I was pondering the other day how it came to be that churches earned tax exempt status with the government and how donations to churches became tax deductible. I surmise that during the ‘Christendom’ era that churches were seen as making a positive contribution to the communities around them and society as a whole. In so far as these assumptions are true the current system favouring churches makes good public policy. I wonder though whether there might not be a change coming in recognition of a church that does not particularly bless its community or the society outside its walls. The ‘maintenance’ model of church where the great preponderance of resources, both human and financial, is invested in self perpetuation may no longer deserve these favourable regulations.
The assumption in these regulations is that the church is a missionary enterprise with a missional focus. I believe it is a matter of integrity that the church live up to the expectations of society in general regarding this issue of mission. So to paraphrase John F. Kennedy “Ask not ‘How your community can bless you?’ but rather ask ‘How can we bless our community?’”
When we were first planting Up Town, we began with a lot of community meals. At these we sat and listened to people. We walked the neighbourhood and chatted with people on their door stoops. Out of this we identified a couple of needs we felt we could address. We started offering healing prayer for a community that suffered from a variety of illnesses and a inefficient health care system. As we opened the doors of our “Healing Clinic” we did so with a lot of nervousness. Would people come? Would God answer our prayers? We took a risk and we met a number of people who honestly shared their pain. We came to love people and they came to like us. We did not witness extraordinary miracles but we did see God move in our community. Ron came to us our first clinic night asking for prayer. He needed a kidney transplant quite badly. We prayed. The next week Ron wasn’t there. I became concerned and asked around. I found he was in Halifax recovering from transplant surgery. Ron is one of our core members at Up Town today.
As we walked the neighbourhood, prayerfully, I noticed that buildings did not exhibit dyer vents. As I asked people about this I found that the rooming houses did not have laundry facilities. In further conversations I asked how people handled their laundry. Many folks would simply not do laundry. They would dispose of clothing that became too soiled and go to a clothing bank for more. Over time with mostly volunteer labour we renovated an unused spot in the basement and put two washers and dryer in place. We charge $1 for a green garbage bag load of laundry. During the 2 hours it takes to do laundry we have engaged in meaningful relationships with our friends. Through these times we identify more and more ways that we can bless our community. Other neighbourhoods are now looking to our laundry as a model for their outreach.
Out of the soil of these missional activities has grown a beautiful church. At Up Town we describe ourselves like this “Up Town is an honest accepting community of broken people who are: experiencing the Father’s love, finding wholeness in Jesus and performing acts of kindness in the power of the Holy Spirit”. Through our ongoing emphasis on acts of kindness we keep our missional focus. I can’t help but feel that as we bless others God is blessing us.