People, Not Projects - Scott Dickison
On Sunday nights over the last three weeks we have been meeting in the Fellowship Hall for our annual Ethics Series. This series began some years ago as a forum for our church to engage topics of significance over a period of weeks, and we have not shied away from the difficult issues. Past series have focused on capital punishment, homosexuality and immigration, and this year we’ve turned our attention to poverty.
Now with an issue so unwieldy and all-encompassing as poverty, the challenge, as the planning committee saw it, was two-fold: 1) focus the conversation in a specific direction, and 2) attempt to move beyond a simple presentation of harsh realities, which can be debilitating, and somehow move to hope and action. Since action was the end goal, the committee chose to focus our conversation on local poverty here in Macon.
Over these past three weeks we’ve been blessed by the presentations of some incredible guest speakers who are involved with issues of local poverty. Last Sunday, Rev. William Rand, pastor of Southside Community Church here in Macon, and Rev. Stacey Harwell, associate minister at nearby Centenary United Methodist Church, spoke to us about their respective churches’ engagement with poverty in their neighborhoods.
During their time with us, Revs. Rand and Harwell both used a particular phrase to describe their approach to engaging poverty and the poor: “people not projects.” They both—without prior planning—pointed out that churches are often drawn to projects: particular tasks with defined start and end dates, focused on measurable results. Oftentimes, they said, we are tempted to think of people as projects upon whom we “work.” But people are people. They’re not to be worked on but lived in relationship with.
Revs. Rand and Harwell both emphasized that churches best serve the poor when they commit to build relationships with the people they hope to serve. When you’re in relationship with someone, you respect them as a person and instead of assuming you know what’s best for them, work with them to learn how their needs line up with your assets.
This Sunday, for our final installment of this year’s Ethics Series, there will be no guest speaker. Instead, we’re going to have a church conversation about what we’ve heard over these past three weeks: what we’ve learned, what’s surprised us, and ultimately, what’s inspired us. Our church has a long history of being a force for positive change in Macon. We’re already involved in many worthwhile efforts and have developed many lasting relationships.
But there’s always room to grow and more people to love and serve. This Sunday we’ll imagine together how this growth might look and whom these people might be, and will even put into writing some hopes for our future together. I hope you’ll join us for this important conversation in the life of our church.