We just celebrated Thanksgiving Day in Canada. I was blessed to be part of a large meal served to over 2000 people, at Union Gospel Mission, (UGM) an organization located in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) of Vancouver (an area known as Canada's poorest postal code; where the issues of poverty, homelessness, addiction and mental illness are concentrated). It was a wonderful day as guests enjoyed a classic thanksgiving meal with all the fixings, while getting to reconnect with old friends and celebrating with their family.
In the midst of this grand feast, I was reminded of these words from the Senior Chaplain at UGM. "The need doesn't stop for a holiday - that's why we never close". Actually, UGM, which serves daily meals, increases the number of meals it serves on weekends and holidays because other organizations are closed. That's part of their commitment to helping those in need.
The need doesn't stop. So, what might that mean for us as deacons, who are elected to be prophetic critics of injustice and compassionate to the needy?
Jesus said the poor would always be with us. He wasn't saying it to give us an excuse not to help them. Rather, the gospel, and the life of Jesus paint a much different picture about how Christians are to love and interact with those in poverty. I guess the question is, are we living that out? And, in our congregational roles as leaders - are we inspiring others to do the same?
This little quote from Stephen Colbert, a comedian, has recently resurfaced (confession: I saw it on Facebook, but it's thought provoking and worth sharing). "If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we’ve got to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition — and then admit that we just don’t want to do it". (You can read Tony Campolo's thoughts on this on his blog, and if you're in the US, you can actually watch the videos.)
With American Thanksgiving a month and a half away, and Christmas two and half months away, I'm wondering how we as deacons might be able to encourage our congregations to see that not only do the needs not stop for the holidays, but they also don't massively increase. How can we be showing consistent love and support for those who are in need in our particular areas. What does it mean for each of us, individually and communally to show the love of God in our circles of influence? Is it possible for us to use these holidays as a catalyst for building long-lasting relationships with people who need assistance?