Friday, November 20, 2009

Getting To Know Your Neighbor

by Rev. Laura Barclay

Last night, I attended the Metro Council of Churches meeting for C.H.A.N.G.E. (Communities Helping All Neighbors Gain Empowerment), an intentionally multi-racial, multi-faith, non-partisan organization that brings churches, non-profits, and neighborhood associations together to solve identified community problems through collaborative research. We then meet with corporate leaders and government officials to challenge them to work with us toward a solution. Delegates representing each of our churches met last night, and one of our activities was to find a person you don’t know and ask them the following questions:

1) Why are you here?
2) What makes you angry/get up in the morning/lose sleep at night?

We had 25 minutes to make a new friend. I paired up with the Liberian-American gentleman sitting to my right representing an African-American Missionary Baptist church. I learned what worried and angered him, why he cared about making a difference in Winston-Salem, and what he’d like to see changed. We had similar values and concerns. Perhaps the most profound thing he said was, “I see this as God’s work. We can say it in church and not live it. Here, we are living Jesus’ example and caring about each other.” He also said that getting to know one another makes it harder to make generalizations about a person based on skin color. Once you get to know one another and trust that you both want to work side by side to make positive change, you realize how much you have in common. Suddenly, the fractures in the body of Christ don’t seem so deep.

The point of the exercise was to connect the members of C.H.A.N.G.E. on a deeper level and to cause you to care about your neighbors even more than the issues you might organize around. You stick with social justice work because you know and love your neighbor, and want to continue to work by their side. I think churches could learn a lot from this model for two main reasons. First, a healthy church should be missional and engaged in the work of the community. Staying enclosed behind the walls of the church in a self-contained community is not what Jesus asked of us. Second, I think church members should have relational meetings with each other and non-church members in their community. In this way, stories become intertwined in the larger narrative of God’s people working through history to be a light to the world. So, go have coffee with someone you don’t know very well. Have lunch with that person you always wanted to know better. You might find out that you aren’t so different after all, and that you can work together “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God [Micah 6:8].”

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