Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A NoMi Church Conversation

Post by the Hawthorne Hawkman, photo from the Salem ELCA website.

Back in college, I read a book by Dr. John Perkins called "Rebuilding Communities, Doing it Together and Doing it Right," which made me want to get into community organizing work.  Dr. Perkins wrote about transforming communities not just as an organizer from the outside, but by relocating into that community.  Even before graduation, I had a chance to put his ideas to the test as a founding member of the Project Neighborhood program, which has expanded and is still going strong in Grand Rapids, MI today.

Since beginning my work in Hawthorne, I have moved here and sought out a place of worship at River of Life Lutheran Church on 22nd and Fremont.  And while I was excited to see what ROL has had to offer the community (the Loaves and Fishes program, a new rainwater garden, and a small gym are some examples), I often felt like "the church" as a larger body was not sufficiently engaged with north Minneapolis.  Or if the church was so engaged, then at least I wasn't plugged into that in the way I wanted.

So when my pastor sent out an email inviting me to a "NoMi Churches Conversation" with several other denominations, I knew I had to go.  Plus, she used "NoMi" without me even having to prompt her.  I'm not going to lie; that scored points with me BIG TIME.  This was certainly not the first time that multiple denominations came together to talk about our collective place in the community, and what God wants us to do about it, but it was my first such engagement in NoMi.   We met at Salem Lutheran and Pastor Dave Wangaard facilitated.  The notes that Pastor Lee Ann Pomrenke took are after the jump...

...The evening began with brief worship, then conversation in groups of 3 or 4 about the 2 questions below. We reported to the whole group some of what we discussed:

What are our churches doing missionally?
·         Food and clothing
·         Community Dinners (CE and Redeemer)
·         Reaching out to youth – drop-in center, sports (St. Andrew’s Episc.)
·         Possible emergency winter shelter (River of Life)
·         Broadly: justice ministry
·         DED and TPS advocacy for Liberian immigrants
·         Engaging community – What are their desires: needs and gifts?
·         Economic development: job creation (esp. St. Olaf nursing home)
·         Neighborhood identity is an asset of the northside!

What is going on with these churches financially?
·         We’re having a dry season – don’t eat the seed!
·         The business model of traditional church (membership supported) doesn’t work so well in this context. They need multiple income streams, blending of for-profit/non-profit?
·         We do middle class and upper class church well (Methodists, Pr. Linda), but the per member contribution model doesn’t work when members have little finances to contribute.
·         River of Life, Christ English, St. Olaf (mostly dedicated funds) & Salem have foundations. North UMC has a small dedicated funds trust fund. Others do not have foundations/endowments.

David, Bishop’s Associate: Have you heard that no more than 60% of your budget should go to building and property, so that 40% can go to mission?

So, what is God up to through us?

Pr. Kelly (Redeemer): What if we think about the assets of the community – asking those who are not in our churches to help us! We make it very challenging to be a part of us. We need to see people as assets in re-imagining “church.”

Sue (North UMC): It is very important to ask the community what they want from us

Pr. Judy (Salem): …and do not assume that the community knows who you are.

Linda Sue: (Christ Eng): We are a part of the community too! We live here too. What do we want? Safe streets, good schools, etc.

Heather (Christ English): Change the Us/Them conversation! It’s just “Us”.

Jeff (RoL): Ecumenical dialogue is absolutely necessary. This is the first ecumenical conversation like this I’ve known about.

Sue (St. Olaf): There are churches that are probably “mainline” for north Minneapolis, who should be here too.

Pr. Judy (Salem): Turf wars are over, which helps us develop individual identities that can be embraced by everyone.

Pr. Melissa (Christ English): Mundane things where we can work together are great too - like ordering things in bulk together.

Bob (RoL): Could we expand this conversation to include interfaith partners, like from the Islamic centers?

Kathy (Gethsemane): There are no barriers and dividing lines at “community” meals. Everybody is welcome.

Sue (St. Olaf): Do tough times make us hunker down or collaborate to save money? I’d love to see us provide more opportunities for employment (with benefits).

Caleb (Redeemer): If we’re dreaming here – I would love to see everyone learn a 2nd language.

Chuck (Christ English): How is the larger church scaling back? Salaries. Perhaps we should take cues from them? Shared staffing.

Heather (Christ English): It would be really helpful to put together a graph of the churches and what ministries we have. Some of the assets we need at all locations, but we could really support each other for more vital ministries.

Next steps:
  • Visits to each other’s councils to have this brainstorming session with more people
  • Press Release? 
(End of notes from meeting)

Well, one of the next steps IS a press release of sorts here on this blog.  We know, as noted in the meeting, that there are plenty of other denominations and faiths that need to be a part of this discussion, and we hope to meet with them as well.  Whether it's here on this blog, in our churches, or out in the neighborhoods, the dialogue of what we can do together is sure to continue.

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