Posted by: Titus Presler | November 20, 2009

Companionship in mission highlighted in All Saints’, Ravenswood, outreach

“What I’ve been struck by is how lonely people are and how the companionship is as important as the food,” says Anne Ford, a freelance writer contemplating a book of interviews with regulars. “It’s not as if they’re looking for deep, meaningful chats. But just the ordinary pleasantries of life.”

This is from a Nov. 19 New York Times piece, “Outside a World of Wealth Stands the Reality of Hunger,” by James Warren on the plight of the poor in the current recession.  Warren focuses on Ravenswood Community Services, the outreach of All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Chicago, about which there was an Oct 29 posting on this blog, “Mission is key to parish growth – a story from Chicago.”

What’s striking is the emphasis on companionship that Anne Ford picked up on in the social outreach that that Ravenswood provides.  It is this concern with accompaniment, with the quality of relationship between companions, that distinguishes the economic outreach side of Christian mission from simply the “delivery of services.”  This is why accompaniment is the watchword of mission in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and why companionship is the watchword among Anglicans, including the Episcopal Church USA.

The theme puts me in mind of David Anderson, a London social worker of no particular religious persuasion, who wrote to me while my wife Jane and I were serving as Episcopal missionaries at Bonda, the major Anglican mission in the eastern highlands of Zimbabwe.  David was “burned out,” he said, and he wanted to take a sabbatical in a radically different setting and serve people on a more informal basis.

I was intrigued, and David came for about three months.  He was definitely in recovery mode.  What had pushed him over the edge in London – quite literally – was when he got thrown down the stairs while visiting one of his needy and troubled “clients.”  At Bonda he worked with pre-school children, including one of our sons, in the crèche, and helped the sisters of the Community of the Holy Transfiguration with the English they wanted to learn.  Relationships flourished.  He was a companion, not a service-provider.  He was in ministry.  David felt well delivered from delivering services.

Another theme in Warren’s piece is the contrast between the All Saints‘ outreach and the objections of affluent neighbors to the presence of those who line up for the food pantry.  The parish gets a boost in Warren’s closing line: “Consider walking into a place like All Saints and keeping fellow citizens from drowning.”

Update 27 Nov. 2009: On Nov. 26 James Warren followed up with another New York Times column on vandalism that occurred at the church after the Nov. 19 column.  He mulls over the possibility that the two were connected in that it might have been an irate affluent neighbor who broke a window, pushed a garden hose through and turned the water on.  Also, air was let out of one of Rector Bonnie Perry’s tires.  Warren recounts conversations with parishioners, neighbors and food pantry guests in the piece entitled “Vandalism at Food Pantry Shows Best and Worst of People.”

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