I cannot think of many things that have drawn over 250 people, many with no church connection, to attend two church-hosted events within 6 weeks of each other. I can certainly not call to mind anything that has ever enabled our congregation to raise $100,000.00 within three months. And there have not been many undertakings in the church as I have experienced it for which the volunteer power power available has almost exceeded the obvious need.

The Syrian Refugee crisis has unleashed a creative energy and depth of commitment that is not the day-to-day experience of most communities. The response to this genuine need has been dramatic.

What might the church learn from this experience? No doubt many lessons are still to be learned; but here are three initial lessons that seem clear to me:

1. There is a depth of compassion and responsiveness in the community beyond the church that deserves our full respect and with which we can have fruitful cooperation.

Too often in the church we have thought of ourselves as the only real show in the charity-business. We have been tempted to view ourselves as the really compassionate and selfless ones. We have tended to paint those outside the church as living self-centered, superficial, materialistic lives driven by nothing but the desire for personal gain.

We do ourselves and the world around us a great disservice when we fail to honour the light and beauty present in the lives of many people who have absolutely no interest in the church. As Christians we need to affirm and support the values we believe we see embodied in Jesus wherever they appear, without demanding that everyone identify these qualities using the name of Jesus.

some of the 250 people packed into St. Philip today to hear about Syrian culture

some of the 250 people packed into St. Philip today to hear about Syrian culture

2. When the church identifies a genuine felt need and steps in to facilitate addressing that need, the energy unleashed is powerful.

We did not have to convince anyone that the refugee crisis in Syria is real and that it is incumbent upon all human beings of goodwill to join together to address this profound need.

Due to the good work that the church has done in the past working with refugee concerns, we were well-positioned to step in and respond to this need when it arose. The important thing is that we did not have to create an interest in Syrian refugees; it was there already. All we needed to do was open up to the need and welcome on board people beyond our faith community who were longing to find a mechanism that might help them address this on-going humanitarian tragedy.

The challenge from here is to continue listening carefully to people who have no interest in church and discern what are the real deep issues and concerns of their lives and then see if there is any way for us to cooperate in addressing that genuine need.

3. People are willing to put aside their distrust, skepticism, and fear of the church when they are treated respectfully and openly.

I have not experienced anyone in the church over the past four months using this situation to further their church agenda. I do not see congregations using this as an opportunity to grow their churches. I have not seen anyone forcing their faith on either workers are refugees. I have heard a few horrific stories of abuse suffered by newcomers to our country at the hands of church sponsor groups; I feel humiliated and saddened by these stories But, in my experience, abuse and manipulation are not the norm. For the most part, the church sponsorship groups, as I have experienced them, have entered into this crisis with respect and humility.

If we hope to continue engaging with the world beyond the church, the only way forward is with deep openness to the wisdom and goodness of people for whom church is profoundly foreign territory and who feel no need for our services.

I hope we may continue listening deeply to the world beyond the church learning the lessons God has for us as we journey together with people beyond our church community among whom God calls us to ministry.

 

 

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