Embracing the Commons and the Gift Economy Would be a Wise Move for Churches.

A number of years ago, a friend of mine who owned this Lawn Service and wasn't all that interested in "religion" said he wanted to tell me a story - an example of why he doesn't like churches. 

One day he was out driving between jobs, when he got a flat tire. He didn't have a spare on him so, sweaty, and grubby from hard work, he decided to walk over to the local church (a rather large one in the community,) and ask if he could use their phone.  It was a weekday, but he could see there were some cars in the parking lot, so it looked promising. He walked up to the building and tested the door - it's unlocked, so he walked in. He walked towards what looked like the office, when some people sitting in a room nearby spotted him. A man stood up and rushed out to where my friend was, asking how he can "help".  My friend explained his situation and asked if he could use the telephone. You're probably thinking the man told him "Sure thing," right? Actually, the man said "no," and he asked him to leave. My friend got the impression it was because of how he was dressed, or the fact that he was dirty. Who knows. But I think an opportunity was lost there. A chance for this church to break down some of the discomfort that keeps un-churched people away from churches.  Instead they reinforced it.
I experienced something very similar when a Christian friend of mine was going to be doing the lighting for a concert that was being hosted by a different church, and invited me to join his wife and her sister at the show. This large church, not expecting to fill the whole sanctuary, had roped off a number of seats in the back. Knowing my friends would be entering from the back and walking past these seats I walked to the front row of benches (part of the roped of section, but accessible, and sat down where I would be easily visible.  Shortly after this I'm approached by a man who tells me "You can't sit here."  I explained my situation and how I did not want to enter the crowd, but wanted to be visible to my friends when they arrived.  Rather than letting me sit there temporarily or offering some helpful alternative, he just shrugs his shoulders.
David Merry
The point I want to make, with these two stories, is that Churches can
sometimes become so attached to the idea of private property that they neglect to take advantage of the relationship building power of sharing. Kare 11 posted an article today about a David Merry, a 78 year old craftsman who just donated his entire massive collection of woodworking tools (as well as his services) to a St. Paul Tool Library. I see stories like this, and I think - why don't I see churches doing anything like this? Tool Library? You, want to re-establish the local church within the community - sharing seems like an excellent way to do that.
Most church buildings fairly inactive during the week. So the first thing they have to offer is space. Offering classes or meeting places for social groups that aren't technically "churchy" like knitting circles or tool libraries is one thing that would help to break down people's fear of church buildings and allow church members to participate in safe and non-coercive relationship building activities with un-churched people. I'm sure a lot of people are thinking "knitting circles? Yeah right. Nobody would be interested in that." You'd be surprised.  I know of several young women (and men,) who knit. One couple knit mittens and hats and sell them on consignment for extra money. I know another woman who quilts. The point is not knitting, its don't limit the shape community to be limited by what you think will work.
Another thing church's have is people. How well do you know the gifts and talents of your members?  I wonder if many of the difficulties Church's have with getting people to volunteer for activities they put on is due to the fact that these activities are conceived and planned by leaders without regard to the particular gifts and interests of its members.
  • How many people are gardeners in your church? (seed bank, classes)
  • How many of your youth have a band? (practice venue, concerts)
  • How many of them are artists? (classes, studio space, art gallery).
  • How many are gifted academically? (tutoring, homework assistance)
It sounds like something that shouldn't have to be said, but churches need to learn how to give if they are to survive.  I mean, in one way, churches are good at giving - but it is usually a safe kind of giving that does not cross the line into relationship the way that sharing does. This is the reason it does not have the power to build the kind of relationships that we say we want. Relationships that allows our faith to make a lasting impact on the lives of others.

No comments: