Many people have the stereotype that religion is divisive. My experience has been quite the opposite. I enjoy meeting with my colleagues from other churches as part of the Lacombe and District Ministerial Association.
We do some good things together and we share where we believe God is calling us into ministry.
One of the things we have done together was to start the Volunteer Link organization. Volunteer Link matches willing volunteers from different congregations with community needs. One of the most important needs is for drivers. There are many people in this community who need rides to medical appointments in Red Deer, Edmonton or Calgary. It is not easy for many people to get to those appointments, especially if they are elderly, infirm, disabled or are receiving treatments that will leave them groggy or extremely tired. They need a volunteer to drive them.
That is where Volunteer Link comes in. People who need a volunteer phone the Volunteer Link office, which refers the request to a congregational coordinator. Each of the congregations who participate in Volunteer Link has a roster of screened volunteers, and a coordinator. The coordinator matches the request to a volunteer who is able to meet that need.
The organization’s volunteers provide thousands of hours of volunteer work every year, all because generous people in congregations work together to make it happen.
Another example of the way that I see a spirit of unity at work in our community is through the efforts of one of my colleagues, a pastor with the Christian Reformed Church. This year, Rick Abma started an organization called Central Alberta Neighbourhood Life, which tries to equip people to live out Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbours. But too often in our busy lives we haven’t even taken the time to meet the people who live two doors down or across the street. The mayor of a major city once said that most of the problems that city faced would be dramatically easier to deal with if only people were better neighbours.
In the belief that God is already at work in our neighborhoods, Rick and those he works with are trying to strengthen the bonds of community, challenging each other to find ways to help their neighbours. Sometimes that happens through one-on-one conversation. Sometimes it happens in larger gatherings. In one neighbourhood, 20 neighbours came together to help another neighbour. They each pitched in some money and spent two days putting a new roof on the neighbour’s house. Other ways of helping neighbours have included sharing meals with a young mother who had surgery and a family who had just moved into the neighbourhood from overseas.
A generation ago, that kind of community support would have been a common occurrence. Today, it is a bit of a miracle! But just imagine how much better off our lives would be if we lived in neighbourhoods where people loved each other, as Jesus calls us to do.
Neighbourhood Life has begun with families from eight different neighbourhoods that gather twice a month to eat together, read Scripture and pray together for their community.
They challenge each other to seek out where God is at work in the community, so that they can join in building his Kingdom.
This group also initiated the idea of designating June as Block Party month in Lacombe and Blackfalds. A block party is a great way of meeting your neighbours, sharing each other’s lives and building community.
Those are just a couple of examples of ways in which the spirit of unity is at work in the churches of this community. I am proud of my own church, but am also very grateful for the other churches. I think we are a richer community because God has given each congregation different gifts.
Ross Smillie is the reverend at St. Andrew’s United Church.