I hadn’t really noticed that I’ve been working on a theme until my friend Chris noticed the way “place” has tied together my most recent posts. Today, I came across a wonderful article by Bishop Kenneth L. Carder that builds on what I’ve been thinking lately. In Choosing Where to Be Present: A Sign of Excellence, Bishop Carder gets the tie between mission, context, and place exactly right.
The article begins with Bishop Carder recounting a conversation with a former bishop:
“What advice do you have?,” I asked a veteran bishop as I prepared to assume that same office after my election in 1992.
“Choose carefully where to be present, especially your first Sunday,” he replied. “Where you decide to be will be remembered longer than what you say or do when you get there. And, where and with whom you spend your time will shape your view of the church and your role in it.”
He goes on to discuss the way presence is an essential aspect of ministry and leadership. Further, he ties this in wonderfully with the idea of the incarnation:
God chose to be present in a young peasant girl in tiny Bethlehem and in a vulnerable baby, born amid darkness and poverty in a cattle stall. The Incarnate Son of God chose to be present in the hurting and dangerous places and among the outcasts and marginalized. Furthermore, he promised, it would be in those very places—among the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned—where we would meet him and that nations (and churches) are judged on whether they are present in places of poverty, disease, brokenness, and confinement.
For most of us, however, being present in such places requires us to make intentional choices. We have to go out of our way and move beyond the routine places of our lives to encounter the people who live in poverty or in jails and prisons. Our schedules and locations reflect our relative affluence and privilege and the formation and exercise of our leadership are largely determined by our privileged locations.
The first thing I thought about when reading this is one of places where I have responded faithfully to God’s call. There is a little rent house just north of our Church. Since we’ve lived here (2 years, 6 months), there have been four different families living there. It must give God a good laugh that I have to stare right at it as I walk to my office from my house. Because in spite of being pretty introverted at heart, I almost always “hear” God whispering, “Well…what are you waiting for? Go meet them.”
It take some time, but I have worked up the nerve with everyone who has lived there. Little do they know as they’re moving in that they are entering a little outpost in God’s Kingdom. It has become my mission for everyone who lives there to know more about God’s love than when they arrived. They may never step foot in our sanctuary (and most don’t), but they’ll know that in the big red building next door, the folks worship a God who loves people and won’t leave them alone.
So, with that in mind, today, instead of asking how you’re spending your time, ask where you’re spending your time? Are you hanging out with the rich and famous of your congregation, or have you spent time with anyone who will never contribute to the building campaign? If your answer is less than satisfactory when answering to a God who became incarnate in a stable, then join the club. I have to ask myself this all the time. I pray that I never quit asking. May God increase our faithfulness each day.