Friday, February 04, 2011

The Abundant Community: A Vision For Our Future

Hi all. It is no surprise that our activities as a community, official activities anyway, have come to a standsill because of the blizzard. It is good to hear of folks checking in on folks, though, and I am sure all are finding ways to "make Jesus visible in the world" where and how you can, and that is the definition of the church. It looks like we will not be gathering for worship in the new space this Sunday because the roads are just still too bad and getting worse again. But if you can get on to Facebook on Sunday at 11 am we will again have some of our Virtual Church Time together.

We had a great past Sunday beginning in the old space, singing and blessing our time there, and then processing with the cross, the last object to leave the old space, to our new building space where we finished with more singing, prayers, and communion before going out for lunch together. We look forward to many new ways and times to gather together and offer worship opportunities in our new space along with our many opportunities for service too.

We are still hopeful of having a Community Building Vision Retreat on Sunday afternoon, Feb. 13, to dream of ways to serve our area in and through our new space; and we are working on rescheduling a planned budget meeting planning for grants and next phases of The Welcome Table Garden Kitchen Park; and we will be following up our series of DVD discussion of Justice For The Poor from Sojourners with a special workshop day, it is hoped, on Sunday, Feb. 20 to see and discuss and plan based on Shane Claiborne's new DVD and book, Economy of Love. As soon as we can get back to the building we also will be doing more remodelling work, and setting up the expanded Food Pantry room.

But it is no surprise that as I write this about abundant community that we are now in day five of the blizzard in Oklahoma and its continuing effects, day five with more forecast of being cut off from our community, except through technology, and one of the lessons learned from this week is that no matter how wonderful being online is, and it is in its manifold ways, it is not the same as being with others in person. It is in fact others which make us into something other than an individual, and that something is called a person.

And so while I can't wait for the snow to take a break and the roads to become passable enough to return to feel the presence of our new community space, can't wait to actually go inside those cold walls where we had just moved everything into when the blizzard came, can't wait to actually begin opening up what the blinking sign outside the historic and no longer abandoned building at 5920 N. Owasso Ave. already proclaims is coming soon---The Welcome Table Community Center---until then I want to pass on to you some ideas from a recent book called The Abundant Community. This book, subtitled Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods, is by John McKnight and Peter Block. Mcknight's previous book called Building Communities From The Inside Out is one that I discovered as a text in one of my seminary classes and discovered later was also used as a text in one of the social work classes that were doing service learning with us here on Tulsa's far northside.

These excerpts from The Abundant Community are all another way of expressing and explaining what we do, fail to do, try again to do, and keep finding ways to do at The Welcome Table. It is a good primer for anyone interested in missional ways of being church too, even though, or maybe precisely because, it doesn't use theology, church history, or scripture. Consider it my homily for this Sunday's worship.

The book ends with a quote from Lois Smidt of "A great community creates conditions where people can fall in love. It is a place where we can make a fuss about one another. A place where we can ask, "How did I ever live without you?" I can truly say, in both of my church plants, that I could and can ask that question, directed to the ones we journey with. What this time in transition for the community center as we move, and what this time away on top of that due to the blizzard, has taught me is how acutely I feel that question. It is a good benchmark for all our communities. It is not about being co-dependent or needy, which is self-directed, but about being so other-directed that it comes to shape our own selves.

The book begins with the three points of awakening that lead us to an abundant community:
1. We see the abundance that we have, individually, as neighbors, and in this place of ours (that is what we did along with the OU Grad Social Work students in the very first community gathering and all since then through what they called strength and asset based mapping; what I call reminding people of our Imago Deo, our likeness to God, the Whose We Are and How We Are Loved that provides an inherent blessing from which all else flows).
2. We know that the power we have grows from creating new connections and relationships among and between what we have (this is a key place for churches too who begin to imagine themselves as missional in their essence, because it asks them to become something deeper within themselves by getting over and beyond themselves).
3. We know that these connections are no accident; they don't just happen by themselves. They have to be nurtured. They call for leaders who will call others.

