A good friend of mine describes a faith community’s engagement with the greater community it serves as “faith in action”. The traditional moniker for a faith community’s work on behalf of its neighbors is usually “outreach”. I believe that, while well-intentioned, “outreach” actually constructs a barrier between the faith community and the community-at-large. One by where, the faith community, with its feet firmly planted within its four walls, is extending only a part of itself, not the whole…
Talking, working and breaking bread with other faith leaders, from all denominations and across faith traditions, has shown me something. No matter who one prays to; or, what one calls the creator, there is the powerful truth that we are all called to engage with the world around us. That can be our neighborhood, our city-or, even a country half-way around the world. The common thread is that our faith teaches and calls us to do so.
Galatians 6:2 calls on those of us who are Christians to “carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ”. I don’t know about you; but, I can’t read a different way out of this verse other than to move outside of the silos of our sanctuaries to engage with our siblings of God. There is no way to carry the burden’s of another person from the comforts of our own home. Sure, we can write a check, donate to a cause online, or send a form-filled email to our political representatives with no effort at all. But, will that carry another child of God?
Mirriam-Webster dictionary defines engagement as: emotional involvement or commitment ; the state of being in gear. Herein lies my preference for “engagement” as opposed to “outreach”. Mobilizing one-self, a group, or a congregation to be “in gear” with skin in the game is no easy task. But, speaking on behalf of Christians that is not what following Jesus is all about. As my dear friend also said, “following Jesus is dangerous. It takes courage”.
As I write this, I am reminded of just a few instances I see courage working in our community. There are groups of people working together for a stronger, more just community-advocating for a diverse spectrum of housing, committing to combat food insecurity and access to healthy food, collaborating with local government to find solutions for our unhoused siblings of God who will soon be facing bitter cold and instability… These are just a few of the efforts at work in your community right now.
The engagement opportunities are here. Where will you put your faith into action?