The Message’s paraphrase of Matthew 5 is one of my favorite ways to express Christians’ and congregations’ way of living in their communities. Verse 14 says, “You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world.” We’re here to reflect and bring to light the ways God is moving, working, and present in the people and places we live, work, worship and play. I wonder how we have brought out God’s magnificent colorful, diverse, creative, beautiful movement this year?
One community that has experienced that light is the Kemp Mill community, home to Silver Spring CRC, one of the recipients of a World Renew COVID-19 Community Response grant. I had the privilege of witnessing their celebration service held April 11. It was a service recalling, remembering, lamenting and rejoicing over the way this community brought out God-colors during the pandemic.
One of the most amazing ways they did this was through the relationships, collaborations, and partnerships they built with schools, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and local churches, including their neighboring Kemp Mill Synagogue. For the last 7 ½ years, the Silver Spring Food Pantry has operated once per month, but during the pandemic they quickly moved to weekly distributions. To put that into perspective, they moved from serving 95 households a month to over 750 per week! This required increasing their partnership efforts as well. Working with the Capital Area Food Bank and Montgomery County was not enough, so they looked more broadly for support. The foundations built over years of committed, patient relationships with the community quickly began to bear abundant fruit.
Dina Levit, a resident of the Kemp Mill neighborhood and member of the Kemp Mill Synagogue, noticed these efforts. “I live around the corner of the church. We pull out into the traffic of the food pantry each week, and I saw the need for help, so I started accepting financial donations from friends and neighbors.”
In a recent video for Passover 2021, created by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington (DC), Rabbi Abby Sharofsky interviewed Jennifer Renkema, Director of Silver Spring Food Pantry, Doug Bratt, Pastor of Silver Spring CRC and Dina Levit, Liaison from the Kemp Mill Synagogue. (Watch this exciting video about their partnership: Let All Who Are Hungry Come and Eat - Passover 2021)
Throughout this whole effort “I could see God’s goodness and faithfulness,” said Jennifer. “If it was up to our little congregation, we couldn’t meet these needs on our own. It would have been over last May.” The pantry started working with the Shalom Kosher Market, who helped them order food and members of the Synagogue, community residents, and members of other faith communities started working together. Pastor Doug explained that when no one was worshipping in the building, some came to see the food pantry operations as a form of worship. “We came together with other faith communities to offer our service to God, our love of God and neighbors in a practical way.” Rabbi Sharofsky commented that it wasn’t about feeding “those people” or “the other”, but recognizing the humanity in everyone. She explained it well, “It is a blessing when we come together in great need. This is a whole community formed into something new and beautiful.” Our service “is an act of Hesed, an act of God’s love.”
Volunteers recognized this as well. One volunteer commented during the service of celebration that working together was “bringing out the best in the Kemp Mill community.”
“It is a beautiful thing to watch a group of people who are divided by any number of things, these faith communities, houses of worship and members, come together to live out our various faith expectations to love God and our neighbors,” recalled Pastor Bratt.
Partnering with others in your neighborhood and community not only increases the effectiveness of service, brings people together, and builds relationships, but it helps us see how God is moving and acting in our communities. Partnering with others demonstrates dignity, respect and love. Our relationships and partnerships do bring out the best in our communities, but more than that, they bring out God’s colors, God’s beautiful and generous love. Share creative ways you or your congregation is partnering with other churches, local organizations, associations, and neighbors in your community.