Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
-From the Service of Holy Baptism
The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.
-Archbishop William Temple
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
People say, what is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay down one brick at a time, take one step at a time. A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.
I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.
– Dorothy Day
On the last Sunday of October, I was privileged to worship at a church led by a good friend, a priest I admire. I enjoyed the opportunity to sit in the pew and worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness, exceptional beauty because his church happens to be on the big island in Hawaii. Let me explain. I was invited to offer a few presentations at the annual convention of the Diocese of Hawaii. I thought it my duty to do so. That’s the kind of devoted disciple I am.
After the convention, I visited my friend’s church, a vibrant spiritual community. I’d attend regularly if it wasn’t 6000 miles away. Under the leadership of my buddy (a fine and faithful priest), this church is really humming. I found myself wondering what made that true, because I come into contact with a lot of churches that struggle mightily.
I got a hint as my friend was welcoming worshippers. The announcements were made at the beginning of the service, and there were a few of them. As those announcements were winding up, an ambulance passed by the church. My friend stopped his announcements and said to the congregation: Let’s have a moment of silence to offer prayers for whoever is in that ambulance.
That may seem simple, but it struck me as an indication that his church was connected to its community, and that the regular course of things could be paused, indeed interrupted to attend to a local need. In my time there, I realized that small prayerful gesture was sacramental, an outward and visible sign of a deeper sense of service to the community in Jesus’ name.
The church has a community meal. Anyone can come. No charge. Live music makes it festive. Extra meals are taken to folks without homes, who sleep in tents on the beach. It started small. No one knew how it would be paid for, but now each week about 300 people come, whether they are part of the church or not. The Lord has provided. It’s drawing people.
This church also offers a weekly mass on the beach on Saturday evenings. Members of the church attend and participate in a eucharist. The altar is a surfboard on sawhorses. Maybe not everybody’s liturgical style, but it is an outreach to the community, welcoming anyone who passes by.
The early church, the beginnings of the Jesus movement, experienced dramatic growth. I’ve wondered why that is so. One ancient commentator noted that it was because people outside the church looked at people inside the church and said: See how they love one another. I wish that were true of the church today. I’m guessing, based on surveys of people’s associations with the word “Christian,” that many folks outside the church would say: See how they judge one another. We have work to do.
Our research into churches indicates that one mark of a spiritually vital congregation is that such congregations pastor the community. That doesn’t mean they just dole out charity. It means they engage in advocacy for justice and peace. They enter into inter-faith dialogue. They seek relationship with the community. They see what God is (already) up to in the neighborhood. They live into the baptismal promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons.
This pastoring of the community is true of my friend’s church on the big island, as it is true of many churches I am privileged to visit. Another thing we’ve learned in our research is that many of our most active churches, already doing a lot to pastor the community, are not satisfied. They feel called to do more.
For individuals and for congregations, I throw out Monday morning questions. How are you pastoring the community? How are you following Jesus who came not to be served but to serve (Mark 10:45)?
Give thanks to God for ways that is happening. Say yes to ways yet to be experienced. It may be as simple as saying a prayer for a passing ambulance.
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Once your responses have been processed, we’ll email a helpful explanation of our findings, along with some tips for improving your spiritual journey. You’ll also be given a chance to sign up for an eight-week series of emails that will offer some suggestions, coaching for how you can grow spiritually, and ways you can go deeper in love of God and neighbor. Learn more at renewalworks.org