I Want to Help!

Lately there have been some disasters in my area.  Tornadoes in Granbury and Oklahoma, the explosion in West, TX…and after each of these, I get emails from people in my church wanting to respond.  I also get emails from the many different organizations I work with asking for a monetary response but nothing more.

People in disaster areas often experience an outpouring of items and volunteers that is a deluge and difficult to process when already undergoing emergency situations and grief.  What the organizations trained to help often need IS money.  But money does not feel like a meaningful response.  And I am left in an odd position.  My job is to help people enter into service they are passionate about but I’m often telling people that their ideas for items to give are not what is needed and really what they should give are prayers and, if they can, a monetary donation. I often feel like I’m killing their passionate response to help.

I’ve found myself thinking about an article, “How Not to Say the Wrong Thing” from the LA Times.  It was about helping people experiencing grief and it was going around on Facebook a few months ago.  It was a theory about “comforting in and dumping out”.  The writers Susan Silk and Barry Goldman were specifically talking about to whom you can whine, cry out, and complain and when you should simply offer comfort.  They drew rings and asked the person to identify where they were on the drawing.    The theory was you should always comfort those closest to the center and dump out to those beyond you.  I think this works in the case of appropriate response to disaster too.

If you are in the city, experiencing the disaster, you often know best what is needed–especially if you work for an organization dedicated to disaster response.  The further you radiate away, the less you know, unless you are receiving direct information from a person or organization inside the disaster area.  And if we are outside I’m thinking our response really should be to comfort in with prayer and listening, and all the energy we want to dump into doing should go out.  Perhaps to our own communities?

Every community needs people trained in disaster response.  You could attend or create a training.  Every community has kids in need of books, toys, stuffed animals, and advocates.  Take your energy for the children in an area far from you and put it toward the children in your vicinity.  Every community has families experiencing homelessness, tragedy, and injury.  Perhaps you could donate time or items to the places hurting in your neighborhood?  And while you are doing that, comfort in.  Pray for the people of Moore, Granbury, or West. Listen to the news coming from there.  And wait until you know how best to respond.  That takes time.  Often folks from the “outside” are not invited in to respond with items and hard labor until months after the disaster.  By then most communities are begging for people to “dump in” all that energy but our focus has already shifted.  By continuing to comfort in, we will be ready to respond when asked.

What do you think?

Here’s that ring theory picture:

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Finally a Successful Free Meal!

Last week I thought I’d have to cancel Servant Church’s monthly Free Meal and I was feeling OK about it. This led to our first ever successful Free Meal and I am grateful.

Let me start at the beginning by explaining what the free meal is. 2 years ago, Servant Church decided to start having a monthly BBQ and invite our neighbors from all walks of life to eat. This grew out of a need to find a service project that would absolutely fail if we didn’t show up. The thing is, we are called Servant Church and a lot of our people DO serve. But we were having a hard time finding a project we could all do TOGETHER. If we joined in with long-established projects, people often felt like they could miss that day because there would be lots of help without them. And they were right. So, we started praying about the gifts we had to share. Someone mentioned that kids might be hungry on the weekends and we liked to have parties with food. We also were reading the Parable of the Great Banquet and were feeling called to take that story literally–to literally invite everyone around to our feast. We went to the school across the street and asked where their families on free and reduced lunch came from. Then, we went knocking. We invited three apartments to our meal, all the kids and families at the school, and the neighborhood list serve. That first free meal was a wild success by most standards. We partnered with The elementary school and provided meals for well over 100 families. And, most of the church showed up to make it a success. But for my definition of service ministry and community building, it was not yet a success.  Here’s what it looks like:

DSC_1433

The next few meals were also well attended and folks from Servant Church showed up to help. Every month, we knock on doors, visit a local strip club to pray and invite there, and hand out invitations all over. We grill over 100 burgers and dogs, we make two crock pots of pulled pork and hand out groceries to many families. Twice zero to few have showed up and we’ve learned from those failures. But we’d never had a successful meal.

People from the apartments started showing up for church. Groups started giving them rides to worship.  We became friends with many of the folks from one complex in particular.  Last Easter, a number of them joined us for lunch at a Servant Church person’s home far on the west side of town–a place where most native east-siders would never find themselves.  But we’d still never had a successful meal.

For me, our meal would be successful when the people we were inviting began to see it as their meal too.  A successful meal would be when one person from the apartments brought something to contribute.  Then I would know they saw Servant Church as their place too.  And I would know they were empowered to serve alongside us.

Last week, I thought we would cancel.  We went to a long-time attendee of the meal to visit her in her apartment.  Several women were there and we prayed for one another.  Then, I broke the news: “Stephanie, I think we’re going to have to cancel the BBQ. Everyone from the church is busy or out of town and we only have bread and a side dish so far.”  Like I said, I felt OK about this.  The people had seen us so often over the last 2 years that I knew they would not feel abandoned.  And Stephanie said it was OK too.  For the first time, we planned the next meal there in her apartment, with the residents.  And it’s going to be awesome! 

As I stood to leave, Stephanie had an idea.  She grabbed her stove and said, “I’m having a moment.  This stove is talkin to me!” We all laughed but she said, “No, seriously.  Let’s just do it.  I’ll make sandwiches and buy a watermelon.” And then everyone chimed in with what they could bring.  The people standing outside agreed to set up tables and it was done.  We were being invited to a meal by the people at the apartments.

On Saturday, when I showed up, Stephanie and her friends made over 108 sandwiches.  They’d cut up fruit.  We brought what we had and they brought what they had and everyone ate and there was enough.  I can’t wait to do it again.

Success!

 

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Easter People, listen, I tell you a mystery:

Christ is Risen.
Christ is Risen.
This means everything has changed.
Every. Thing. Has. Changed.
The old rules don’t apply. There are new rules. They are on our hearts. And they go something like this:
Do not be afraid. Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Do not be afraid. Make disciples (Jesus followers). Teach them to do all that I have commanded: Follow me. Do not be afraid. Love God and love neighbor. Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Heal the sick. Follow me. Do not be afraid. Put away your sword. Take up the cross. Follow me. Do not be afraid. Visit the prisoner. Love your enemies. God will judge. I will judge. You–follow me. Do not be afraid. Pray. Sabbath. Do not worry about tomorrow. Do not store up treasures here. Forgive. Eat this bread and drink this cup and remember me. Follow me. Do not be afraid. Wash one another’s feet. Give more than what is asked of you. Abide in my love. Follow me. Do not be afraid. Jesus is with us until the very end of the age.

Why are we afraid? I know that, of course, we get scared.  I get scared.  Scared of life without the people I love.  Scared of the unknown parts of death.  Scared of pain and suffering.  Of course we get scared.  And yet, I pray (not enough) to make decisions based not out of fear but out of love.  We are supposedly people trying to live by these new rules but it can be so hard to see.  How do we make disciples when WE are such poor disciples?  I am sad that I often feel like our church identifies with Peter BEFORE the resurrection.  But what about Peter after the Holy Mystery Christ? What would our world look like if all Christians tried every day to live as if the resurrection is true?  Many of us DO clothe the naked and feed the sick.  But I’m talking about the things Jesus and God ask of us throughout the Bible:  Do not be afraid. Follow me.

Can we covenant to start putting fear aside? To make all of our decisions from a place that abides in the love of Christ and the hope of resurrection? Can we live like the Kingdom of God is a present reality?

I write this in frustration.  The week here in the US has been one of dealing with violence (the bombings in Boston), making decisions against peace (the inability to pass stricter gun laws), and an unexpected explosion of a fertilizer plant in TX that killed and wounded many.  And around the world, people are suffering from bombings every day and other natural disasters (I think I read about an earthquake).  And I am struck with the fact that we are very violent and scared for a bunch of Christians.  We are very afraid and we love our swords.  We love to talk about safety and keeping people safe. But Jesus never talked about keeping people safe.  He did talk about caring for people.  But not about protecting and keeping them safe from harm.  Because, well, we can’t do that.  Not really.  We will all be harmed at some point.  We will all be hurt.  We will all suffer.  We will all die.  This doesn’t mean we should not try to prevent suffering if we can.  It definitely means we should not cause suffering.  But we cannot prevent all suffering.  Ever. Sometimes, we even just have 2 bad choices–both of which will cause suffering.  That makes it hard to know how to act, doesn’t it?

That’s why I need you Church.  I need you to help me be more like Jesus when I have bad choices all around.  I need you to help me find a way where there is no way.  I need you to pray with me.  The only thing we can really do in the face of suffering is care for one another in the midst of suffering.  And remind one another of our hope–that none of these things have the last word.   Can anything separate us from God’s love?

Who will separate us from Christ’s love? Will we be separated by trouble, or distress, or harassment, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

We are being put to death all day long for your sake.
We are treated like sheep for slaughter.

But in all these things we win a sweeping victory through the one who loved us.  I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers  or height or depth, or any other thing that is created. (Romans 8:35-39)

I need help to live without fear.  We need to help one another in this every day.  I need us to be less violent and protective and more open and sacrificial so that I can really understand Christ. And so the Kingdom of God will exist, even if it’s just a glimpse of the resurrection.  I NEED to see the Kingdom of God more often.  I think we all do.  Because then we can know “Love never fails. As for prophecies, they will be brought to an end. As for tongues, they will stop. As for knowledge, it will be brought to an end. We know in part and we prophesy in part;  but when the perfect comes, what is partial will be brought to an end. … Now we see a reflection in a mirror; then we will see face-to-face. Now I know partially, but then I will know completely in the same way that I have been completely known. Now faith, hope, and love remain—these three things—and the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor. 13:8-13)

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Blogging again…

So, my blog went on a hiatus.  For a number of reasons.  Last year I was trying to get ordained, working on the Young People’s Address for General Conference, traveling to Tampa, trying to get ordained, growing Servant Church, trying to get ordained, trying to get ordained, trying, trying, GOT ORDAINED, went to Africa, went to Jurisdictional Conference, had the first Division on Ministries with Young People’s Meeting, and then tried to piece everything that was on hold back together.

I’m back though and have been jotting down things to write about.  Not for any particular readers–I don’t think I really have that many.  But for me and my trying to piece together what it means to be a deacon in the UMC.  Because, we don’t have a really clear theology around ordination, y’all.  And that can be…difficult.

The Bishop ordaining me:

I’m in there somewhere…

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Back to School Blessing

I pieced this together from catholicculture.org
I added more responses and a few things of my own. Feel free to use it:

Back to School Blessing

LEADER:  Will the teachers, school administrators, counselors, school volunteers, support staff, cafeteria workers, school bus drivers, and all others who work in our schools, who are able, please stand at this time?

Today we remember the children and youth of this congregation and our city and those involved in their education.  This is a high calling.  Those who teach our children help shape the future.  We give thanks to a gracious God for the teachers, school administrators, counselors, school volunteers, support staff, cafeteria workers, school bus drivers, and all others who work in our schools.

I ask you now, will you share your knowledge with gentleness, patience, and concern for your students? (the answer is “I will”) Will you pray for your students and parents whole-heartedly and often?

Congregation, will you celebrate their calling and pledge to support them and others in our communities who are involved in the education of our children and youth?

Lay a hand on a person standing near you (or on someone who is laying a hand on a person standing near you).  Let us pray.

You may be seated.

LEADER:  As we recognize those who teach in schools, we recognize as well those who teach at home.  Will parents and guardians of our children and youth in school, who are able, please stand.

Education involves a partnership between school, home, and community.  The support of parents and guardians is essential to a child’s success.  This morning we recognize you for the support you give the students in your home.  We hold in prayer all those in this congregation who have children and youth in school and pray that all homes will be a place where learning is valued and encouragement offered.

Parents and guardians, will you nurture and support your children’s education? Will you nurture and support your teachers and all the support staff that make your children’s education possible?

Congregation, will you pledge your support to parents and guardians? Will you pray that our ministries will encourage and strengthen those in our church families who provide care for children?

Lay a hand on a person standing near you (or on someone who is laying a hand on a person standing near you).  Let us pray.

You may be seated.

LEADER:  At this time I would like to invite our youth and children in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, junior high, high school, college, or graduate school, if you are able, to stand.

Your church family believes that each of you is a gift from God filled with potential and possibility.  We pray that as you learn and grow, you will develop caring hearts and minds that think clearly.  We believe in you and care about your education.

Students, will you try to enjoy your learning? Will you work hard at your studies? Will you try to act just like Jesus with your teachers and your friends at school?

Congregation, as their faith community, will you pledge to be with them on their educational journey? Will you affirm that each of these students is a precious gift from God? Will you do all that you are able to ensure that your schools are positive places filled with hope and the resources necessary for learning?

Lay a hand on a person standing near you (or on someone who is laying a hand on a person standing near you).  Let us pray.

You may be seated.

LEADER:  Let us pray.  Gracious God, we lift up to you all those involved in education in this community and in all the communities in our nation and world.  Guide us, God, that we will know the best way to show our interest and support for our students, teachers, and all those involved in education.

We pray for wisdom and strength to make a positive difference in the lives of those in school.  We pray for courage to explore new ways of supporting the people and institutions that teach our children and youth.  We pray in the name of the great teacher, Jesus, Amen.


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Easter Egg Hunt–Servant Church Style

So, you are thinking, “Abby.  Easter was 6 weeks ago.  It is Pentecost this Sunday.  You’re too late.”  I know.  I’m sorry.  I kept meaning to post this and well, now it’s Pentecost.  Anyhow, I wanted this in the blog before I forgot.

On Easter Sunday, Servant Church and our host church Asbury UMC did an Easter Egg Hunt.  I was nervous.  Please don’t take this the wrong way my 3 readers, but I really don’t like most church sponsored Easter Egg Hunts.  I was fine hunting at home with my parents.  If I lived at home now, my mom would probably still make me hunt eggs.  She loves it.  I just don’t like how it’s kind of supplanted the resurrection story that is what I center my life upon.  I have major theological issues with the pre-Easter easter egg hunts (especially when they are on Palm Sunday…that just seems weird).  And I also am a bit squeamish about all the waste and excess (plastic eggs, cheap toys, CANDY).  Then there is the fighting over eggs, the fact that little ones get pushed around if the hunting places are separated, and it doesn’t seem to last long…is it really community outreach?  I also get stuck on the weird thing about bunnies and Jesus and how they just don’t go together.  So, I was not excited to hear we were doing a hunt.

After saying the above, I was glad it was on Easter morning and that we were using it as a way to give a free meal to people in our community.  Servant Church did a lot of outreach prior to the day.  We took fliers around to invite anyone for the breakfast but specifically targeted families with young children.  We even had women take fliers to the local strip club to invite those mommies over for Easter Sunday egg hunt and breakfast.

My favorite thing that we did was shift the perspective in a way that kids could understand.  We filled the eggs with chick and bunny themed items–we embraced the bunny! But, for every egg the kids found, we donated chicks and bunnies via Church World Service.  So, kids were hunting on the behalf of other kids around the world.  And I think kids can get that.  As their baskets filled up, they brought them to our mission table and counted up what they found.  Then we gave them a certificate explaining what they’d done for someone else.  Best Easter Egg Hunt EVER.  Kids were saying, I found 110 chicks, or 10 bunnies.  They were excited to get the candy and to find chicks and bunnies for others.

It was a good day with lots of new people eating breakfast and learning about alternative gift giving.  Good job Servant Church.

Easter Sunday Chick and Bunny Certificates

Our Invitations

 

 

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Servant Church Story of the Week

So, this story didn’t happen this week but it’s a GOOD story. All through Lent and on Good Friday, we wrote letters to prisoners. We thought we were doing this really nice thing for some lonely prisoners. One person didn’t even think her letter would have any meaning to the prisoner receiving it. She hesitated to write it and only signed it with her initials. That letter was so meaningful to the person receiving that it got sent back to the prisoner’s pastor. He wanted her to read what this stranger had written. He also asked that his pastor return the letter to him when she’d finished reading it. But the story gets better. This same prisoner received a packet of letters and an inheritance around the same time. He wanted to tithe his inheritance and gave half to his home church and half to Servant Church. $540. We received one of our biggest donations that month from a stranger. In prison.

I love this story because it shows what it means to serve. We wrote thinking we were doing this nice thing, and God turned it all upside down. The point is not the money, it’s the upside down-ness. We obviously did not choose a form of service that would be likely to have any sort of pay-off for us. We take a risk by “wasting our time” connecting with someone with no gifts. And that person turns out to be most gifted via an unexpected inheritance??!! God is so playful. I am grateful for the joy we get to experience.

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