When asked about my hopes and expectations for this summer, I would say that I hoped to experience the everyday rhythms in the life of a local congregation. I hoped to experience the joys, the pains, the celebrations and mourning that occur among the congregants of the local church and a church community, as people join, get baptized, and move away.
That’s exactly what I’m doing–I am experiencing the joys and frustrations of a congregation that hosts an interfaith food pantry every week; I am able to walk alongside a couple who are new to the area and have, for the first time, discovered a church that embodies the radical love of the kingdom of God; I see the sense of loss as the faith community prepares itself for a family to move to another part of the country. These are the rhythms that are found in the life of the local church. These are the rhythms that I get to experience this summer. These rhythms come out of relationships that exist throughout the local church and extend into the local community.
This understanding of relationships is where I have grown the most. Relationships inform how we see our call. Relationships are the difference between “in ministry to” and “in ministry with.” A church and its leadership who are in ministry with one another and the community will likely identify a call to address spiritual, physical, and emotional needs of the community. Thinking beyond an “us verses them” mentality, church leaders understands their task to empower good and effective ministry in others, not to be the primary “doers” of ministry. The church body can see itself in solidarity with the local community–rather than seeing those “outside” of church as adversaries.
The importance of relationships continues to be my growing edge for the summer. I have learned that by building strong relationships with those in the local church, leaders are better able to identify the gifts and graces of those who sit in the pews on Sunday morning. The same gifts and graces that may be of service within the church may also be of service outside the church. This both strengthens the worshiping community and allows the church to be an effective witness to the greater community. Relationships provide us with the opportunity to hear God calling us to something greater than ourselves, giving us the opportunity to experience God in each other.