Side by Side vs Top down
As I write this this afternoon, I am watching Camp Unity Eastside, our homeless community, move into our parking lot. They are coming our way via the wonderful folk at Northshore UCC church here in Woodinville and will be staying with us over the winter. It turns out we are a very good winter location for them, because in the PNW most of our winter includes rain and rain in a grassy environment like Northshore turns into mud very easily. So, it turns out our beautifully paved parking lot is ideal for them at this time of the year. In the summer, when it’s hot, our pavement would be miserable for them, it is then that Northshore and it’s wooded, and grassy environment is ideal.
This is the third time I have been a part of hosting Camp Unity Eastside at Bear Creek UMC and I thought I would take this time to reflect just a bit about a transformation that has happened in my heart about this ministry. The first time Camp Unity came to Bear Creek, I was on fire to “change their lives”. I wanted to end homelessness now! I wanted these folks to know how much I cared, and I wanted my care to be able to inspire them to do everything they can to get out of homelessness. My goal was to get them to a better place.
As I look back at that “younger self” I laugh a bit. I realize that a lot of what I was feeling had little to do with these campers, and way too much to do about me! “I” was going to change “them”! “I” knew the answers and was going to “impose my will” upon this situation in order for it and them to change! Guess what happened? “I” got really frustrated. “I” even started to get a little “judgmental” (although I would never admit it). “I” would get frustrated about some of the waste and the uncleanliness…can I say this: I didn’t like the “messiness” of this ministry?
(By the way, just an aside here, but I’m writing this reflection in my office, and when I look around my office, guess what, I see a lot of messiness in here! What is that Jesus says: “Take the log out of your own eye before you take a speck out of the eye of your neighbor?” Well, said Jesus!)
Over the years, my attitude about homelessness and Camp Unity has changed. First of all, I have come to a place in my life that I am through with “judgement”. I don’t care anymore. “They” don’t have to prove to “me” that they deserve my love and care. I don’t care how messy their lives are, I am called to love them just where they are at. “I” don’t need to change “them”, or to get “them” to take a step forward in their lives. I just want them to know that I am here for them. That they are loved. That I actually like them for where they are right now in their journey. Personally, I don’t think they want or even appreciate my “sympathy” for them. That’s not what they want or need. They need a real, authentic relationship with me. I really believe with all my heart the best thing I can do for them and for me, is to be real and to “really” relate to each one of them as best I can.
So, for me, the greatest moments of this ministry we do “with” Camp Unity Eastside, are the times when my urge to do something “for” these folks turns into doing ministry “with” them. It’s when we are “side by side” laughing, telling stories, and working…“eye to eye”, shoulder to shoulder”…it’s those times that I think I find the living Christ working his or her magic in-between us. A magic that works both ways!
Here’s what I think happens to me when I do things “for” someone else. I think I end up thinking I’m superior. I think I set up a “hierarchy” of power that in the end keeps these folks “in their place”. They are the people in need. I am the person with the goods. And that’s just not a healthy dynamic. What it does is foster a false sense of “having it all together” for me. When in all honesty, I don’t have it all together! And I think it fosters a “negative self-image” in them. They are always the one’s who “don’t have it together.”
These next 4 months I’m going to try something different as I reach out to embrace Camp Unity Eastside. I’m going to look for their gifts, not their weaknesses. I’m going to try to foster ministries that are side by side. Ministries where I can do something with them so I can get to know these wonderful folks for who they really are: sacred and gifted children of God…just like me and all of you.
Your pastor and friend, moving from charity or sympathy (ministry for) to empathy (ministry with), Brook