The church’s neighbours

Word of God: speak! by Fr. Dana Jackson

Mark 6:34-37a

And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things. When the day was now far spent, His disciples came to Him and said, “This is a deserted place, and already the hour is late. Send them away, that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy themselves bread; for they have nothing to eat.”

But He answered and said to them, “You give them something to eat.”

Where does your church meet? In a hall or other non-religious venue? Do you rent sacred space from another church? Or is your church fortunate enough to have its own building, either mortgaged or rented?

Why do you meet in that particular location? Is it primarily because it’s convenient to the parish members, or did the Holy Spirit direct you there?

Do you meet in that venue only on Sundays for Mass, or do you also hold other meetings and activities there? Are the people who live or work nearby welcome to attend? Are they aware of the activities? Do they know they are welcome?

For many years Cathedral Church of the King (in Kansas, USA, where I served for 19 years) met in various school buildings. We were a “church in a box”: all the furnishings for the church were kept in boxes and plastic tubs which various people stored in their homes, then brought them to church each Sunday.

Eventually we were able to purchase a small trailer so that all the boxes could be stored in one place and brought to the venue together, but either way a crew of people would have to arrive early and set up, then stay late afterwards to pack up. We sometimes felt we’d just “blow in, blow up, then blow away”, because once the whirlwind of activity was gone there would be no evidence in the school that we had ever been there.

That was okay for us, the members, but there was no testimony to the presence of Christ in the neighborhood except during the brief time we were there each week. We were blessed; we were a blessing to the Lord in worship; but there was no blessing, no ministry for the people in whose midst we met each Sunday.

How do you view the people who live or work near your church’s venue? Do you see them as potential new members who could help your church grow larger and more financially stable? Or do you see them as Jesus sees them: a great multitude like sheep without a shepherd? Do you want them to come help you … or do you have a heart to go help them: to tell them the good news of the Gospel, to minister to their physical needs as well as their spiritual needs as Jesus asked His disciples?

Your neighbors. They are not here for you; you are here for them. You are called to love them as you love yourself, and to love means to reach out and minister to them. The “good Samaritan” stumbled upon the injured man because he was out and about in the world, always alert for those who were in need.

You and I are called to do more than set up a sign saying “Jesus is here” for three hours a week in a specific location. We are called to take Jesus out into our neighborhood, and when we do that successfully we will begin bringing our neighbours to Jesus. There is no greater love than this….

And if your church has no “neighbours” … is it possible you’re meeting in the wrong location?

Non nobis Domine+

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