Last week I began an e-course entitled “The Wisdom of Parables.” The offering is a collaboration between Spirituality and Practice and Contemplative Outreach. We were praying with the story of the Tax Collector and the Pharisee in Luke 18: 10-14.
Also last week, the church where I serve, The Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit in Alabaster, AL, in collaboration with the school system, became a feeding site for offering free lunches for children. The community has been gearing up–preparing the parish hall, signing up volunteers. We even received a grant from our diocese to provide free books to the children–nourishing body and mind and hopefully, through relationship, soul.
On day one a grand total of ONE child showed up from outside of our community for lunch. Our disappointment was abated by the parish hall being filled with young families from Holy Spirit sharing meals, laughing, and playing on the playground.
That afternoon I drove around a neighboring mobile home park distributing flyers in english and spanish inviting families to eat and read with us. I met smiling mothers, gorgeous children, my heart was full from the encounters and I was sure we would have a better response.
And we did. On day two our numbers doubled and we had TWO children from outside the community come to receive lunch. “We are called to be faithful, not to be successful.” I encouraged our deflating volunteers. “We are not in control of the outcome, God is.”
By the grace of God, I was away and out of the way the next day. One of our members, Toni Nash, brought her friend Cheryl to help with distribution. Again, barely anyone came to the parish hall. Bi-lingual Cheryl, familiar with the culture Cheryl, asked, “Why are we sitting here? We need to take the food to them.”
And they packed up food and books and drove next door. Anytime they heard or saw a child, they would approach the home and ask if they would like a lunch and a book. Twenty five lunches were distributed and 50 were ordered the next day. Loretta, Tim, and the team at the Alabaster City School System have been flexible and encouraging at every step.
By Monday we were distributing 75 lunches per day and all indicators are that the numbers will grow. We have set up a station at the entrance to the community for families to receive food and books. We continue to receive more children at the church as well. Yesterday there was story time in our choir room!
As is often the case when co-creating with Christ, so much has been turned on its head. Instead of receiving guests in our home, for the most part, they have been receiving us in their homes.
So many questions are swirling. When we approach the door/the neighborhood, how do we change the energy? Do we enter with humility or perceived power? Do we recognize our deep needs as well as those of our neighbors? Do we experience mutuality or superiority?
Most profoundly, Where is the church?
In the Spirituality and Practice course that I mentioned, we were guided through visio divina with the painting pictured above by Roerich Nicholas. I was struck how when I approached our neighbors homes, I felt like the man pictured in the painting. I was received by those who were gracious and humble; I needed the sanctuary they provided.
Finally, In her book, Making All Things New, Ilio Delia describes the church as either a closed systems which “perceives everything outside the system as a potential threat…” (127) Or an open system which can change as the environment changes. Quoting systems theorist Eric Jantsch, “To live with an evolutionary spirit is to let go when the right time comes and to engage new structures of relationships.” (The Self-Organizing Universe, 40)
Collaboration with the school system, the diocese, and the FDA; inspiration from a guest volunteer, and willingness to leave the confines of our physical space all reflect a thriving, evolving, open system. I am grateful for this ongoing experience and this beloved community.
If you would like to contribute to our ongoing relationship with our neighbors, please consider making a donation and if you like you may note “outreach” in the memo. Thank you!