Here at First Parish Unitarian Universalist Canton – as I’m sure is true at every church and synagogue in Canton – we struggle with how best to serve our neighbors. “Who is my neighbor?” is one of the Eternal Questions. The answer, it seems to me from what I’ve read, is “everyone in need.”
At First Parish we collect food for the Canton Food Pantry. We donate the cash portion of our offering once a month to charity. In February we have a big old month-long food drive and collect both non-perishable food and money for the Food Pantry. Our Director of Religious Education, Angela Konzal, leads this effort with the children of the congregation out in front. Last year they collected an astonishing number of items from a fairly small group of donors.
But we want to do more. The question is, what to do? Do we try to squeeze more money from our already-strapped members, who are not only always being hit up for another contribution but who sometimes need help, themselves, times being as they are. Do we go out into the community to collect from people to help other people? That doesn’t seem like a good idea – aren’t you already being asked by everyone and her auntie to give them money?
How do we serve our neighbor and therefore honor the injunction to love our neighbor as ourselves?
All we can think of to do at the moment is to say to all our neighbors, “We’re here if you need us.” We don’t have a lot of money and what we do have is often claimed six ways to Sunday. But we do have a lot of love and a desire to enfold people into our loving subset of the local community.
And that means you, Atheist, and you, Transgender, and you, Gay or Lesbian, and you, Bisexual. It means you, of mixed race and you of color and you, whose English isn’t so strong yet. It means you, Immigrant, and you, Heretic. It means you, Pagan, and you, disgruntled by all the hypocrisy you have found wherever you’ve gone to worship. We’re not perfect, heaven knows – but we try to live our values every day.
A church - or for that matter a synagogue or a mosque – isn’t a museum for saints. It’s a hospital for those of us who are not who we wish we were, and who need the support of a community to be our best selves, to heal and become whole.
But if you see something there that sparks your interest, come on down. We don’t put the hard pressure on, we just roll out the welcome mat and let you decide.
That’s how we’d like to be treated, so that’s how we treat our guests. And our neighbors. Here if you need us. Your choice.