Rule #3 – Always ask how local needs might be supplied from local sources, including the mutual help of neighbours.
As a latch-key kid of the 70’s and early 80’s, I spent a lot of time watching sit-com reruns on TV, when I wasn’t hanging out at the library. I got to know episodes of The Brady Bunch, Bewitched, My Three Sons, I Love Lucy, Gilligan’s Island, Hogan’s Heroes, The Beverly Hillbillies, etc. You get the idea.
My favorite show of all of these, however, was The Andy Griffith Show. I’ve often commented that Andy Taylor (the main character played by Andy Griffith) was my first ethics teacher. As the sheriff of Mayberry, he was always trying to help people – whether it was by making sure they kept the roof over their heads, or by keeping Barney (his over-enthusiastic deputy) from irritating too many people, or by teaching just the right lesson to folks who were missing the mark.
There were moments when he displayed amazing vulnerability and humility, because his curious and guileless son Opie would point out the inconsistency in his father’s behavior. And there were moments when he was surprisingly feminist (keep in mind, this was the early 1960’s) or played the foil as the women in his life showed him what an ass he was being.
In all, Andy knew how to be a neighbor and he knew how to encourage others to be neighborly, always giving people the right kind of push… even that miser Ben Weaver. Andy was, it seems, the very center of hope. So, when I think about this week’s Rule from Wendell Berry and how it talks about needs being met by the helpfulness of neighbors, I think of Andy Taylor.
In our global economy, where our electronics come from China, our clothing comes from Bangladesh, and our strawberries come from Mexico, it’s hard to imagine that almost all of a community’s needs used to be supplied by local tradespeople, craftsmen, farmers, and business owners. This was also a time when churches were more integrated into the life of a community because just about everyone went to church. And this is where we are stuck, as church… wanting to go back to a time when church mattered to people. Or, to be more pointed, when we felt like we had a purpose. But don’t get me started on that rabbit hole.
The point is not to take a trip down nostalgia lane and pine for a time when we like to imagine life was simpler and easier and people were nicer. The point is to understand the principles of neighborliness and institute them in the local community. And how the church, regardless of how many people attend on Sunday, can and should still be an integral part of the life of the community.
And here’s the thumbnail version of one of my favorite soapbox speeches: The Missional Church
The church does not exist for itself. The church exists for the community it serves. The church exists to seek and serve Christ in the community. This includes the members of the Body of Christ. But it is not limited to the Body of Christ. When we get overly concerned about how many people are in the pews instead of how many homeless people live on our streets, we’ve lost sight of the Reign of God because the Mission of Christ is about reconciling the world to God. This is God’s Hope for us.
Well, that’s the thumbnail version. So, what does this have to do with being sustainable? Well, everything.
My friend Barry Randolph, a priest at Detroit’s Church of the Messiah, often says, “When you’ve got the mission, the odds don’t matter.”
Church of the Messiah (231 E. Grand Blvd) has risen out of the ashes in Detroit just like the proverbial phoenix. At an ASA of 40 and no budget, the team decided it was a do-or-die kinda moment. So, they turned their focus outward, on the needs of the community – specifically, they focused on the youth of Detroit because they knew that’s exactly who needed to hear about God’s Hope. And the congregation started growing. Within 2 years, the congregation grew to over 200 ASA and now they host several ministries, some of which are their own and some are community organizations.
Would I call them sustainable? They’re getting there. They seek grants on a regular basis to support the ministries and they are cultivating partnerships with a few other congregations in the diocese. Most of the people they serve are poor, so Messiah has trouble with financial stewardship within the congregation itself. Their current goal is to develop a long-term foundation for administrative support so they can pay utilities in the dead of winter and, perhaps, start paying some salaries.
But in another way, Messiah is already more sustainable than many other congregations. They are known in the city of Detroit as a place where people gather – especially young folks. They are sought out by governmental organizations as a point of connection and distribution. They are known in community organizing circles as the group to work with. And this… this mission, this neighborliness, this hope… isn’t going anywhere.
The folks at Messiah did something simple – they put the gospel before the budget. They put God’s mission first. I can hear the sharp intake of breath from here from all our business-model-minded folks. And I’m not about to say that our stewardship guides are wrong. They aren’t. Consider, however, that Detroit is already re-writing the American understanding of urban blight and renewal. It’s a different model of hope. So, perhaps our model of stewardship doesn’t apply here. That’s not for me to say, just something to ponder.
What is important to note is the movement they made is a missional one. They refused to let the budget get in the way of the mission. Instead, they simply found another way to do it. As Barry says, “When you’ve got the mission, the odds don’t matter.” The money will come. It is coming. Ultimately, it is sustainable.
A final thought: Barry isn’t currently paid by the church. He and the other leaders of the Church of the Messiah (and it does take a team of people), do all of this because they love God and they want to glorify God by being good neighbors – by making sure that their neighbors keep a roof over their head, have food to eat, walk with good mentors, get into college, get a job, and simply take care of one another. In other words, it’s about hope.
Just like Andy Taylor.