A congregation of any faith community is made up of and tied together by both faith and community, which may seem ridiculously obvious. But sometimes people miss the importance of each and how they're related.
The community part? Well, it grows out of and is nurtured by the faith part. Which makes it a bit different from any traditional social group that also provides a sense of community to its members -- the local Harley club, say, or the Rotary.
Part of being in a faith community means being present to and reaching out to the community in which the congregation is located.
Which is one reason that members of my congregation (pictured here as we began to gather), Second Presbyterian Church, marched this past Saturday in our Brookside neighborhood's St. Patrick's Day parade (a day before the actual holiday and a day before a bigger parade downtown). I'm the one just to the left of the passenger door on that 1936 Chevrolet owned by a member of our congregation.
For us, being a faith community within a larger secular community means participating in that larger community in many ways. We march in parades. We invite our neighborhood to our block parties. We volunteer with agencies that serve our community. We bring in speakers from the community to help us understand local, national and international issues. We try to be good neighbors in countless ways, including providing meeting space for community groups. We invite our neighbors to join us for worship and to consider joining our community of faith.
And within our community we try hard to take care of our own, visiting them when their sick, helping them when they are grieving, teaching their children and loving each other the best ways we know how. We also fail at this every day but we recognize those failures and pledge to do our best not to repeat them.
And one of the other things we as a faith community do is simply to have a bit of fun within our larger community. We could have stayed home Saturday -- a bit of a raw, cloudy day in the 40s. Instead, some of us put on our green Second Church t-shirts and hit the streets -- the streets on which our neighbors live and work and shop.
Because that's what a faith community does in a larger secular community.
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THE PRESIDENT'S ISRAEL TRIP
President Obama's trip to Israel, which began today, has inevitable religious and political meaning, and the Jewish newspaper The Forward walks readers through some of that. It's a little disappointing to me that Obama wasn't there last year when I helped lead a Jewish-Christian study tour to Israel. He'd have been welcome to tag along. If you missed my coverage of that trip, go to the archives and start with April 15 or 16, 2012.
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P.S.: In this recent National Catholic Reporter column I wrote about Elijah P. Lovejoy, famous as a 19th Century defender of a free press but not so well known for his anti-Catholic views. In response, the author of this intriguing and award-winning paper about Lovejoy alerted me to it. So I alert you to it today. Give it a read. You'll be educated.
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P.S.: My latest National Catholic Reporter column now is online. To read it, click here.