The second question in our Baptismal Covenant is “Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?” To which we answer, “I renounce them.” This is easily answered by us or by our parents at our baptism. But how does this part of the covenant relate to our daily lives? One very important way is through one of the Hallmarks of a Healthy Congregation*: “Adventuresome risk-taking mission and service”.
St. John’s, Columbus, continually identifies opportunities and equips her members to advance healing and justice of God’s reign. This is done regardless of whether those who are engaged become a part of our faith community, at least in the traditional sense. In fact, all who are engaged, whether it is through Street Church, or Girl Sprouts, or the Godman Guild, are considered a part of the St. John’s community. It is not possible to renounce evil, corrupt, and destructive powers if the focus is on attracting new members. In fact, the second healthy congregation hallmark encourages “radical hospitality” where we deliberately invite, welcome, receive, and care for those who are strangers.
At St. John’s we find mission and service coupled with radical hospitality to be at the root of our community ministries and community involvement. The work does not stop with the many of our community ministries listed. (See box below) St. John’s also recruits expectant mothers for the Mt. Carmel Hospital Moms-to-Be program and supports the efforts of Celebrate One, a Columbus initiative to reduce infant mortality in the first year of life.
“It is not possible to renounce evil, corrupt, and destructive powers if the focus is on attracting new members.”
But how do we know what programs to try? How do we know what our community desires? It is through listening. We listen to our neighbors. It is at events like the Big Table, a Columbus-wide effort to hear the needs of neighborhoods, and it is one-on-one when we hear about the fear created by gun violence in our neighborhood, or the desire of people without homes to have a safe place to stay. For example, it was over eleven years ago that our vicar, the Rev. Dr. Lee Anne Reat, started inviting our homeless friends to come to the 10:30 Sunday service. What she found out was that these friends were held back because they were not “dressed right,” or did not “smell right,” or had suffered great hurt at the hands of the Church. Street Church was then born so that all can have access to celebrating the Eucharist in community.
Another more recent example is when St. John’s listened to a parishioner, Patrick Kaufman, who told us of the plight of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers from central Florida, who have been mistreated at the hands of the tomato growers. We learned that the Wendy’s Corporation, headquartered in central Ohio and a large buyer of tomatoes, was the last hold-out to sign an agreement to increase the worker’s pay by one penny a pound. All other fast-food and grocery chains had signed. This led St. John’s to become involved in marches in support of the workers and protest in front of Wendy’s offices.
St. John’s also helps others start risk-taking missions. The church incubated two local non-profits that are now thriving in Franklinton. Franklinton Cycleworks provides affordable two-wheeled transportation to our neighbors, young and old. Franklinton Farms grows and shares food on over two acres while creating beauty and growing community.
At St. John’s we know our baptismal call to renounce corrupt and evil powers means we have an absolute responsibility to be involved in the political arena. Led by deacons Craig Foster and Meribah Mansfield, we make regular visits to the Ohio Statehouse to talk with legislators about key issues such as gun violence, human trafficking and the impacts of climate change. Or, we work locally to fight for fair housing practices and, with other faith organizations, confront our city leaders to re-define the approach law enforcement takes when facing volatile situations. This led the city to agree to additional training for all police officers to help stem the tide of police shootings, for the good of our neighborhoods and for the safety and good of those committed to serve and protect.
There is no limit to justice work, just a limit in the hours of the day.
* Learn more about the Hallmarks of Healthy Congregations at diosohio.org/congregations/hallmarks-of-healthy-congregations/.
The Rev. Craig Foster serves as a deacon at St. John’s, Columbus.