Before I get to my point in this newsletter, allow me a moment to explain a few things.
I was ordained as a Baptist, but I have been granted standing as a minister in the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ (DOC) and the United Church of Christ (UCC). The DOC, the denomination of PHCC, and the UCC have been in “full communion” with each other since 1989. It’s common for ministers in one denomination to have ministerial standing in the other, and there are all kinds of joint work between the two denominations from the shared global mission board down to local congregations who are affiliated with both. I have served both UCC and DOC churches as minister. I share all this denominational background, just so you’ll have an idea of where I’m coming from when I share a resource from the UCC, in case you don’t already know about its relationship with the DOC.
One UCC resource I would recommend to you is its daily email devotional, which you can subscribe to via ucc.org. I regularly make use of stories or ideas in my sermons or writings that come from the daily devotionals. Like any such series, some days I’ll read it and think “meh” and other days I’ll feel like God inspired the author to write it just for me. My responses to it have more to do than my particular spiritual situation on a given day than the quality of a particular devotional. I appreciate the UCC devotional, because it comes from a theological and social justice perspective that is unfortunately rare in American Christianity. I especially appreciate reading the wisdom of female, non-white and LGBTQ voices included in the emails. Unfortunately, I’m not aware of a similar daily email devotional offered by the DOC, although I do read similar ones by particular DOC ministers and Chalice Press, the DOC publisher, always offers quality devotions in book form.
As I mentioned, I hang on to UCC email devotionals that speak to me. There is one from back in 2014 that I feel is a good word for Park Hill Christian Church. Reebee Girash, a UCC minister in Massachusetts, wrote about her attempt to be a Good Samaritan in her church’s community. She had the idea for the children’s Sunday School to collect during November the ingredients for making pumpkin pies. They would give them to the church’s food pantry, so its clients could bake the pies in times for Thanksgiving. Thankfully, she asked the director of the food pantry about the idea first. The director informed her that most of the pantry’s clients didn’t have ovens.
Girash realized she had made assumptions about the people served by the pantry and that she didn’t really know what their needs were. The director said one of the biggest unmet needs their clients reported were basic first aid items. So, the children of the church collected items for first aid kits made up of band aids, bacitracin, soap and washcloths.
The reason I thought this particular story was a good word for Park Hill is its simple but profound lesson. Girash confesses that she made assumptions about the needs of people in her church’s community, and she writes, “When I paused to listen, I heard an unexpected story.” I think PHCC—and most other churches too—need to practice doing some intentional listening to their communities.
All of us want to be the Good Samaritan. We want to be the good neighbor Jesus describes who helps the stranger left beaten and robbed on the side of the road. Yet, I can’t tell you the number of times I have been guilty of making assumptions about people in the communities of churches I’ve served without ever really making an effort to listen to those people. I’ve worked with church leaders to plan programs that nobody really wanted or needed (sadly this often included programs for people inside the church too). When I have made an effort to get to know people near the churches I’ve served and to listen to their needs, I’ve often found unexpected stories.
When I’ve seen churches do a good job listening to their neighbors, they have done some interesting things. They have offered workshops on spirituality, mindfulness and health to people who say they are uninterested in “organized religion.” They have provided meals in their social halls for community groups that work with low-income single parents lacking support systems. They have turned their property into a Halloween carnival for kids who live in areas where it is unsafe to trick-or-treat. When churches make an effort to listen, they discover opportunities for ministry they would have never tried if they were left to their own ideas.
Make an effort to listen to people in your particular part of PHCC’s community. What needs do you hear people expressing?
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples