As Anglican Church of the Redeemer moved into a newly purchased church building we asked ourselves this question: What does it mean for a local church to love its neighborhood? The Bishop of our dioceses, Archbishop Foley Beach had recommended to all Priests within our diocese to draw a mental one mile map around the church building and seek to work with all who occupied some space in that area, whether it is people that live in the neighborhood, run or work for a business in our neighborhood or whether it’s a school, city institution or other ministry in our patch, he said we should serve these people as any good neighbor might. But what does this look like?
Of course context matters. We live in a time when it seems everybody is out to sell you something. People, who are not in church, are likely going to see the neighborhood church that wants to be friendly, as a ploy to get them to come to their services. The more cynical will say it’s because they need my dollars in their offering plate. Others who are in church might see the church that they don’t attend as a strange group of people sort of in conflict with their own convictions and against the teaching they hear on Sunday. Still others who might be members in a church or might not be, might ask, well what can a church do for us? Beyond Sunday services, and perhaps the midweek bible study what can a church do for my business?
All those are good and natural things local neighbors might ask. It might even be that some at Redeemer would ask the same questions. Here are a couple of things that we have been thinking about in order to try and answer these questions, or placate suspicion.
First on matters of trust and what loving a neighborhood looks like:
While we would love to have more attendees at our church and while it would be nice to be able to steward money given in trust to the Vestry of Redeemer in order to do “the Lord’s work” our first priority in loving our neighborhood isn’t to grow the church. Our first priority really is to love our neighborhood. There are so many churches in Chattanooga, and most people have heard the gospel preached to them at one point or another that it is likely that religious jargon comes in one ear and goes out the other. Loving our neighborhood just means loving our neighborhood, like a good neighbor does. You ran out of milk? Need some eggs? We might have some. Can’t get the car started. Well, we got jumper cables. That’s what neighbors do.
Second, on what the church can be for a neighborhood:
In years past churches have been meeting places for civic engagement. The role of the Priest or parson was looked at as a position of influence, without yielding power. The Priest was there to try and help answer questions that did not only deal with other worldly issues but was from time to time called on to speak up for those that do not have a voice within the reigning structures of power. We cannot pretend that we have any sort of sway on city hall. But we can offer the promise that we will engage in questions of civic organizing, if neighbors in our patch would like to do something about littering, or cars driving too fast down side roads, to name but a few of the things people might be concerned about.
Third, our church is full of people who might be able to help you:
Every institution is made up of people that know other people. Churches are no different. I recently ran into somebody that wanted to find a Roman Catholic Priest to say last rites for their dying mother. We are not Roman Catholic, but we have members in the congregation that are involved in hospice care that know Priests and so we were able together, to find somebody that was willing to help this mother die well. It might not be that we advertise all the connections members of our congregation have, but if we knew of a need, it is likely that somebody in our “social networks” would be able to help. Rather than money, as in capital to start a business, this is called social capital. One of us might not have any money we can give away or lend, but we might have somebody that has a couple of spare hours in which to look at a business plan and find the holes the bank will find to get that loan.
So if you are reading this and you are in the Brainerd, or East Ridge neighborhood, why not come down, call or email the church and perhaps we can work towards the common good of our patch.