Vulnerable and Resilient: Ending a Lenten Journey
by Kathye Hamm
2 Corinthians 4:8
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven.”
It was during this time last year when the churchwide asked synods to reflect and assess which are the vulnerable congregations as we prepared for the unknown impact of the pandemic. Together with Bishop Mark, and in consultation with our Synod Council Vice President, we came up of a list with very basic criteria of congregations who are serving the most vulnerable. Most on the list were communities of color, who we eventually learned were hit the hardest by the pandemic. Some of these congregations have received some grants, either from church related funds created to support our congregations during the pandemic or from other non-profit organizations. At first, the demand was about technology needs, as they were not well equipped or they did not have other resources to dip into as we switched into online pandemic life. And as weeks and months passed, I have been in awe in witnessing these vulnerable congregations flourish, as I have continued to participate in churchwide listening sessions for our vulnerable congregations throughout the year. I have been blessed to learn from the stories from my Director for Evangelical Mission colleagues from other synods, Congregational Vitality Team and the Program Directors of Ethnic Ministries, as we share the developments among these communities of faith in order to be able to identify and prioritize vulnerable congregations in post-pandemic time, a work in progress. There are three important areas that we learned from this experience:
- In the capitalist society we live in, we have been informed that vulnerability is a liability on the one hand and on the other, could be a source of opportunistic commodity for profit. Our Christian faith has deep roots centered on vulnerability in the life, death and resurrection of Christ, way before the emerging redefinition of an individual’s vulnerability as a source of strength. The collective vulnerability of these communities is not self-imposed to garner pity and therefore receive “assistance.” Rather, despite the systemic social oppressions and injustices around them that surfaced more openly during the pandemic, the sacrifices they have experienced became their testimony. They thrive, trusting that as followers of Christ, Christ does not only know their vulnerability but has also experienced being outcast and marginalized. Through Christ, they will lead the rest of our church and communities, witnessing with their resilience as an in-breaking of God’s reign.
- These vulnerable congregations’ resilience is not anchored on their ability to be patient or be stretched to the max of their capacity to survive as a community, nor their desire to protect what they have. Their resilience is very much anchored in their relationships that go beyond their members, rooted and always re-rooted with their neighbors and the community they serve. We all learned that their relationships even strengthened, despite the pandemic, for they did not stop dreaming – continually responding to the vision of what God is inviting them to be and do right where they are planted. Their resilience was embodied by their organizing to increase their capacity to serve even with their hurts and pain. This is how I will describe Grace Lao in Richmond, which just recently buried one of their elders due to COVID, while planning to create a Center for the Elders that would be served by their intergenerational community. I am sure you also know many of these resilient and vulnerable congregations around you who are testifying to the vulnerable and resilient Christ. Truly their resilience translates to their practice of stewardship.
- How many times have I (and so with other DEM colleagues) been asked “how long are we going to give these congregations assistance?” “Traditional” stewardship is hard to achieve, and yet what the listening team has observed is that our vulnerable congregations are the most suited in terms of readiness to face crisis like the pandemic. Their resilience has already the memories of their ability to stretch as wide as needed their capacity, to use resources available from their relationships within and outside, so that their outreach grows in building relationships with new people. Though this pandemic made our nation, both church and society, realize our own unreadiness and limitations, our vulnerable congregations have had many experiences before where they have had to face the unexpected with only the resources already present and available in the community, especially the wealth of relationships intersecting with the emerging needs where they can serve and share generously.
I am lifting up the vulnerable congregations around our church not to romanticize our ministry to the poor and the oppressed. I am lifting their witness to you as we learn from one another and continue to find ways on how we as a whole church, working together in God’s reign, receive the gifts of our vulnerable congregations, who in their vulnerability, resilience and generous stewardship of God’s resources for the well-being of the whole creation, receive their invitation to us all as both blessing and challenge.
The team I am part of in identifying and prioritizing vulnerable congregations, as we now prepare for the post-pandemic season, centered our reflection on Luke 13:20, The Parable of the Yeast. The vulnerable congregations in our midst are like the yeast in this parable, bringing forth God’s reign that transforms the whole community as bread for all. For to walk with each other is to receive the invisible component that could transform our church and life together.
May the testimonies of the vulnerable congregations as followers of Christ even to the cross become our strength as we walk on our way to the cross and the empty tomb.
Pr Tita Valeriano
April 13, 2021
April 06, 2021
March 30, 2021