Kevin Frank, Director of the Brady Faith Center in Syracuse (NY) told me of the importance of building friendships when I spoke with him about his ministry with a low income neighborhood on the city’s South Side.
“Before Pope Francis was pope he was bishop in Argentina. And the people in his cathedral said to him, “You know, there’s not enough people from our surrounding area coming to the Cathedral. We need to get them to come to the Cathedral. It’s what we often say in our churches. ‘We need to get these people in our community to come to church.’ It’s church as people who come in.
Pope Francis said, ‘No, that’s not what we need to do. We need to get people in the Cathedral to go out. We need them to go out into the area, into the community, into the margins, into the place where the presence of Christ, the Holy Spirit, is not being shared. We need to just set up storefronts and ministries and programs and outreaches and build trust and build relationships in these parts of our city where it’s not happening. We need to get our people to go out.’
We get too comfortable doing church inside walls when Jesus never primarily did church inside walls. Jesus said, ‘Follow me,’ and then led them outside to places that people generally didn’t want to go, meeting people that people generally didn’t want to meet, and having to be stretched to widen your heart to a bigger love and to more inclusion.
So we go out every day and walk the neighborhood. We are with people in our community, listening. We are there, not expecting them to come to us. The poorest folks will never come to you. They are just too busy trying to live and survive. So unless you go to them, it’s not going to happen.
People know what your agenda is. They know if you are trying to push something, if you are just coming in and out, if you are trying to appease whatever it is that you need to appease in your mind. But what if our goal was just to be friends? What if it was just to be in relationship? What if it was just to listen, to love and to be loved, to build trust and communion? What if it were just relationship? And a relationship that was not just, “I’ve got all this information, knowledge, faith, treasures, gifts, to give to you, but rather, a mutual relationship? I have something in my humanity to give to you, but you have something in your humanity to give to me.
If ministry and outreach and programs can be built on relationships, then a trust is born, a friendship is born, a knowing is born. My wife was just sharing a quote I think from Martin Buber that says, “The world can’t be comprehended, but it can be embraced one person at a time.” So what if our view of ministry was simply to embrace and to be embraced? If people know at a deep level that you care about me, that I am worthy of care, then I think something of God breaks through, something of God is born.