May is that time of year where we make fresh starts and come out of our homes to enjoy all that God has given us through the greens of vegetation, blues and oranges in the sky, and longer, warmer days. We are happier in mood as we are encouraged to try new things and see new places, and it reminds me that we have parallels to what we’re doing here at TCC over the summer and into the fall.
TCC is called to reflect God’s love for Townsend through encouragement and outreach to show people God’s wide mercy, compassion, and love. Without God’s love, there cannot be a higher purpose for all of us in community past some crazy derivation of Game of Thrones. Surely there must be more to life than who has the most powerful army and the most money. And so TCC and the other churches are tasked to remind us all that there’s more purpose to our lives than what the television tells us should matter. We, the members of TCC, are encouragers, like Barnabas in the book of Acts, whose very name means “Son of Encouragement”.
But encouragers rarely act alone. We need others around us for support and to help us figure out life’s struggles. And we are always seeking new ways to do outreach to those in need of encouragement. Our church will become a place where all can gather to bring their troubles and know that those troubles affect our lives, too. Bring their questions and know that we ask those questions, too. Bring their doubts about God and know that we have those doubts, too. Encouragers take the time to listen, to help ourselves and others reflect on our common lot, and then to figure a way forward in bringing Townsend more energies and witnesses God’s love, kindness, and justice.
We took the time to do some community survey work last year and found that Townsend has a couple of needs that cut across religious, ethnic, cultural, educational, and income boundaries: there are a lack of mental health resources and our kids have no place to go after school. While we’re still working on the last one with Big Brothers/ Big Sisters of Lowell, we wondered if the mental health component was more clinical or companion-related; in other words, did people have mental heath issues that made them isolate and withdraw from social supports, or was it the lack of social supports that made folks isolate and become so lonely as to develop symptoms of depression?
We have a lot of mental health needs in Townsend, for sure. But we also have a number of folks who could benefit from a ministry which is one of presence, of being with someone without judging, listening without fixing, and being available without being a therapist. Gini King and I attended training on this ministry I described last month. It’s called Stephen Ministry and now includes over 12,000 congregations from over 170 denominations in 20+ countries. And I am not only encouraged that we need this in Townsend, but it provides both the encouragement and outreach missions to the community that we seek to provide in a very compassionate way without creating a lot of stress of a new committee rising in the church.
And I am encouraged that each one of us can take 2-3 hours a month and go visit someone who hasn’t been to church in a while, or someone who we know who doesn’t get out much anymore. I am encouraged that each of us has a story of encountering a stranger and making a difference, and that we should consider whether we can use that story as a new beginning for a new thing at TCC. And I am encouraged that outreach need no longer be something we do TO people in another town, FOR people with a monetary donation but not our helping hands, but WITH people who are in need of simply a cup of tea or coffee and an ear to listen rather than respond.
So I would encourage each of us as we reach out of our houses into the wide world: what does God seek from us in return for the beautiful spring? Sometimes we just have to listen first. Pray on it, friends, and ask Gini or me what it means to become a Stephen Minister.