It is almost noon, and this is anything but a normal Saturday at Glenn Memorial UMC. That morning we had invited 75 college students and church members to come and pack 20,000 rice based meals, and together we would pack 20,000 more meals that day. We stopped in the afternoon for a time of worship and fellowship as we had lunch on the lawn. Worship began with a song I had never heard before, "For everyone born a place at the table," sang Joseph, "for everyone born, clean water and bread." We sang about how God delights when we are creators of justice and joy in the world. From that day on, A Place at the Table became one of my favorite songs to sing in worship, because it clearly articulates how we live out our baptismal covenanting in the world.
Imagine a world where Christians are empowered and mobilized to live out their baptismal covenant, to do transformative work in their local communities, to do good in the world, and resist injustice, evil and oppression wherever they encounter it. To seek justice, offer mercy and form deeper relationships with Jesus Christ. I really believe that is the purpose of Church. I have spent a good bit of time over the last several blog posts writing about how and why we should be in mission as a congregation. What are the little things that we can do to serve others in our local community as best we can?
Our Mission Impact: Broad
Currently at Community, we are participating great number of ministries that address various needs of peoples in various locations around the world. This is great, we support a lot of good causes and we do good in and for our local community. The downside is that it can be challenging to quantitatively to measure the level impact you are having in the lives of so many people. Is our current model of missions effective? This is a question with more than one answer. We are clearly responding to a vast number of peoples short term needs. Where we are arguable less effective is that we are not taking steps toward the elimination of causes/systemic issues related to the need.
More Focused Missional Impact
Would it be more effective to have a more focused missional impact? Would it be more effective for us to help a few people to a greater extent? We would be transforming their lives, one life at a time? This type of model would dramatically upset our current missional paradigm at CUMC. The closest missional work is Outreach Ministries work with Jeff of the Pamunkey Indians, when we helped to finance and build his house. This type of ministry requires having and offering more financial and other types assistant to an individual on a more frequent basis. These challenges makes having significant life changing impact more difficult.
A Need for Balance
Each of the previous models for evaluating missional impact have strengths and weakness, so finding a balance in what types of missions we do is critical to our success as a congregation. Missions with a broad impact allow for us to encounter more people, giving us opportunities to feed the hungry, satisfy the thirsty, and clothe the naked. These are necessary and important to our life at Community, ministries Christ commanded we do, we want more people to participate in these ministries. If you want to participate in these types of ministries click here. There are also times when having a more focused impact would undoubtable help an individual face systemic problems. These are ministries that are game changers for people. As stated above, we do not currently have many ministries with this type of focus. How do we find a good balance between broad and focused impact? How are we a part of God's transformative and restorative power in the lives of other people? Are there models that might better utilize our human and other resource?
Open Table Model
Recently, I was approached by Angie Williams (yes, the same Angie that was the Director of Youth Ministries years ago at CUMC) of United Methodist Family Services about a new (at least to us) type of ministry model that could transform our missional impact at Community. It is called the Open Table model. In this model, a group of six to eight people (called a Table) help an individual reach self sufficiency in a year. This group is made of people in the church and beyond and they guide, support and help logistically through issues that they face as emerging adults. The Table meets weekly for one year or less with the individual to address the issues they face and to make sure that they are making progress on their own life goals. The thought behind the method is that many of emerging young adults actually require a substantial support network in order to reach their life goals. This is support network is generally made up of family, friends, teachers, etc. For example, I can remember when I was writing my first term paper and I sat a church after worship as a member edited my draft and helped me to make revisions.
The reason that Angie is involved in this is because United Methodist Family Services recognizes that many former foster children do not have these supportive structures after turning 18. As a result, former foster children have a substantially higher likelihood of living below the poverty line and/or being homeless with little chance of escaping poverty. Now you might be thinking aren't there programs that help people who face poverty related challenges? Yes, there are; however, many of these programs fall into the same trap of only addressing the short term needs for a vast majority of people, rather than transforming the situation overall. So the Table(s) established will provide the guidance and logistical support of a supportive structure for former foster children in our area upon the recommendation of United Methodist Family Services. If desire more information about the Open Table model of ministry, you can find more information at http://www.theopentable.org.
In September, I will be receiving special training to start an Open Table ministry here at Community and to train other congregation on this ministry. I will be looking for people to join the first Table here after that; maybe more than one if we dare to dream big enough.
I think it could be a way for us to have substantial relationship through our ministries. It will be a way for us live out our calling as a part of Christ's holy church. It will be a way for us to incarnate the gospel and to transform the world. I end this post with the words of "A Place at the Table" that left such an impact on me years ago:
For everyone born, a place at the table, for everyone born, clean water and bread, a shelter, a space, a safe place for growing, for everyone born, a star overhead, and God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy, compassion and peace: yes, God will delight when we are creators of justice, justice and joy!
Grace and Peace be with you,