The authors go on to say that they know too that each of these three steps are fragile ones, as they can become undermined by institutions, marketplace, culture that says to us the false words: "You are inadequate, incompetent, problematic, or broken. We will fix you. Go back to sleep." And they say that another hindrance is that many people think strong local community is simply nice if you have the time and money to focus on. However, the opposite is true:

1. Our very health depends on our neighborhood and community health. That is why we are here heavily involved with OU Community Health and OU Social Work in the new community health worker program for north and west Tulsa you have read me write about before. Medical institutions, as the authors say, are realizing their own limitations now at changing and growing healthy folks especially in the poorest areas; it is through building up community and relationships that health becomes both a goal and a possibility.
2. Our safety depends on our neighborhoods; the more we watch out for our neighborhood in many ways and watch out for one another, the safer we all become. Police and other resources, as we discover in times of emergencies like the blizzard, are likewise limited in how safe we really are.
3. The future of the earth is actually in the hands of local neighborhoods, not only in how we green our properties and our lives, but how we move from being consumers to citizens.
4, Our economy is most resilient at the most local level as possible. We have seen the effects of globalization, outsourcing, economies based on paperwork and projections instead of productivity; we have also seen the examples of microlending and other ways of pooling our resources in our main streets that can withstand the vagaries of Wall Street.
5. Connected to the first point about our health, we have come to see that the very food we eat is best sustained on a neighborhood level.
6. The individualization and professionalization of our childcare, removing youth from a connection with their neighbors and neighborhood, results in later "youth problems" which are instead adult abdication of caring for our neighborhood children. Our children are a wealth to be shared as well, strengths to give to others.
Finally, seventh, it is locally in neighborhoods that the major difference is revealed between "service" which outside institutions and professions provide, including in many ways churches based on a consumer model, and "care" which is "freely given commitment from the heart of one to another.

These are the Seven Responsibilities of The Abundant Community: health, safety, environment, economy, food, children, and care.

It is interesting how we through our The Welcome Table Church and a third place community foundation, and our projects The Welcome Table Center and The Welcome Table GardenKitchenPark and our various partnerships and initiatives are beginning to plant seeds of growth in each of these seven areas. As we look at how we can envision relating to one another and our various neighborhoods through our new building, and helping others to do the same where they are, it is these seven areas where we hope to connect people's passions. Imagine what we could transform with a small group team of folks focusing on each of these areas. Which of the seven areas calls to you? How can we help connect you with others who have a similar passion? By bringing your gifts to bear in any one of these areas you will be affecting the abundance in the others; but we know that if we try individually to do them all, nothing will get done; we need to create all the spokes of the wheel for it to turn. Imagine us growing each of these areas into fully supported areas.

This will be our amazing vision for 2011. We have already begun in so many ways; the model of The Abundant Community will help us to shape and show and sustain what we have started. Whether you are living here now or not, there is a place and a way for you to receive from the revolutionary abundance beginning to be revealed here in a zipcode where only scarcity is so often portrayed and lived out. The rest of McKnight's book is about those seven areas and the ways that simple families and neighbors and community groups like ours and others here are actually shaping another world possible. I will be posting more from the book and giving some of its links to connect with others engaged in the same struggles as we are.

And if you are interested in how to grow an organic missional incarnational church as well, and have the impulse and the instinct and the faith, this is a good book to start with too for how to actually implement it and inspire others.

Thanks, blessings, and more soon, Ron


steveoftulsa said...

Ron, I used ideas and materials from McKnight and Block in my work with Cherokee communities. Very good stuff. Also, a guy named Mike Green, who is or was a colleague of out of Denver now...has been here and helped us in our work, using the ABCD model of community development. I think I mentioned to you a few months ago that I saw a similar stream of development going on in your work and mine. So...the connections from T'quah days just go on and on! You might also like the work of a colleague, Bob Stilger, who can be found at

Rev Tommy said...

I am the pastor of Asbury UMC in Flint, MI - a community in desperate need of finding abundance within us. I had the pleasure of visiting with DeAmon & others at Broadway UMC, who are featured in McKnight & Block's latest book - very informative. My hope is to lead our congregation in a Lent study - including all sermons & special services - in better understanding how the Abundant Community is well grounded in scripture and Jesus' teaching. Any sharing of reference material, suggestions, etc would be greatly appreciated.