Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What is Circle of Hope?

I wrote the following  for The Dialogue, the newsletter of the church where I serve, First Christian Church, Disciples of Christ of St. Joseph, MO.

For about a year now, the name Circle of Hope has shown up on our church calendar on the second Monday evening of each month.  FCC members have naturally asked since we have a women’s circle called Circle of Grace if this is a new women’s circle?  Unfortunately it is not another women’s circle, but fortunately for our community, it is a non-profit organization working with families containing individuals with physical and mental health issues.  Among the many services they offer, they meet once a month at our church building to offer a support group, “Focus Empowerment Group,” for parents raising children with physical, mental and/or emotional health needs.  They have dinner together, and then the children have their own session while the parents get to share their stories and struggles with one another.

The FCC Administrative Board voted in 2009 to allow Circle of Hope to meet in our building, because there is a great need for mental health care and support of families who have children with mental health needs.  I have gotten to know a few of these parents who somehow manage to work, hold a family together and raise multiple children, some with and some without special mental, physical and emotional needs.  They are often exhausted from caring for their special needs child and the once-a-month meeting may be the only time they get a break and can interact socially with other adults.  As with any support group, they benefit from sharing their stories with other parents who know the struggles they face.  Circle of Hope provides them with a meal, transportation, child care and most of all an opportunity to feel they are not alone in their struggles.

If your family or a family you know is struggling to raise a child with special physical, mental or emotional needs, I urge you to give Circle of Hope a try.  You can call them at 816-671-9190, or visit their website You can also find them on Facebook by searching for “focusfamilysupport.” 

Offering meeting space to a group like Circle of Hope is an important ministry that our church can offer to the community.  We have a church building that contains more space than we use-- 90% of the building goes unused most of the week.  We may not have the funds to contribute to worthwhile organizations in our community or to start our own, but we certainly have unused space!  It is simply good stewardship of our resources for First Christian to share our space with groups that make the kind of difference Circle of Hope does.  

Of course, Circle of Hope is not the first community organization we have hosted in our church.  The Alzheimer’s Association has maintained an office on the third floor of our building for a number of years providing essential support to families caring for a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease.  Later this month, we are hosting an orientation workshop for Dream Seekers of St. Joseph, a new organization that provides mentors to people looking to break out of poverty.  Once upon a time, FCC also hosted Alcoholics Anonymous groups and other organizations.

There is always a temptation for churches to shut out the community around them and forbid the use of their building by outside groups.  Sometimes churches give in to this temptation because doing so is an inconvenience and other times they do so out of a misguided sense of the church building as a museum that must be kept free of contamination.  Of course the church’s property should be respected and groups should be considerate of church events, but in my experience community groups are usually so grateful for the free space that they will gladly respond to all such concerns. 

A church refusing to share its building with outside groups is essentially idolatry—an idolatry of church buildings—spending more energy, attention and money on a building than upon the God who calls people to share what they have with others.  As with all things, the people who make up a church must ask the question, “Does this building belong to me or to God?”  If church people answer the former, then they have not read the story of Jesus Christ well.  As Paul said, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.”

I am proud to serve a congregation that has the “same mind” as Christ Jesus when it comes to sharing our building.  The lives changed for the better by these groups are a part of the ministry we offer to the community around us.

Grace and Peace,

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