.”
This goes a long way in explaining my own frustration at church. Over the years, my church has had countless initiatives but few have sustained over the long haul. I often despaired at referring people to programs only to find that the program no longer existed or was crippled by a lack of personnel/energy/resources. Sorry, friend. Drug abusers are on their own now.
I see the evidence for this argument in my work with the HIV/AIDS ministry. Our volunteer team went from being teachers to friends. We’ve all, HIV-Free and HIV+, been transformed by ministering to one another.