Will We Throw Our Shoulders Behind Our Prayers and Service: Old First E-pistle 04.25.14

Will We Throw Our Shoulders Behind Our Prayers and Service: Old First E-pistle 04.25.14

What change could we make in the City of Philadelphia? What change would such an effort make at Old First?

Beginning with those two questions, I want to ask you to think with me about the Voter Engagement work for the upcoming election on May 20.

It’s been difficult drafting volunteers to make calls or do the door to door canvassing. That’s not only disappointing; I find it spiritually troubling.

We at Old First pride ourselves in being a community whose faith calls us to serve the urban poor. The mission we’re proud of includes feeding the hungry, housing the homeless; opening others to the needs of their neighbors; and in the past even a literacy summer camp.

Can we have the shelter and the cupboard, but ignore the conditions that leave people without money for a roof over their heads and food on the table?

Can we pray for the schools more Sundays than not, but fail to take action for sufficient and de-politicized funding to educate students across this state?

Can we educate service camps full of young people about outreach, without social transformation that would lessen the need?

Of course, we have had some troopers who jumped right in to calling each week. And some others who’ve taken their turn. But in large part there’s been little involvement. A few people have expressed their discomfort over “combining their spiritual life with politics.” But mostly, it’s been disinterest and apathy.

Church, I know all the reasons why we don’t have time for extra work. And I understand our hesitations about doing this kind of work. And I hear how some wonder if it can be effective.

But consider this:

Is Doug Parker the CEO at U.S. Air going to be “too busy” to get to what he and his airline can do to defeat Amendment 1 so they keep from paying a living wage to their baggage handlers and other subcontracted workers?

Is Brian Roberts, CEO of Comcast, who sends his kids to private schools, going to doubt his position and influence can keep taxes low, even if that means insufficient funding for public schools?

The other side has its muscle lined up. If we don’t line up, muscle up, we better not be surprised by the outcome. We can’t pass this buck. Poor families and kids in underfunded schools need us standing by them. If not us, then who? That’s our faith.

There’s no doubt, beloved, that outreach is one of the central tenets at Old First: God calls us to serve the urban poor.

But it’s a real question for me: are we satisfied with “charity” — providing direct services for immediate needs, like food, clothing and shelter? Or will we reach for a Christian vocation to “justice” — redressing the social conditions that leave people with such unmet needs?

I heard a preacher once: “Love mops up; justice makes sure the mess isn’t made in the first place.”

I read Dr. King: “Any religion that professes to be concerned with the souls of men and is not concerned with the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them is a dry-as-dust religion.” At this church, we are concerned about bodies as well as souls, but if we won’t wrestle with under-employment and under-education, is our care, our love, our faith real?

Without justice work, our charitable efforts become too easily and narrowly about us, and our our needs, rather than about the people we profess to serve.

I want to challenge this church:

In these post-resurrection days of new life, could each of us take one volunteer session before May 20?

I’m going to try and call each of you. Because I sense the discomfort of speaking among ourselves about Amendment 1 and about a full, fair funding formula. And if we can’t speak to each other about vital justice issues of faith, how can I ask you to speak about them to unlikely voters?

Any good we accomplish will come from our humble efforts joining with people of faith across the city. We’re one small part of a much a larger movement that needs us to do our part.

But the rising sense of empowerment and unity and common purpose — a resurrection of faith that would result from a whole host of Old First saints taking up the mantle of justice… this would transform our church and each of us from the inside out.

See you in church
(and on the phone banks
or knocking on doors!),

Michael