The question that hangs in the air sometimes doesn’t need answering.
When I interviewed college kids with Midtown Fellowship who were spending a chilly night outside to highlight the plight of Columbia’s homeless, I didn’t need to ask why.
When I found retired English teacher Francie Markham on a sweltering summer day organizing a container load of goods for a United Methodist mission in Zimbabwe, I didn’t need to ask why.
When two synagogues joined four neighboring Protestant congregations to build a Habitat for Humanity house, again, I didn’t need to ask why.
When a mosque opened its doors to the community to provide a meal of aromatic foods and explain the Koran, I didn’t need to ask why.
In the Midlands, people of faith take pride in living out their faith. No questions asked.
Volunteers feed the homeless a hot lunch daily at Washington Street United Methodist Church. Chili and hotdogs are served on Saturdays in a law firm parking lot to anyone in need of a meal.
Physicians go to Haiti and the African continent to heal. College students head off at spring break to provide aid to hurricane and tornado victims. Families sign up for church mission trips.
And those ubiquitous Southern Baptists? The disaster relief teams who wear the “yellow hats” seem to deploy almost instantly when disaster strikes.
Yes, there seems to be a church or synagogue or mosque on every corner. Some are historic and majestic, such as Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, First Baptist Church, and St. Peter’s Catholic Church in downtown Columbia. Some are towering and relatively new edifices with historical pasts, such as Brookland Baptist in West Columbia and Shandon Baptist on Forest Drive. Some are small and intimate, with tiny congregations and big hearts.
But the spirit that emanates out of those beautiful houses of worship is what counts here. Faith plays out in daily acts of service to others, whether in the form of a meal, a helping hand or a healing touch.
Viewpoints: What the faithful say
“For us, our faith is very connected with loving and serving our city. Our belief is that since Jesus became a part of his community to love and serve them, we also become an active part of Columbia to love and serve the people here.
This plays out in any number of ways. Our small groups (known as LifeGroups) spend lots of their time building relationships with one another and others out in the city — local restaurants, pubs, and events. One of my favorite things is going to the Soda City Market on Saturdays and see people from Midtown everywhere.
We also make an effort to continually look for groups of people in our city that tend to get marginalized or neglected, and seek them out. In the past we’ve hosted Superbowl parties for the homeless at Transitions and dance parties for people with life-long disabilities at the Babcock Center. We’ve also had a partnership with a local inner-city school for a number of years, as a way of building relationships with the kids and teachers there.
Overall, we want to continually look for ways to make Columbia better, all the while pointing back to Jesus as the motivation for why we do it. Since Jesus loves our city, we love our city.”
“Today, Shandon Presbyterian Church, the church I serve, will send out eight small buses to pick up children from area elementary schools and bring them back to our child development center for quality after school childcare. Today, a group of church members will take meals to shut-ins. Another group will serve lunch to the homeless at the Washington Street Soup Kitchen. Tonight, a Narcotics Anonymous group will meet in one of our Sunday School classrooms, down the hall an advanced Spanish class will gather, and around the corner a support group for care givers will provide much needed respite.
Downstairs, the Outreach Ministry will meet to hear a report about our campus ministry at University of South Carolina and Columbia College, read the blog post from our group on a mission trip to Zambia, make plans to welcome homeless families into our building in early 2014, find out how many members donated blood at a recent Red Cross blood drive, and begin to talk about next year’s budget that helps fund about a dozen local non-profit agencies. All day today, in the house on the corner of our church campus at the Columbia Pastoral Counseling Center, people will receive professional counseling on a sliding-scale fee system. That’s just today, in one church. Now, multiply that by thousands of faith communities in Columbia and get a small sense of the impact people of faith are making in the life of our city.”
I believe these words from Martin Luther, written 500 years ago, are as clear and helpful for our world today as when he first wrote them. How is this kind of faith being lived out today? More and more of our Lutheran congregations are finding new opportunities for being blessings to the communities around them.
Five years ago we began a once-a-year “serving your neighbor” event called “Operation Inasmuch,” based on a book by David Crocker by that same name. Congregations were actively engaged in projects like building wheel chair ramps, making minor repairs on homes of the elderly, collecting health kits for the homeless, as well as working with agencies like Harvest Hope, Lexington Interfaith Community, the Free Medical Clinic, Home Works, etc. It has been amazing to see the joy and energy that comes when hundreds of Christians come together to make a difference in their communities.
A second significant way that Lutherans are impacting our neighborhoods is through ministries with school children. Many congregations are providing weekly backpacks of food for children who would otherwise be hungry over the weekend. Other congregations are offering afterschool mentoring opportunities in their churches. Several are directly working in schools as classroom volunteers, reading books to children or helping them memorize their multiplication tables. Other congregations partner with each other to provide a week or two of summer camp for children whose families cannot afford a regular camp experience. It seems that Lutheran churches today are waking up to the many opportunities, through partnerships with children and schools, for sharing God’s love and living out their daring confidence in God’s grace.