better together

Iain mentioned in a facebook response to my last post that he hadn’t yet heard me talk about partnership…

I was struck by the comment because for me partnership is implicit in community engagement.

When I talk about how the church needs to engage with communities of course I mean with people but I also mean with organisations, agencies and institutions.

Perhaps it’s because my training is in Community Education that for me looking for people to work together with on things seems the natural thing to do.

Why wouldn’t a church want to share resources, make space available, support activities and work towards the well-being of its community?

But that doesn’t appear to be the natural response of lots of churches.  I think that’s what I meant in my previous post when I said that too much of that kind of activity is too dependant on the attitude of the minister or on whoever holds the power.  I shouldn’t be.  It should be the default position of all churches.

The ones that do this flourish, the ones that don’t seem almost to set themselves in opposition to their communities, as though their church is some kind of holy huddle sheltering from the big bad world.

Engagement is relational.  You can’t engage with someone or something that doesn’t want to be engaged with.  That’s just nagging.

That’s not what we are called to.

This Sunday’s Gospel reading is Mark’s account to Jesus being rejected in his hometown.  The people in Nazareth know Jesus.  They know his mum and his brothers and sisters and they don’t want to be preached at by the carpenter’s boy.  Who does he think he is?  Not much unusual in that!

For me what’s more interesting is what comes next…

Jesus sends out the disciples to minister to engage with the surrounding villages.

‘Take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money in your belts.  Wear sandals but not an extra shirt.   Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town.”

That’s got to be working in partnership with the community.  You can’t work like that without the collaboration of the community.  You’d starve!  To survive in that kind of relationship with a community you’d need to be bringing something pretty special to the table.

I think the church does bring many things to a partnership, not least a group of people deeply committed to working together to make the world a better place but we need to stop viewing the world with suspicion and start seeing the opportunities to work with our partners for good.

It’s maybe telling that the church has been much better at working with partners in foreign lands to solve problems far away than we have at working with our neighbours in our own communities…

Perhaps the placing of the two incidents in this week’s Gospel isn’t accidental after all…