HARTFORD, Conn. -- When you first look at the goals of the non-profit organization here known as Billings Forge Community Works, you may think you're looking at values that come right out of religious traditions:
- fighting homelessness by improving housing opportunities for families and individuals in the Frog Hollow community,
- encouraging economic growth through business and enterprise development in the neighborhood surrounding the Billings Forge complex,
- the creation of job training, educational advancement, and employment opportunities for Frog Hollow residents,
- strengthening family health and vitality through education, counsel, and access to services,
- encouraging self help, civic engagement, and participation in every level of our community, and
- supporting a climate that values diversity, rewards independence, nourishes creativity, and brings all of us together.
But it turns out that this is essentially a secular organization that faith communities occasionally assist in this way or that. I had a chance to visit Billings Forge recently as part of the annual conference here in Hartford of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. (Dig around on the Billings Forge website to see the wide expanse of its activities.)
Indeed, faith communities don't need to reinvent wheels when such secular agencies as Billings Forge are already out doing what religious people might call the Lord's work -- in this case reclaiming a rundown neighborhood and assisting the people who live there. Rather, they can support them, cheer them on, fund them and provide volunteers.
Cary Wheaton, Billings Forge executive director, tells me that "We do not have any organized formal or underwriting relationship with faith communities. That said, one of our neighborhood partners is Emmanuel Lutheran in Hartford who provide gym space for the kids in our after school program as well as much support in the shared use of facilities and strategic thinking. We have also spoken at numerous churches and certainly receive many members at our farmers market, businesses, and performances."
In some ways that's the way my congregation, Second Presbyterian in Kansas City, works with such agencies as The Children's Place and Community Linc, though in both cases we have made some substantial funding commitments.
Often faith communities spend their resources most wisely not when they start something new but when they look around to see who already is doing what needs to be done and then become partners with that group, even if the group has no formal affiliation with any faith.
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A PAPAL ROAD TRIP
Pope Francis today makes his first pastoral trip outside of Rome -- to Sicily. Seem like past time to start building up his frequent-prayer miles.