LOUISVILLE – It’s a new way for Christian educators to learn about big topics. The 2018 Association of Presbyterian Church Educators (APCE) annual event, being held Jan. 31-Feb. 3 in Louisville, introduced something new: the mini-plenary.
Participants had their choice of six 75-minute presentations. Rodger Nishioka, director of adult educational ministries at Village Church in Prairie Village, Kansas, led one called “Speaking of Welcome,” picking up the conference theme of “boundless hospitality.” Carl Horton, from the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, lead a session on “Welcoming the other: Redefining inclusion and diversity.”
Jan Edmiston, co-moderator of the 2016 General Assembly, led a mini-plenary to talk about the church’s role in addressing poverty. In her session, called “Genuine Hospitality: From serving the poor to dismantling poverty,” Edmiston shared some of the ways she has seen hospitality and community organizing intersect in Presbyterian churches during her travels as co-moderator.
Edmiston started by reading two biblical accounts from Scripture: Matthew 14:3-9, where Jesus visits the house of Simon the leper, and Deuteronomy 13:4-11, instructions to God’s people on how to interact faithfully with others. She said that her hope was that churches would follow the guidelines expressed in Scripture and see their outreach as “not doing ministry for the poor or to the poor, but with the poor.”
Edmiston suggested that the church’s work in poverty needs to start with understanding the causes and experiences of poverty and, as part of that, to work to overcome misconceptions. “We have some lamenting to do in terms of how we reach out to the poor,” she said. As an example, she shared the experience of her husband, Fred Lyon, who is also a Presbyterian pastor and whose church, Flossmoor Community Church in suburban Chicago, houses 60 homeless guests each Sunday night. Almost all of these men work, Edmiston said, but don’t earn enough to afford to pay rent or buy a home.
A starting point for congregations wanting to make a dent in dismantling poverty is community organizing, she said. Edmiston defined community organizing as “working for the world as it should be, not as it is” – drawing a connection to the embodiment of “on earth as it is in heaven,” as expressed in the Lord’s Prayer. But, “community organizing is really overwhelming,” Edmiston said. To that end, she encouraged churches to start with these things:
- Create opportunities to know those who serve the congregation (including postal workers, police officers, etc.);
- Set up relational meetings with people in the community, such as the principal of a nearby school;
- Encourage the church to have relationships with those who use the church building, instead of a maintaining a transactional “landlord” relationship;
- Establish practices of hospitality as the congregation’s core values.
This work of community organizing and addressing poverty is part of the calling of the followers of Jesus, she said – building on connections built gradually at the grass roots, through relationships nurtured in one-on-one meetings.
She summarized her message with a point she said was important to her personally and professionally: “We have to get past getting people to join the church. It’s about ministry. … What pastors do in the community isn’t about building church membership, but about the ministry of Jesus Christ.”