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Sunday, May 8, 2016

Divine Economy of Abundance (Part 2): #AllPeoplePractices

The following is part of an ongoing series looking at the #AllPeoplePractices that build the inclusive Body of Christ. This series is in partnership with the United Methodist Church for All People and the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR)

In the previous post, we learned about God's Divine Economy of Abundance and how that theological framework shapes our understanding of the world around us. Here, we will look at a couple of examples of the Divine Economy of Abundance at work at Church for All People.

This isn't just rhetoric or pie-in-the-sky thinking. It's scriptural. And because it's scriptural, it's also practical. Jesus fed the 5,000 with a bit of bread and some fish. Everyone ate their fill and there was plenty left over. This sort of miracle happens at Church for All People all the time (see Pastor Greg's recent story about Soup for the Soul).

Out of a congregation that is 60% below the poverty line, nearly $50 million in affordable housing development has been completed. How was it possible? We believe that God gives us assets, not deficits, and if we simply take the first step with the assets that we have, God will bless our efforts and multiply our results.

Our local community has its full share of vacant and blighted house. We have our share of unemployment and homelessness. But what if we don't see things as deficits...but rather see them as assets? What if the blighted properties are opportunities to provide housing? What if the unemployed are actually a ready workforce to repair those houses? And if we go to all that trouble, surely the homeless are very much an asset as those who can occupy these houses!

Having listened to the hopes and dreams of the community, and having heard the desire for safe, decent, affordable housing, Church for All People (through its sister non-profit Community Development for All People), set about leveraging the assets of homelessness, joblessness, and blight into building the Front Porch of the Kingdom of God.

We started small. We began with what we had and cast the vision for what God was doing in our community. Others came along side to contribute the assets that they had to offer. We acted, we made mistakes, we learned, and we acted again. Today, we have touched nearly 1 out of every 4 homes in our immediate area, and helped provide first-time home ownership, affordable rentals, and senior housing to hundreds in our community. Soon construction will begin on new workforce development housing that will provide affordable apartments in conjunction with critical job training and support.

Another example: First Birthdays! It is an unfortunate fact that Ohio is among the worst states in the country when it comes to infant mortality, which is defined as babies dying before they reach 366 days of life. Like so many other disparities, infant mortality rates are also split along racial lines (over two times higher for Black babies than for white babies). Church for All People's immediate neighborhood is one the most dangerous places in the country to be born Black and to try to survive to your first birthday.

The challenges are real. Access to healthcare is limited. Housing instability creates stress and stains precious resources. Air pollution and secondhand smoke impede development. Limited affordable birth-control access leads to unsafe birth spacing. For a long time, local government and healthcare providers wondered what could possibly be done to address all these issues.

But Church for All People looked at the situation asset-based perspective. Rather than focus on what was wrong with our neighborhood, we asked what were the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of the community? What was the goal? The answer was obvious: babies reaching their first birthdays.

So Church for All People began to host First Birthday parties. These events have everything a good birthday should have: balloons, [sugar-free] cupcakes, music, gifts, games! And in addition, the building is filled with health resources, insurance information, smoking cessation resources, information about safe sleep habits, stress reduction activities, and free diapers!

At each First Birthdays party, the church building is packed to the brim with babies, siblings, parents, and parents-to-be. We reach hundreds more people than any stuffy community meeting on infant mortality ever could. And our partners recognize this fact. Healthcare providers and public agencies have many resources to offer, but sometimes have trouble connecting with the community. Even when they do, their words will not always be headed. But if we can reach the neighborhood auntie who sits on her front porch and insists no one on the block will smoke around her pregnant granddaughter..well now we are truly influencing the neighborhood!

Just as with the affordable housing initiative, Church for All People decided not to wait, but to simply act with the assets we had to begin to impact the community. We started small, and scaled the event to what was available. Then, as energy grew, new partnerships developed and the opportunities expanded. Now, in addition to the funding received to host the First Birthday parties, Community Development for All People is also funded to employ a full time staff member to engage the community with home visits, crib deliveries, and to follow up with the families touched by First Birthdays.

The smallest acts in God's Divine Economy of Abundance will trigger the next opportunity. We begin with the assets God has given us, we seek out the hopes and dreams of the community, and we leverage what we have into helping achieve those dreams.

Asset Based Community Development is not just about the rhetoric. Living into the assets that God has given us yields an energy, a camaraderie, a momentum to our endeavors that is otherwise terribly difficult to manufacture. Indeed, by focusing on assets rather than deficits, we find that community members and partners alike are better able to catch hold of the vision of prosperity for all and can more easily envision the pathway for achieving that dream.

After Jesus fed the 5000, he instructed his disciples to collect the scraps of food that were left over. Out of the initial small gift, 12 baskets full of food was yielded. Those twelve baskets provided the evidence for the miracle, but they also provided everyone there that day with the opportunity to go forth and do the same. What if each person had taken some of the scraps home and in faith had repeated the miracle themselves? Perhaps that is really what Jesus was trying to get them to do.

But instead, in a mindset of scarcity, the people devoured all the leftovers and were hungry again the very next day. They demand that Jesus give them more, instead of having leveraged the assets they'd already been given to create abundance.

God wants us to use the things God gives us to create transformation in ourselves and in our communities. God gives us every good gift and invites us to put those gifts to use. Will we seize the opportunity to live in to the Divine Economy of Abundance?

Are you and your church ready to engage in asset based community development in a Divine Economy of Abundance? Download this worksheet that will help you apply asset based community development to a ministry you're looking to launch or expand.

Then check out following books to learn more:

  • Luther K. Snow, The Power of Asset Mapping: How Your Congregation Can Act on Its Gifts, (The Alban Institute, 2004).
  • John P. Kretzmann and John L. McKnight, Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community's Assets, (ACTA Publications, 1993)

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By Their Strange Fruit by Katelin H is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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