Above are the ashes and coal of a burn by volunteers in ecological restoration at Deer Grove in Palatine, Il. The work is humble: pull weeds, cut down trees that choke out native plants, clear out trash, do controlled burns to let forest, prairie, or wetland breathe again.
In houses of worship the needs remain while the volunteers are seemingly evaporating. It’s true that people are busy — but even more – people are anxious about their time, their financial situation, the global situation. So we hug our resources closer. Hold our families tighter. Somehow, my child will be equipped for the wild and unimaginable future, if I attend one more soccer practice, gymnastics lesson, basketball game. Perhaps it is hope that drives us to behave as though simply tilling our own field will yield what we need. Perhaps it is despair that causes us to focus as close to home as possible. Perhaps it is sheer fatigue brought on by the exhausting manipulations of media and politicians. In any case and for whatever reason, we curl inward, homeward.
But, as we hoard our time, our money, our skills, whatever, we seem to have forgotten
- that the world we enjoy was created by billions of years of ecological struggle
- the society we enjoy was created by the hard work, constant volunteerism, and community consciousness of our parents and grandparents
- the freedoms that we enjoy are the fruit, also, of hard work, vigilance, sacrifice, and vision of people who worked together.
- that our labors together are, most often, greater than the sum of our parts
- that we are stronger together (she types these words keenly aware that she sits alone in her house facing a screen) and, though there is, likely, no coordinated conspiracy of isolation to disempower us — it is more than coincidence that drugs and digital media both act like intravenous substances that busy us, numb us, isolate us, lie to us, and represent the interests of those whose bottom line is a dollar
My first visit to a congregational community — in spite of being inside many churches in my life — my first real visit was as an adult and it blew my mind. Intentional community, intentional creativity, intentional ethical positions, intentional commitments. From the smallest task — the making of coffee or handing out a Sunday bulletin to singing in the choir serving on the Board, taking out the compost… every effort made possible the existence and purpose of a loving community and the pursuit of fairness and healing in the world. I was hooked.
They say that younger generations aren’t wanting to be so connected, to work in concert, to volunteer. I have to live, preach, teach, and hope that many variables can change that. I’d like for myself and my congregation to be two variables that turn that around.
I love this poem that I found in To Bless the Imperfect and, while the words speak of simple things, hiding behind them is a world of love and hope.
A Song for the Unsung – Poem by Steve Crump
You make the coffee, set up the tables, and organize the cleaning,
when the rest of us have gone home.
You know where the brooms and the supplies are kept.
You run to the store in the nick of time.
You find the great stuff to sell at the fundraiser.
You remember to use “I” language.
You speak passionately with a clear voice and listen with open-mindedness.
You consider your tone when you speak.
You say you want to be part of the solution, part of the healing, by hanging in there.
You come up with new ideas.
You gracefully accept the group choosing someone else’s idea.
You step up to make the extra contribution.
You make welcoming room for others.
You acknowledge children and are happy to be around them.
You hold a child, hold a confidence, hold a hand.
You go the extra mile, contribute the extra dollar,
and give the benefit of the doubt.
You know that church life is all about relationships.
And because you know this,
your spiritual discipline of forgiveness is always at hand.
You, with your presence alone, offer a holy companionship.
You accompany others in their dark night of the soul.
You do what you do because you can.
You often wish you could do more.
You labor not for praise or for a song but for the good in the doing of work.
But we sing this song of praise for you – the unsung in our church.
And our hearts are glad in the singing because we know the many things you do.
We appreciate you very much.