Sunday, 28 August 2011

Church, community, and 3 boxes of groceries.

Recently I had a message from a friend – not a really close friend, but not just an acquaintance, certainly someone who I like a lot and intend to call more than I actually do… in any case, a few years ago at church we were making meals for people once a fortnight on a Wednesday morning. Either people from church who were sick, had new babies or were just having a hard time, or if anyone knew anyone from the community we’d make meals for them too. We made a meal for this friend when she was pregnant with her 2nd child and studying. She wrote me this message and wrote some very special things about how she felt at the time, that she would “never forget the kindness and feeling of support when you showed up with dinner and bikkies for us”. It's amazing how the small things and the practical things make a big difference. She then asked for help for a friend who was struggling. A single mum with 3 kids who has “hit rock bottom emotionally and financially”.
I’m characteristically soft and tend to lean towards wanting to help and save everyone anyway… but this one really got to me. I think because I get quite upset when I hear about not just the physical and practical consequences of the bad stuff that goes down for so many people, but the emotional and spiritual toll it takes on them.
So I sent out a message to about 20 friends from church, I asked if they could buy 1 extra grocery item in their shop that week. I was picturing giving her a small to medium size box of treats. The kinds of things that just make life that little bit nicer – chocolate biscuits, shampoo, body wash, tea and coffee. When you’re really hard up it’s always a choice what you leave out, and with 3 kids I bet she was always at the end of the list when it came to doing the weekly groceries.
Not only did people respond, but they responded BIG time. Not everyone who I got in touch with was able to help, (and this is absolutely not about making anyone feel guilty or stink for not participating because I would never EVER want anyone to feel that way), but 10 people were able to help, and they bought entire bags of things. Blocks of chocolate, biscuits, juice, chippies, gift packs of lotions and shampoos, breakfast cereals, canned chicken, pasta, cash. It was just beautiful. I ended up with one huge box and 2 medium boxes.
When I went over to this woman’s house I had initially a bag with 2 meals and some baking, which she accepted incredibly gratefully. But when I bought in the first box she just stopped in her tracks and shook her head and said “No, no, I can’t accept this – I can’t!” I of course refused to listen, convinced her that there were many of us and that these things had been bought especially for her because we care, at which point she cried and put her head in her hands. I managed to remember to ask if I could give her a hug before I hugged her (always key to not looking like too much of a freak). I showed her a flyer which had our churches number on it, told her she could call if she needed more. She said she would when she “got her s**t together”.
Then she started talking about how she had been doing a parenting course recently, and they had discussed that when things were hard they were, in a way, that much harder because there is no sense of community anymore. That it was amazing how I had these friends and we could pull together to do this, to help someone and each other – but for her she was all alone, she had no one, and it was too hard.
I completely agree with her. In our middle class, first world lives we have gotten extremely accustomed to doing everything alone. We raise our children by ourselves, we don’t know our neighbours very well anymore, there’s not even as much lending and borrowing going on as perhaps there would have been 30 years ago. We have organizations like Plunket and we have the government, people that are trying hard to look out for those on the margins but at the same time telling them to “Get a real job” and that if they budget effectively they can live perfectly well on a benefit. There’s only so much those organizations can do.
The government can’t be your friend. Plunket can’t come over and have a cup of tea with you while you pour your heart out. None of these places can give us the long-term, constant support that you need when life throws the worst it’s got at you – and that happens to all of us.
This is where I believe in the Church. Not just my particular church, the one I attend in Wanganui with the people I care for and that care for me – but the Church as a body, as God’s bride, as a whole – worldwide, every denomination. The Church is the community that the world (as a generalisation – some of you may live in wonderful, supportive neighbourhoods) lacks. The lovely lady that I had the privelege to help had nowhere to go, no one to turn to. Luckily she had one supportive friend who knew she was in over her head, and she knew me, and knew we would help. Of everything that happened in this experience it is that fact that most warms my heart. She KNEW the church would help. She’s not a Christian. She’s not churchy. I’ve never invited her to anything. Yet she knew we would help. Thank you, God.
After all the years I spent singing, playing music, performing, leading, doing items and doing all other manner of creative stuff in churches it is the year of cooking meals in the kitchen with a group of friends that has taught me the most about myself, about Church, about community and about how to show love to a hurting world.
Let’s not get so caught up in the doing of a church “service” and the programs and activities that we run, that we miss our chance to be the hands and feet of a God who cares about the hungry, the poor, the hurting and the lonely.
xx Sarah

1 comment:

  1. Hi Sarah,

    Came across your blog via Marion's. Thanks for sharing this beautiful story and reminder about community. I think you become more aware of how strong (or weak) your personal community is once you have children!