Whenever I hear a church say, in responses to any question about how they care for the poor, "Well we give to X charity" all I hear is "We outsource our Jesus work so we don't have to do it."
I did realize after I posted it that I could have worded it a bit better (and still retained the snark, which i think is necessary sometimes). Because I can see how it might come across as saying that any church that gives resources to other organizations is outsourcing their Jesus work. So allow to me say a few things about what I posted, because I believe this conversation is important, and this question of how we as the church use all the resources we have is vital to the work of the gospel.
I am the director of Our Common Ground. We are an organization that depends on donations to keep doing the work that we do, and living into our mission to welcome and build relationships and community with folks living outside. I spend time every week sharing about Our Common Ground, letting people know about the work that we do, sharing stories about why what we do is needed, in the church and in our community, and inviting others to join us in keeping our work going. We would not have been able to begin the work that we do without significant funds and resources that are donated. And those who give to us we see not just as donors, but as partners in our work. We each bring something to the table to make this mission happen, which in our case is providing time and space for community and relationship to happen with our neighbors who live outside. This is a beautiful thing.
And this is not only beautiful because it allows Our Common Ground live out its mission in Everett. It is beautiful because it shows us a picture of the Commonwealth of God’s Love and Justice.* Of what the body of Christ looks like in action. One community might be a hand. They are amazing at doing X, but they also need Y to make X happen. Another community might be a hand, and have plenty of Y, but not enough energy to make X happen. The hand and the arm need one another to make that Jesus work happen. This is far from outsourcing Jesus work. This is partnership, collaboration, to bring the Commonwealth of God’s love and Justice to earth. And this is partnership I am proud and thankful to participate in at Our Common Ground.
But giving can also have another side. I have had conversations with churches that have large buildings, lots of money, and resources galore. And when the topic comes up of how we can be a church that welcomes the poor, they tell me that they give the the nearest gospel mission. And I come to realize that even though their building is right in the middle of downtown, it is not a welcoming place for neighbors experiencing homelessness.
And here we can see how giving can have a dark side. Because the reality is, it is far easier to write a check then to show up. It is far easier to give money then be present with people experiencing the trauma of living outside. And because we live in a culture that sees money as a marker of goodness and morality, the giving of money can begin to seem like the most important thing one can do.
Now, don’t hear me saying showing up is easy in this work. I know that inviting neighbors who live outside into your church and your life is hard. And as people of faith, each one of us in on a journey of learning how to better show up, love, and be present with all those around us. And that not all of us are in the same place on this journey. Hear me when I say, I am so thankful that people give to Our Common Ground, even though they are a bit unsure about showing up, because they believe in what we do. I do not want to minimize that it is not as easy for some people to show up, and that not everyone will be able to show up in the same way.
But the reality is, we as the church are called to get out of our comfort zone and show up. To be present with people experiencing trauma. To open our doors - physical and relational - to neighbors experiencing homelessness, addiction, and mental (un)health. To be willing to deal with the mess that comes because of community and relationship. Because as the church, we are called not simply to give, but to be present, to love and welcome those who are poor, hurting, and pushed aside by our society. And it doesn’t matter how much your church gives to other organizations. It does not alleviate the responsibility to be the church. Giving all the money in the world does not let a church off the hook from asking, “How are we, in our context and place, be present those who are poor?” Now, this doesn’t mean all churches can do this in the same way, or on the same scale. Some have large buildings and lots of people, some have no building and a small group of people. What we do will look different. It is THAT we show up and do it that matters.
And that is why I will continue to call us as the Church to show up, to be present, and to give holistically of ourselves and our resources. I will continue to call the church to open its doors to those in need. I will continue to call this Church that I am a part of to give relationally, not just monetarily. I will continue to invite people to join our work and get to know those who live outside. And yes, I will continue to ask for donations to keep Our Common Ground going. Because I believe in what we do. But with every donation will also come an invitation to be present, to take a step in the direction of relationship, and to join us in this work - with us or in your own context - of living out the gospel in our world.
Because I dream of a world in which the commonwealth of God’s love and justice rolls down like a river. And that will take the active imagination and work of the whole Church.
(PS: If you want to learn more about Our Common Group, please visit our website!)