Listening and Learning from Neighbors
A man I’ve known for years, who struggles mightily to support his wife and children, last Tuesday asked me if St. Dunstan’s could help him purchase the insulin he needs for diabetes. He had been out for a few days, and his feet were going numb. He works hard, full time, but had lost three weeks of work – unpaid – because he was bitten by a dog. His bare-bones budget was ruined. It was my privilege, on behalf of St. Dunstan’s, to give him the $50 he needed for insulin. You became his good neighbor on Tuesday.
Who is my neighbor? Do we know our neighbors? This parable is not actually about having good neighbors, it’s about being a good neighbor…. acting in a Christ-like way when we encounter somebody in need. In Jesus’ story, he blows all assumptions out of the water when he tells of how the religious leaders avoided the injured man by the roadside, but the despised foreigner, the Samaritan, reached out to help. (This makes me, as a priest, squirm every time I read it!)
In our parish, we are making every effort to be good neighbors – to each other, and to the world around us. We have organized all parishioners into 5 neighborhood clusters with captains, to encourage getting together, and the sharing of stories, needs, and celebrations.
Because being a neighbor begins with listening, I also held 7 different “listening sessions” in June, with every person in St. Dunstan’s congregation invited to attend one. All received evites, and if we got no response people were phoned to encourage participation. I enjoyed every session, and heard many helpful suggestions, hopes, dreams, and good constructive criticisms. Thank you to the 41 parishioners who took time to attend, and to the seven who hosted the sessions. Those 41 persons represent households composing around half the active membership of our parish - not a bad cross-section.
What have I learned? 10 highlights, with more to come:
- Our parishioners love St. Dunstan’s, value it, and want it to thrive.
- Both worship services are appreciated and treasured. We find God here.
- We love children, and we want children to be active and visible in our congregation, and grow in faith. We need to keep working on that.
- Small groups are highly valued by those in them. How can we involve more people?
- Adult formation is much appreciated by those who participate.
- Outreach is important, and hands-on projects are popular (e.g. sandwiches).
- Our youth/teens program needs a boost: we need critical mass, perhaps by teaming up with nearby churches.
- Parents are key; they need to model commitment and behaviors for kids.
- We should experiment – with joint Sunday services, models for Christian formation, ways to communicate with our neighborhoods.
- St. Dunstan’s is a safe, friendly, welcoming place to be, where we experience the love of God and keep learning how to love our neighbors as ourselves.