The Light at the Center
Last night I attended a meeting which reminded me of why I entered the ministry. In fact, it reminded me of why I even go to church. Where was I? I was in a meeting hall in the Evangelical Christian Church of Brockton, MA. I was there to both learn from and support through my presence the Brockton Interfaith Community (BIC) as they experienced a moment of renewal and rebirth. I was there representing the Eliot Church and Metropolitan Congregations Acting for Hope (MICAH), a similar organization located in the MetroWest region outside Boston.
BIC is a faith-based organization made up of churches and synagogues that has come together to address issues of concern to the people of Brockton and the surrounding area. On the agenda were actions taken in the areas of youth safety and development, community policing, housing and employment. These are issues, incidentally, that exist for all the cities and villages in this great country of ours. The congregations that were there represented a wide array of faith traditions. The people came from many different racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds. All attended because they recognized that the problems they faced are better solved together than alone.
A few things struck me about the meeting, itself. One was the sense of ownership that the congregations displayed. Each speaker (and there were quite a few) introduced themselves by stating their name and then saying “and I am a BIC leader”. Right on! Yes you are! To hear people identify themselves in this way--as a part of a group that has thrown itself into its community--was, frankly, electrifying. We all have the capacity to lead in some way. It was a joy to see so many step-up. Incidentally, one person did say that her church didn’t have any BIC leaders. The response: “How about you?”
Also, I had the opportunity to have a brief conversation (called a “mini-one on one” in the parlance of such groups) with a man named William, a special education teacher and member of the Lincoln Congregational Church in Brockton. He was concerned about the state of the children in his community. In particular, he was trying to figure out how to keep kids away from gangs. I may never meet him again, but his story touched me and will inform how I think about the subject in the future. This is a concrete transformation. That, after all, was the point of the exercise!
None of this, however, would have made the least sense if it wasn’t for what, to me, was the major thread that ran through the evening. Each speaker, in a different way, pointed out the basic fact that our power comes from two places. It comes from God and it comes from each other.
We can put it another way by saying that what sustains and motivates us to action is the Divine Presence both in our hearts and outside ourselves. This, to me, is the light at the center of all authentic religion. The path to God takes us into our own being and out to the places of joy and sorrow in our communities. That is what brings us to church on Sunday and that is what brings us to a church hall in Brockton on a Wednesday night.
For some of you, listening to a sermon may feel antiquated. Going to a rally may feel quaint. Still, there is no better way for many of us to grow and to deepen our relationship with the Divine. Yes, real religion may happen in the confines of the blogosphere. It may even happen in the comfortable environment of the university. However, when people come together face to face from the depths of their faith, it is much more likely, maybe even mandatory.
It takes a great deal of commitment to stay on this path. It means being challenged and it means challenging ourselves. I wish BIC all the best. They are in my prayers. I pray, too, for MICAH and for the work of my own church. May we continue to find ways to reach out and to act for positive change in our homes and in the world. May we continue to find ways to bring about the Commonwealth of Heaven here on earth. Amen