March 7, 2012

The (Written) Word Made Flesh

Sometimes telling the story can feel less important and more removed from the mission field. After all, a story about repairing a roof in Appalachia or cooking meals for the homeless isn’t dirty-hands, feet-on-the-ground ministry. Or is it?

As part of a continuing series on mission and communication, I asked colleagues from around the country to share some of their stories.

In the Diocese of Texas, an article in the diocesan newspaper focused on welcoming visitors.

Writes Carol Barnwell, director of communications: “When I went to do an interview with the director of a resale shop (that funds about $250,000 of our retirement community each year), she said she had read that issue and especially was grateful to become aware of her Sunday morning persona. She found herself talking to a friend after church one Sunday when she noticed a couple standing at the edge of the room. Because she had read the story, she excused herself from her conversation with friends and went to the new couple to introduce herself. They were Iranian, researchers at [a cancer center] and were interested in learning more about the Christian faith.

“Louise invited them to dinner at her home and they are taking the inquirers class at the church now. She said she would never have done so without the 'prompt' of the articles that talked about welcoming as everyone’s mission.”

Communication is mission.

In Kansas, diocesan communicator Melodie Woerman shared two examples.

“I had been reading in lots of parish newsletters about how a spike in natural gas prices (the primary source of heating in Kansas) was putting a huge strain on parish budgets. I wrote about that, and it was the first that diocesan officials knew of it. In response, the governing council voted to let parishes opt out of half a month’s apportionment payment to help with expenses. It amounted to several thousand dollars in relief, and several churches reported it made a big difference.”

About three years ago, Woerman wrote about an extensive food ministry undertaken by a small church. She writes, “Another small church in a different part of the diocese had just been approached about participating in the BackSnack program – providing a backpack full of food to help feed hungry elementary kids on weekends. They were skeptical they could do it until one person reminded them of the church they’d seen in the newspaper. ‘If they can do THAT, we can do THIS,’ they decided. They’re now keeping about 100 kids from going hungry, and the promotion of this program throughout the diocese now has parishes large and small participating.”

Communication is mission.

In the Diocese of Florida, communicator Mary Cox concedes that she sometimes struggles with feeling like “what I do is ministry at several removes from the real, hands-on work of mission.” 
But then she remembers a story from Exodus about how the Israelites were winning a battle with the Amalekites – only as long as Moses held up his hands in blessing over them. 

“After many hours, as Moses got tired and dropped his hands, the enemy had the Israelites on the run; so Aaron and Hur sat Moses down on a rock, and then they held up his hands until the battle ended in victory for their side,” writes Cox. 

“I've come to believe that what we do when we tell these stories of the hands-on work God is doing is something like what Aaron and Hur did: We're holding up the hands of the people who are doing these ministries, helping them to keep on with their acts of blessing.” 

Communication is mission.