A little over a month ago, the Vestry of St. Timothy’s—the fifteen member elected body that works with me to discern the ministry of St. Timothy’s—began a very intentional discernment process. We began by asking a very basic question about St. Timothy’s, “Why are we here now?” Why is it important that St. Timothy’s exist. Several years ago, another Vestry that question this way. They defined St. Timothy’s mission this way: The mission of St. Timothy’s is to restore and deepen every human beings’ relationship with God and one another in Christ. That is why we are here. The current Vestry came up with essentially the same mission statement, just worded a bit differently: The mission of St. Timothy’s is to do as Jesus commands: deepen every human beings’ relationship with God and love our neighbors—no exceptions. That is why we are here. For both Vestry’s St. Timothy’s is here to support people in developing a deeper connection with God and other people.
The current Vestry feels a particular sense of urgency about deepening our connection with people in our immediate and broader neighborhood. As our sign says, we want to love our neighbors—no exceptions! With that sense of urgency there is an accompanying danger. I am reminded of something Oscar Wilde once said that went something like this: “If I knew someone I didn’t know was coming to do something for me, I would run.” Wilde’s sentiment is a warning: What we think someone else needs may not be what they need at all.
I have often been guilty of assuming that I knew what someone else needed, only to find out once I talked with them that my assumption was wrong. Vestry’s and other church bodies often make the same mistake. Therefore, one of the Vestry’s priorities as we discern what it means to love our neighbors is to begin by simply developing relationships with our neighbors and listening to what the Spirit is saying to us through them. As God listened to the cries of the Hebrew slaves, which then caused God to act, we need to listen to the cries and longings of others before we do anything.
We have good examples of where such listening leads. Our connection with El Hogar developed because we listened to a plea of a former Executive Director of El Hogar and others who bore witness to the suffering of children in Honduras and the miraculous love of El Hogar. Our connection with Whiz Kids—and now the Boys and Girls at Mercer Elementary—developed because we asked a teacher at Mercer, “How can St. Timothy’s support the education of children?”
It isn’t just Vestry members that need to listen before we act, but the entire St. Timothy’s community. We need to ask people in our township and city—business owners, public servants, teachers, parents, teenagers and social workers—what they are longing for. We need to ask, “What isn’t working for you? What are your frustrations? Where is the pain?” We need to ask questions and listen. We need to listen and trust that the Spirit of God will show us what it will then mean for us to love our neighbors—no exceptions!