Every Thursday, a small group meets for Bible study at Henry United Methodist Church. On most Thursdays we meet and work through the Bible Study book of the month. However, this past meeting, we had already finished 1st Corinthians for May, so we decided to spend a few days on a different topic. We read through the beginning of a book by Peter Block and John McKnight called "An Abundant Community". In this book, the authors are focused on helping people not just imagine what an abundant community looks like, but how to unlock the power of their local community to drastically improve their quality of life.
The authors propose that the local community is far more effective than institutions or systems in improving health, providing food, ensuring safety and security, raising kids, protecting the environment, boosting the economy and providing care for others. They believe that communities can become most effective at doing these seven things well if they: 1. Understand and give of their gifts in the community, 2. Recognize and build upon the power of local associations in their community (resource groups, churches, local neighborhoods, etc), and 3. Provide hospitality to each other and any strangers within and just outside their community.
It is not enough to drop off our kids with professionals to train them up for success in school, sports, Bible study, or the arts. It is not enough to simply go to the doctor once we're sick for some medicine, a surgical procedure, or a set of ideas about how to get healthier. It is not enough to never get to know or invest in the people on our own block and hope the police will always keep us safe from unknown dangers in our own neighborhoods. In these and most situations, knowing our neighbors, investing in life together with our neighbors, and caring for our neighbors will lead to a better life for them and for us.
But how do we do that? How do we begin to invest in our neighbors? How do we break from our consumer culture, which promises that we can buy relationships, happiness, comfort, protection and entertainment, so that we can find more profound versions of those things with the people we live right next to, just a few steps away, behind the isolating walls of their own houses? These questions should be the foundation for how we set our values and priorities, yet we instead tend to rely on government, corporations, hospitals, churches and schools to address them. It's no wonder we've become bitter towards those institutions and have lost trust in them. Perhaps they were never supposed to solve the problems that are ours to solve.
Imagine what it would look like to begin investing in your own personal health with your community? What would it take? How about the safety and security of your home and neighbors? Wouldn't that require knowing the names of the people who live next door to you? Wouldn't that mean having a shared interest in what their kids were doing and what sort of troubles they might be going through? How would you have to change your spending habits and investments in order to build up the local economy in town, rather than letting your money go elsewhere to someone else's community?
One way to begin making an investment in the community it through the church. And one specific way the church seeks to invest in making this world a better place is through Vacation Bible School. This year, our church is hosting the event, held at the First Presbyterian Church in Henry. My hope is that we don't just view this is a drop off babysitting event for our children or grandchildren for 2 hours each night. It's also not just about teaching a very basic Bible story to the kids each night. What if we viewed this week with these children as the best opportunity we'll have all year to share our gifts them, build associations with them and their parents, and show radical hospitality to them in ways that change their future and ours? What if this was our best chance this year to do something profound in their life, and set the table to grow even more as a abundant community?
What type of commitment would it take to turn an ordinary week into the most life changing one of these kids' lives? First, we have to have people willing to invest their gifts and time. We have a small planning team that is putting the event together, but we need people who are willing to be present and active at the event. We need people who can offer their gifts to the children. Not monetary, but physical, mental, spiritual and emotional gifts. And even if someone is not particularly gifted or physically capable of leading groups or teaching lessons, we need people who can simply be a smiling face and source of love for the kids.
The kids who sign up for VBS are not going to be profoundly moved by the short Bible stories we teach. They are not going to have their life changed by the music we sing and dance to. They will only be briefly entertained by the puppets and dramas and games they will play. But they can be profoundly impacted, for the rest of their life, by having members of this community invest in them, love them, and choose to build them up for the kingdom of God. Is there anything we are doing that week more important? Let's build an abundant community, and let's use the opportunities God has put in front of us to do so. Amen.