Contrasts in Community

Last night found me and my family eating sloppy burritos with friends before taking a dip in their pool and then sitting and chatting on their deck in nothing more than a tee shirt and swim shorts. Slightly different from my normal 11th night of recent years which has involved walking around the local bonfires and chatting to people in various states of intoxication.

But that was not the only dramatic contrast with home yesterday.

During the day Sally and I also went on a tour of 3 social engagement programmes/programs of Methodist origin... Community House, a family support centre in south west Grand Rapids, and both NECOM and SECOM (the North End and South End Community Outreach Ministries respectively). The former programme could have been any one of a hundred similar ones back home (although much better thought through and professional than most... but then they have been around for over a hundred years, giving them time to get their act together.) However, the two Community Outreach Ministries brough back to mind a number of the programmes I had visited in Pittsburgh with the CCWA delegation in March... with their emphasis on providing basic necessities to people through food pantries and supper clubs. That the worlds only super-power has to rely on the work of non-profit agencies to help its poorest citizens, always strikes me as appalling, and something which thankfully we do not need at home to any great extent... yet (although with cutbacks in welfare provision and increasing numbers of immigrants who fall outside the welfare safety net, who knows how long it will be before we need extensive food aid programmes). However, the level of volunteering and charitable donation from individuals and organisations which allows non-profits to address this need, is equally unknown back home... and if anything, people are becoming increasingly unwilling to volunteer, partly due to the red-tape involved in so much voluntary activity.

Many suggest that both sides of this contrast... the need within the US to help the poorest people through voluntary aid and the ability to do so because of the high level of volunteerism here... are both features of the welfare state that we have in Britain, making people think that all we have to do is pay taxes and the state will look after everyone. This is only partly true... increasing legislation and the cancerous growth of individualism (and its spiritualised variant: personal piety), also add to the mix.

I dread to think that we would ever come to a stage in Britain that we need to rely on churches and charities to provide food to the poor in our own land... but we need to think of ways that we can inspire and enduce people to see that we are all community and that we all need to put in more than simply our taxes. Not simply saying to people that you have got to put something in if you want to get something out... But you have got to put something in full stop...

ps as another illustration of contrasts Geoff Hayes who is serving in Dundonald while I am in Faith UMC here in Grand Rapids, will be posting his reflections on the Twelfth here sometime in the next couple of days.


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