Who do we know?
author’s note: This post continues in a series about how the Church responds and relates to poverty. Questions and comments are most welcome.
One thing that seems to be true about responding and relating to poverty is the assumption that poverty exists somewhere else. Poverty is almost this exotic thing that no one really can imagine. We do not seem to consider the question “Who are the poor?” beyond these large demographic guidelines that distance ourselves from the people who are poor. And looking at our own communities creates huge amounts of discomfort for a lot of people, or maybe this discomfort is just my problem. Who knows?
Yet I think we have a call to consider those in need whom we know, particularly looking at Acts 6.
Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.
And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
Here we see the Church ordaining men as deacons to attend to the situation of material poverty in their community. Another blogger offers a Diaconal Missionary Proposal as a way of thinking through some of the needs of the community around us, which is well-worth reading, particularly if your church has an ordained deacons.
But I think there is something within the Scriptures that challenges us all: people who were in the church community brought the needs of others in the community to the attention of the church. It is also notable, at least to me, that the church engaged in the distribution of food, rather than the distribution of monies. So often, we can approach responding to poverty by only looking to the resources in our wallet.
I often get amazed by the struggles associated with the working poor. These people often work so hard at so many jobs that the reality of their situations stay unknown. They do what they can to get the bills covered each month, even as it means making trade-offs in expenses. Unexpected things that happen in life can create a ripple effect. But these people strive to live within their means, understanding the sacrifices required, and occasionally assume a greater level of sacrifice than is probably necessary for someone meaningfully attached to a community. But the point is that they often work so hard to preserve their dignity as human beings where you really need to know them to know when they need something. Relationship is required.
But it is amazing when we start to consider how we might bear each other’s burdens. We might support a mother’s prayers for her children, offer a shoulder to cry on, pick up an extra bag of groceries, show up to spontaneously watch someone’s children, the list goes on. We learn of the resources that exist in our local church community, we can start to make referrals, we can identify areas of common strength that map to an area of real need.
We all know an array of people as our social networks cover many different sphere of influence. I would posit the more that our local parishes are a place where people can support one another in real relationship, the more we will be able to love and serve within our community.