(Continuing a series based on Bishop Robert Schnase's book, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations)
Mission and Service refers to the projects, efforts, and work people do to make a positive difference in the lives of others for the purposes of Christ, whether or not they will ever become part of the community of faith. Risk-taking pushes us out of our comfort zone, stretching us beyond service to people we already know, exposing us to people, situations, and needs that we would never ordinarily encounter apart from our deliberate intention to serve Christ. Congregations who practice Risk-taking Mission and Service offer endless opportunities for people to make a difference in lives of others through service projects, volunteer opportunities, and mission initiatives.
The Patron Saint of our church is Martin of Tours. As a young man, Martin was a soldier in the Roman army and stationed in Gaul, which is modern-day France. One day as he was approaching the gates of the city of Amiens, he met a scantily clad beggar. He impulsively cut his military cloak in half to share with the man. That night, Martin dreamed of Jesus wearing the half-cloak he had given away. He heard Jesus say to the angels: "Martin, who is still but a catechumen, clothed me with this robe." (Sulpicius, ch 2). Soon thereafter, he was Baptized.
Martin was ordained, started a monastery, became a Bishop, and was a great leader of the Church. But that act of compassion and the vision that followed became the most-repeated story about his life.
For almost fifty years, that story has inspired the people of St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church to reach out to those in need. Here are some of the outreach efforts we are currently involved in:
Union Gospel Mission
Service Sunday Lunch Preparation
Food and Clothing Collection
Men’s Shoe Drive
4 Saints Food Pantry
Quarterly Food Donations
Red Envelope Donations
Presbyterian Night Shelter
Bar Soap Bags
Meals on Wheels
Teddy Bears for Cook Children’s Hospital
Medical Supplies for People Being Treated for Leprosy in India
Winter Coat Drive
Obviously, much of what we do for others involves money and I am very pleased to see how generously our members are sharing their wealth for these godly efforts to heal and transform lives. What is not always so obvious is the number of people who give of their time and talents to extend Christ’s love in these and other efforts for others. Their stories are amazing! Please join them. We are in the process of organizing an Outreach Commission that will coordinate support and involvement in the aforementioned service opportunities and others that are waiting for us. Dick Seeber is the convener and he would love to connect you with one or more of those efforts.
But are we taking risks? You bet! In every case, we are being called to engage in efforts that do not guarantee success. In every case, we are being called to go from a place where we are similar to and familiar with the people with whom we worship to a place where we are strangers and sojourners. In every case, we are stepping out of our comfort zones and asking others to do the same. Can we take even greater risks? We certainly can and I believe we will because what we are doing is in the service of One who risked his very life on a cross in the same mission and service that is now entrusted to us.
I have a colleague in ministry who occasionally likes to offer this prayer: “O God, comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” That prayer is central to the multi-volume work about Risk-Taking Mission and Service God is writing on the hearts of the people of St. Martin’s.
I’ll see you in Church!
The Very Reverend Ron Pogue
St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church