Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Relational Mission: Hope and Odd Socks



Hebrews 11 “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.”

Image: Hope at my door by Katie Finch
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When I was a child, my mom had a collection of odd socks tossed into a basket in the laundry room. The mates to these socks were long gone, but she would hold on to them for dusting and various household chores. Sometimes, I’d ask my mom if I could have a few of the odd socks and I’d dig out scraps of fabric, buttons and yarn to create puppets out of those odds and ends. What one person might discard, another person with a little imagination can create opportunities for renewal and hope. This creative rethinking is something that applies not only to odd socks, but to the mission and ministry of the church.
According to recent research, the top spiritual practices of the NONES (People that claim no official religious base) are: Creating/enjoying art, creating/enjoying Music, Enjoying Nature and Relationship cultivation. These popular practices of the non-religious provide a natural intersection with the practices of the religious and offer spaces for relationships to be built. If relational ministry is given the time and opportunity to develop; these odds socks of spiritual practices can become a source of hope for the church as well as the NONES.

Relational ministry has been described as: “making oneself available and giving presence, acceptance and embrace to another human being is just about the most dignified, soul-honoring way to be. Without relational ministry, people are nothing more than projects.” and “The gospel is all about incarnation God with us. When Jesus left he made it pretty clear that with the assistance of the Holy Spirit we are now to spread the “God with us believing that we a part of God with us”...

A little over a year ago, First Lutheran Church was preparing for our annual Christmas Gifts to a local YWCA program called Team. This program helps teen moms to continue their high school education while receiving support for parenting skills, child care and support. In recent years our youth and knitting group had created tie blankets as well as given mittens and hats for the children and the moms. While our gifts were graciously accepted, a direct connect with the people in our church community was not created by gift giving alone. As a staff member, I enjoyed delivering these gifts, but after delivery, I’d wonder what might happen if church members made face-to-face connections with the YWCA staff, the young women, their children and families.

In 2012, our church approached the Team staff to see if it would be possible for the church to host a blanket build, where we could partner together on an activity night. The YWCA staff agreed, donations of fleece and cookies to snack on were collected AND volunteers signed up to assist with the event. This November, we partnered with the YWCA and opened our church doors for our first “Family Night”. We ate pizza, made tie blankets with a combination of church and community members as well as the YWCA staff and students. Throughout the evening the moms and their partners worked on the blankets, their babies were loved on, and our mission shifted from giving things to building relationships face-to-face.


Since November, we have held three Family Nights at First Lutheran Church. To accomplish this goal, we choose a project, divvy up and collect the supplies and food needed for the meal, and God’s love and our time with all that participate in “Family Nights". Another side effect of “Family Night” in November,  is that individual people from my church have made efforts to reach out to the Team Moms. Our church community is moving from giving gifts to a faceless group of young women, to knowing faces, learning names and sharing life. Staff members from the YWCA have also had their hope in the church revived by witnessing the development of trust and the gift of time they and the girls have received from church members. As a staff member, I have been greatly encouraged to see church members and teenage moms step out towards each other to find a space for God to work, for stereotypes to crumble, and new community connections to take root and grow.


In order for this transition to relational ministry to occur it was necessary for our church community to take intentional steps toward mission:
1.)    Look at the resources we already have.
2.)     Look at the need that God was calling us to fill.
3.)     Use that vision to retool our ministry and respond to the need.

By taking these prayerful steps, we intentionally take steps to transition to a foundation of relational mission.  In addition to the action steps, faith, love and hope are necessary for seeing people, place and mission with new eyes. While this voyage into relational mission is just begun, all involved - Church members, YWCA Staff and Team Moms; have been impacted by the way God is drawing us together. We all are being filled with hope!
Smashpainting project: T.L. Eastman

Our June ‘Family Night’ project involved a journal-making process called Smashbooking. This process involves repurposing old unused books and altering them for use as a journal, photo album or scrapbook. Smashbooking, much like making sock puppets, takes abandoned or unused resources and repurposes them to create something beautiful. Through relational mission, you will find that there are many people within your arm’s reach that feel abandoned by faith, religion and God. Relational mission is the simple an act of giving time to someone else as thanksgiving for what God has already done.

Creative projects can be a source to not only express ideas, but help to connect people. When arts are used in our church through Family Nights, Friday Create Nights and more; people are given a place to connect, share faith as well as help us live out the practical work of mission.  These relationships, built in a space fostered by creative efforts, are a reminder to the NONES that they are someone - to God and us.
Like the odd sock basket, try to see what you have with new eyes and take a step to build an atmosphere that sends the message of God’s great forgiveness, love and hope to all.

Questions to ponder:

What current mission in our context can be used as a channel for relational ministry? 
What are the challenges of moving to relational ministry model?                                            
Where is God calling our church to see and respond to the needs of our community?            
What is the value of moving from a mission of giving things to building relationships?            
Who do you feel or think God might be calling you and our church to reach out to?               
What are your first steps?                                                                                                                   
What does success in relational mission look like?

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