Secular Plus Sacred = Service and Ministry to the Community
Free food? Did someone say free food? Well, you don’t have to ask me twice!
On Sunday I had the pleasure of going to the dedication of the Jefferson Community Food Pantry (which involved the aforementioned free party food). Most of you probably haven’t heard of the tiny town of Jefferson (pop. 3,098) located just south of Salem, Oregon. But I can tell you, the folks in Jefferson know all about Jefferson United Methodist Church and its Community Food Pantry.
For years, the pantry ran out of the small church. In fact, I once went there and cans of food were stacked at the back of the sanctuary, in the fellowship hall, and in just about every nook and cranny. It was an amazing visual. About a year or so ago, some forward-thinking church members decided that it was time that the Food Pantry had its own space. And that’s where the secular and sacred came together. Under the super-duper energized layperson Tami Manning, a committee was formed. It brought together people from the community and the church to meet a real need: feeding hungry people.
The community organized to write grants, host fundraisers, donate supplies and services, and to give their prayers and hearts. The outcome? A fabulous new building where community members can go once a week to shop for healthy food options for their families – just like a regular grocery store. It’s not just about free food either, the town and the church are committed to ending hunger in their community – but they also know that people sometimes need a hand up before they can tackle the root causes of hunger.
What can you learn about melding the scared and the secular for a good cause? Many of you already are old pros at this, but here are a few things to think about:
Be sensitive to people who aren’t comfortable with church or God talk. As Rev. Bill Hays said at the dedication, “It doesn’t matter. The secular and the sacred can come together and make a difference in the community.” Keep the end goal in mind: how you can both best meet the need in your community.
If you apply for secular grants, your ministry cannot primarily benefit your members. Having a coalition of non-church community supporters will strengthen your grant application. Proselytizing is also a no-no for almost all secular foundations.
Be professional. Do your homework. Impress the community that you are serious and know what you’re talking about.
Go in with an open heart and open ears. Begin with dialogue versus declarative statements about “what must be done.” See your new ministry as a way to build bridges so that the community is the ultimate beneficiary.
Don’t get hung up on the name. You might not call be able to call it a “ministry,” but you know it’s one anyway – with or without the word in the title.
Sometimes people of faith can be afraid of what might happen when the community is included in designing a ministry to meet a community need. And guess what? The community is sometimes afraid of involving the church too. But don’t let fear stop you. Your community stands to have real needs met if you open, rather than close doors of opportunity. So make that first call and say, “Can we meet and talk about an idea I have?”
Cesie Delve Scheuermann is a consultant in stewardship, development, and grant writing. Over the past decade, while working as a volunteer and part-time consultant, she helped raise over $2.5 million dollars for numerous non-profit organizations. She misses the days when she never had to cook because she crashed all those receptions. She served as the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference Lay Leader from 2008-2012. Her position with the Conference is funded through a generous grant from the Collins Foundation; she is available to consult with churches in Oregon and Idaho. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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