Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Where is Our Mission Field?

I've been spending some time this week digesting the Pulse of Vermont Quality of Life Study 2010. If you're not familiar, it's a survey done by the Vermont Business Roundtable, this being the fifth analysis since 1990. There are many interesting things to be found inside. If you'd like to read or download the report, click here.

One of the things that surprised me was that more Vermonters would be willing to pay an additional $250 in taxes per year for the preservation of open land or for better public transit than to improve our schools. At 42%, the people willing to pay extra taxes to support better schools was the lowest level ever recorded by the survey.

Only 13% of those surveyed thought life in Vermont is getting better, also the lowest ever recorded.

But here is where I'm doing most of my pondering. One of the sets of questions was about the level of confidence in Vermont based institutions. Colleges and Universities scored the highest, followed by hospitals, banks, public schools, and major Vermont corporations. The bottom three? Organized religion, courts and the legal system, and, at the bottom, the government in Montpelier.

Really? We rank lower than Vermont Yankee? Whew.

It used to be fashionable to think of our congregation's mission field as somewhere 'away'. Some far off land, Africa or the Middle East perhaps, where we could send missionaries, or aid workers, or money to improve the life of those less fortunate. And that's good work we should not abandon, but it's not our only mission field.

A Pew Research survey a few months ago said the Hew Hampshire and Vermont were the 'least religious' states in our country. And we've just learned our congregations, associations, and conference are considered only marginally more trustworthy than our state government, and less than banks, IBM, and our health care system.

Here's a (not so little) secret I'll share with you. Your mission field? It's right outside your door. It's on your street, in your neighborhood, at your local market, across your community and our state. As we face the declines we all have been experiencing head on, and recognize that change is not only desirable but imperative to our survival, perhaps one of the ways to do that would be to put some of the energy and good will we focus on world mission a bit closer to home. We should not abandon our world mission efforts, which are helping to change our world, but where could we also be a force for good locally? Perhaps at our local food shelf. Or homeless shelter. Or in communion with other local non-profit aid agencies. Or by providing free community dinners. Or by increasing your support for, and highlighting the work done through the Conference on your behalf in support of low income Vermonters, or summer lunch programs. By helping those close to home, while demonstrating to your neighbors that our version of the church of Jesus Christ still has relevance, purpose, and worth.

The mission work and the ministries of your congregation are more needed than ever, and the cost to do it higher. It's no coincidence that our last two Conference church growth events have centered on living and then telling our story. And we have some additional work to do, helping others to understand what we do and why we do it.

Let's get to it.