In seminary, I heard time and time again that I should be a pastor in the community. In seminary and in various trainings in the immediate year afterward, I was told to get involved with civic groups, the city council and other decision making groups in my community. At my first appointment that didn't work out so well. I went to a few meetings here and there but never felt connected and didn't work overly hard to make myself nutty to make it happen.
Riverside, however, has been a whole different story. From the beginning connecting easily with the community has been a confirmation from God that this is indeed where I am supposed to be. I easily connected with the young professionals group, had a connection with a local university, met with various networks and got connected to some very well connected people. In some ways, I got so connected that it was hard to keep up, there were regular meetings that overlapped with one another and I found it extremely difficult to make it to any of them. And in some ways, I never really felt like it was the place I needed to be, only that I should be there.
Yesterday, I actually made it to one. It was nice, after having been chewed out by various city people, to go some place where people are on the same page and doing ministry in the ways they feel called and are trying to find more effective ways to help rather than the so-called "least invasive" ways....or the ways that are the least noticeable to the general public. It was nice to meet some new folks and see how they plan to collaborate over the holidays and hear some praise reports and some cool plans.
This group works particularly with homelessness and foster children. They see the two as directly tied, that foster kids often end up on the streets and to work on adoptions into healthy families reduces homelessness (in the long run). So one of the praise reports was that 15 kids were adopted last month in our area. Another praise report, and a sign of how this city likes to work with clergy/people of faith, was that clergy and police are trying to collaborate--get to know each other and be able to call on one another. People of faith have also been invited to the area schools (well, they are starting with one high school after the example of San Bernardino county) to come for lunch and be in relationship with the students. In SB County, they saw a marked decrease in expulsions and truancy and crime. One of the cool plans was to take parents living in shelters shopping...area churches provide the gift cards and rides and then the parents actually get to buy the gifts (rather than having them bought for them). It is a very empowering program and one I am hopeful we can help with! In other words, lots of good stuff is happening.
Toward the end of the meeting the group did some brainstorming and then tried to narrow their focus for the coming year to establish goals. After a couple broad and nebulous things were named, I said, "I know I am new here, but from my experience and the people I work with and the state of our national economy, I think we need to work on teaching financial planning and budgeting." They added it to the board and we moved on. The next woman who spoke was passionate about how we need to change our language--that it can't be "us and them" (which I am totally on board about). The trouble was she was looking straight at me and it felt very accusatory. I wasn't sure what I had said that had offended her so deeply. Others affirmed her statement and we finished our meeting. Afterward I thought I should go and apologize. I still didn't know what I had done wrong, but figured it didn't really matter, if she was offended she was offended and I should try and clear the air. I was reluctant to go. I figured I could just let it ride and move on. But then I thought it was hurtful to feel called out in a meeting and not know what I had done, I thought, "this might keep me from ever coming back." And I knew I needed to address it. So I went over and said, "I want to apologize, I didn't mean to offend you." She stopped me mid-apology and said I hadn't, that she was speaking in general and that I was making eye contact, so she looked at me and then worried I might have thought she was speaking to me. (She was right).
We cleared the air and then actually she thanked me for my work. She said we work with two of her favorite people and is super thankful we let them stay at our church. In essence, my reputation had proceeded me. She even told me that she had nudged the person next to her in the meeting and said, "We love her." It was a nice change of tone in a matter of seconds. We talked about her ministry (a community garden, food ministry, and church) and she even offered us food for our food ministry. She said she had even come for breakfast one Sunday morning to see what we were about. It was a very cool connection. One that I think will spawn more connections as she knows EVERYBODY!
After going to various meetings over the last year and a half, I feel like I finally found the place I need to be. It's the place where people are working on similar things and I feel like I have both something to gain and something to offer. I am excited about going back, rather than just thinking I should go back.