Friday, January 15, 2010

Neighborhood Churches Unite!

What's it take for a church to help make the neighborhood a better place to live? If people are going to drive from all over the community to worship in a church facility, how is that neighborhood better off because of that weekly event? If a local congregation were to shut the doors, would the neighborhood notice? Would they cheer? Or would they protest and insist you stay part of the neighborhood?

A bunch of the local pastors in the Anchor neighborhood keep finding ways to serve our neighbors, to be a blessing to them. We met Thursday morning with Judge Charles Pratt to discuss with him how churches could better serve families and children in our neighborhood - particularly those involved with the courts and prison system. Judge Pratt was clearly delighted to discover that our churches were willing to learn and come to grips with how big the problem is, and willing to learn what we can do to help.

All of our churches have families in them who are dealing with the court system, who have a loved one in prison or recently released from prison. And as we get more involved in the lives of these families, the situation gets more complicated. Where is the line between empowering and enabling, between empathy and cynicism? And do we need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to being helpful? Who else is doing something good and can we learn from them, even join them?

Jesus insisted that he came to "proclaim freedom for the prisoners". What's that look like today in a developed nation that incarcerates a greater percentage of its people than any other? If Jesus wasn't pro-anarchist, and if Jesus insisted on repentance for forgiveness, and if Jesus is to be recognized in those who visit prisoners, what is a church to do? What does our neighborhood need us to do? What does the courthouse need us to do? What does the prison-industrial complex need us to do? What do prisoners and their families need us to do? What does God need us to do?

Peter Janzen, pastor of First Mennonite Church, sent around a copy of his devotional that morning:
The Lord says, "See, I am doing a new thing!" Isaiah 43v19
But I believe that God calls unlikely persons to do the extraordinary. I don't know what lies in my future, but I do know that God may call all of us to do "new things." If we believe this and trust, God will equip us...
It's obvious God is at work in our neighborhood, and he is bringing prisoners to our churches. What a gift! And now the amazing and intriguing and beautiful work continues of helping more men and women and children experience restoration and reconciliation.

Our next step is to meet again with Judge Pratt to develop more details about what we can do to help. We also want to use the Lenten Series to educate and inspire our churches to get more involved with this work. We've spent the last couple of years as local neighborhood churches feasting and worshipping together on the Sunday evenings of Lent. This year we'll continue the feasting, but we'll also do some work - getting wisdom on what the Spirit is up to and how we can join in.

Who are the co-conspirators collaborating together in our neighborhood for this new thing?
Peter Janzen, First Mennonite Church
Dave Altman, North Highlands Church of Christ
Hal Thomas, Faith United Presbyterian Church
Larry Maddox, Three Rivers Wesleyan Church
Steve Cain, Trinity United Methodist Church
Tim Hallman, Anchor Community Church.

I'm pretty sure Grace Presbyterian Church will be in on this with us, and we're hoping Trinity Evangelical Lutheran will join us, as well as some more churches in the neighborhood.

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