I’m just back from a nine day placement in the US, based in California. I spent several days at St Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco http://www.saintgregorys.org/, St Thomas in Sunnyvale http://www.stthomas-svale.org/ and Calvary, Santa Cruz http://www.calvarysantacruz.org/, all churches with large outreach work among vulnerable, poor or homeless people in their locale. It was very interesting, I learned loads and the churches were incredibly kind and hospitable.
The church situation is very different in the US for the Episcopal church in ways I couldn’t imagine before I got there so it was very illuminating to see the reality on the ground. Because the church there is not ‘established’ in the way the CofE is – and in fact it is against the law for church and state to join together – there is a real separation between anything the church does as service to the community and any issue of faith. Also due to the vocal and conservative evangelical lobby, there is an added terror of anything that might be construed as proselytization. So mission in the broad sense of creation healed or reconciliation were not yet as widely debated and discussed among the people I was staying with.
Also the fact that so very many ethnicities and cultural groups make up the population, it is assumed that most people have their own religion, faith and culture and it is not appropriate to try and dissuade people away from theirs towards Christianity. So the church’s outreach programmes are about feeding or providing shelter etc and are strictly separated from any element of faith or good news being shared – indeed it is a govt requirement that this is the case if any food is being donated by corporations who use it as a tax write off. So many food banks (or food pantries as they are called in the US) are awash with food donated by corporations such as supermarkets and Starbucks, in a way that would amaze a UK foodbank relying on individual donations, but with these ‘hands tied’ kind of restrictions that we don’t have to contend with. I found this a tough restriction to grapple with, especially as our work at the Upper Room is so much about the parallel work of reconciliation, practical needs and faith journey. It seems to me that ‘man cannot live by bread alone’ and that healing for people comes from being invited in and given a seat at the table in every sense – socially, emotionally, practically and sacramentally.
There were heaps of things I saw and learned and I will blog some more about that asap.