Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Reaching Across the Aisle (Dialogue Column 2.3.09)

The Dialogue is the newsletter of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in St. Joseph, MO. Often, I'll post here on the blog my columns for the weekly newsletter. I mention it just so that folks who read the snail-mail version can skip this post if they've already read it.

I’ve stopped watching the news. The play-by-play of petty partisanship in Washington is feeding my cynicism and I don’t need any help in that department. I never really thought that that a new president who ran on “hope” and “change” would usher in a new era of bipartisanship and touchy-feely behavior in our nation’s capital, but I did hope that the immensity of the problems facing our country might wake some folks up. I thought that rising layoffs and unemployment, the national shame of millions without adequate healthcare, two wars, the pointless violence in Gaza, the rampant greed in corporate boardrooms and the utter lack of vision for our nation’s energy needs might cause some leaders to reach across the aisle for the sake of the common good. Instead, both parties seem to be looking out for their own well-being and the media only cares about the catfight rather than the big picture. Like I said, I need no help in the cynicism department.

National politics and even local politics may be leaving me frustrated, but I have been greatly encouraged by some people who have reached across the aisle in a religious sense here in St. Joseph. It has been my privilege to serve on the board of Faith in Action (FIA) for the last year and to continue to do so this year. At the ministry’s annual meeting a week and a half ago, I heard members of churches that often have little to do with one another stand up and share about what their volunteers are doing to care for the unmet needs of people in our community. Members of churches that ranged from Roman Catholic to non-denominational told of driving people to the doctor, moving low-income families to new homes, doing minor home repairs, visiting the homebound and much more. I was excited to see Christians directing their energy towards what they could agree on—helping people in need—rather than spinning their wheels debating what divides them.

FIA began around 15 years ago as a ministry to HIV/AIDS patients in our community; an effort in which First Christian played an instrumental role. As social services began to meet the needs of HIV/AIDS patients, FIA changed its mission to help people whose needs were not being met elsewhere—usually people with medical problems. The work was funded by Heartland hospital and it employed staff to coordinate volunteers from the churches. About two years ago, both Heartland and the church volunteers working with FIA realized another change needed to happen: Faith in Action needed to be a ministry of the churches rather than a service run by the hospital. I served on the restructuring committee that helped FIA become an organization run by and supported by 15 churches and counting. Although FIA is given material and financial support by the Spiritual Health department of Heartland Hospital, the Heartland Foundation, and Catholic Charities, at its heart, FIA in its current form is a church-led ministry.

Unlike in the halls of political power, the needs of low-income people have brought people of divergent views together here among the churches of St. Joe. Each participating church decides how much it will give financially to FIA and what type of service its members can and will provide. For example, here at FCC our own Jo Wade organizes some of our people to provide transportation to people who do not have it through other means. Other churches have teams which move families to new homes, build wheelchair ramps, and clean up yards. It is comforting and encouraging to me when I see people that most likely disagree on many theological and social issues refusing to let such issues stop them from working together to serve others in Jesus’ name.

It’s almost enough to cure my cynicism. Almost.

Grace and Peace,


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