Updated: Oct 5, 2020
by Rev. Marj Funk-Pihl, Director for Evangelical Mission, SWCA Synod
Love is best when it's mutual. Right?
During our June synod assembly, I asked everyone to describe how your congregation loved and served its neighbors. 72 of those present wrote about a congregationally supported feeding program. Great!!
Today I want to dig a bit deeper into the data to discover if the love expressed in these responses is mutual, or a bit one-sided. The words used to describe the relationship between the congregation and neighbor indicate the type of love at work. Here are a few indicative phrases:
“partnership with our neighbors”
“becoming engaged with the community”
“caring for those in need”
“ministries to the homeless”
Do you hear the difference? Love that serves “with” neighbor is apt to be mutual. Love that offers a service “to” the neighbor is likely to be experienced more as a patron/client relationship, than a friendship. The one doing the serving has something the one being served needs. I often hear people complain that the people who utilize their food distribution programs “never come to worship.” Why do you think that is? Would you feel comfortable joining a congregation if you saw yourself as a client of the congregation’s foodbank? What if you saw yourself as working with them to provide food for the neighborhood?
Whichever words your congregation currently uses to describe its relationship with your neighbors, the underlying motivation is probably compassion. If your congregation talks about helping the poor and doing for the needy, that’s good start. We can build on that compassion and move toward working with those who do not have what they need to survive, to create an experience that is based on God’s love and care for all.
What I sense God is doing through our congregations in the SWCA of the ELCA is best summed up by a comment submitted at assembly:
“the beginning of moving from an inward focus, to a focus on God, neighbor and creation.”
If you think your congregation is ready to move from “to/for” to “with,” I invite you to participate in one of the introductory workshops for Living the Resurrection featured in the "workshop" section of this website.
May we all learn to love God, one another and our neighbors more deeply every day.