This week I toured the Church of the Park (COPT) pallet shelter sites. I was invited by Linda Myers, the Executive Pastor at Salem Alliance Church, to join a few SAC staff on this two-hour tour. Pamela Watson has shared with me her admiration for DJ Vincent and the mission of COTP and it was a delight to meet him and see the amazing work he is doing with and for the unsheltered here in Salem.
I was also delighted to meet Rob Bashioum, the Lead Pastor at SAC. Rob previously served a dually aligned American Baptist and Alliance church in Boston and it was fun to discover people we know in common. It really is a small world, particularly in church circles.
One of the conversations on the shuttle yesterday had to do with how Salem is a small city with big city problems. Drugs, gangs, poverty, migrants, a large unsheltered population... But it is also a city with big hearts and a commitment to finding ways to change the outcomes and effect the systems that entrench people in misery. I know it doesn't seem that way but, as an outsider, I see where people are working hard to care for their neighbors in so many ways.
At one point we were talking about the mission of the Alliance Church - to be a city at peace with God. I must admit, it makes me slightly uncomfortable to see a mission that is so evangelistic. And yet, seeing what these folks are doing I am impressed with the ways in which the Gospel to love and serve our neighbors is being lived out. From basic food and shelter to medical care and job training, there are so many people being helped by the ministries of SAC.
AND, the relationships across the faith communities of Salem are anything but peaceful. There is often a split between the conservative/evangelical and progressive/mainline churches when it comes to clergy gatherings. AND, there is frequently a place where people from differing theological perspectives find shared mission opportunities. The Safe Park program is one of those places where we partner with COTP to support those living in their vehicles so these folks can have a safe place to sleep at night. We have partnered with United Gospel Mission on meals. We partner with several churches on the Family Promise ministry. And yet, there is little "peace" between the clergy and other faith leaders from across the theological spectrum.
IMHO, the work of faith leaders to be in dialogue across difference is an important aspect of how being a city at peace with or without God will come about. Our willingness to sit together, share meals, build relationships and recognize that we are all made in the image of God is as much a part of loving our neighbors as feeding and sheltering those without roofs. The political landscape makes this much harder today and it seems to me much more critical we make the effort to build bridges, to be peace makers in whatever way we can here in Salem.
I don't know what the Mission of FCCUCC will be as we discern together the Mission and Vision on October 22nd. However, I do know we remain called to be Progressive Christian Community that offers extravagant welcome, embracing diversity and respecting the spiritual and life journey of all. I hope you will join me in listening to the Still Speaking God so that we can discover how we are being called to help bring peace to this city through justice, kindness for and with all.
May we walk humbly with God into the unknown future of peace.