In the December 18 edition of The Christian Century, a popular magazine from the mainline Christian tradition, I read a wonderful article about how an Episcopal church in Philadelphia renewed its ministry. It had been closed for about a year when a new pastor was appointed to lead this congregation back to life. He quickly surmised that he needed to understand what the needs of the neighborhood were. It was an urban neighborhood. Many of the people that lived there were poor, struggling with addiction, and often homeless. He got to know the neighborhood by sitting on the steps of the historic building and meeting people as they walked by.
There is not much foot traffic by Immanuel during the week, unless one counts the activity next door at the Vogt building. Nevertheless, this article compelled me to think about how human beings can and should try to meet the needs of those in their midst and beyond.
In the same edition of The Christian Century, I read several stories about how needs are being met in communities here and abroad:
• The city of Houston, Texas has decreased homelessness by 54% since 2001 through a citywide cooperative effort between federal agencies, city government, not-for-profits, and businesses.
• A grocery store in Baldwin, Florida is run by the city because there was not enough business for anyone to open a store and make a profit in such a small town. This helps the many poor and elderly folks who live there.
• A nonprofit founded by chef Jose Andres, World Central Kitchen, provides inexpensive but nutritious meals for communities after natural disasters by recruiting local cooks, using commercial kitchens, and serving locally grown food as much as possible.
• The Memphis-area Barnhart Crane and Rigging company, the largest crane and rigging company in the country, donates 50% of its revenue to organizations that are helping people.
Notice that none of these examples of meeting human needs relate directly to the church or any other religious tradition. In my mind, this should serve as a wakeup call as we enter a new year. If "secular" institutions, municipalities, non-profits, and companies can do the missional work of Christ in the world, shouldn't the church of Jesus Christ be leading the way?
Immanuel does a lot of great work in this community. Historically, we have been one of the most active and supportive UCC congregations in the St. Louis area in terms of helping the poor, disadvantaged children, orphans, and those with special needs. Let us continue to be a congregation that satisfies every need according to God's "riches in glory in Jesus Christ."