Step Up and Be the Church!

Bravo to Shelby Cares, a network of churches in Shelby County, Tennessee, who have come together to serve and support people in communities effected by the current Mississippi River flood.

This is from National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, which covered the story,

Marcello Gonzalez, 29, stands inside the sprawling Hope Presbyterian Church just east of Memphis. He says the last time he saw the mobile home he owned with his wife and two little boys, it was full of water.

“I got my two kids, and I had to bring them over here because I don’t have nowhere to go,” Gonzales says. “We’re here now, and I want to say thank you to this church for help. They give us some food and they have showers, mobile showers in here.”

Gonzalez raves about how well his family is being treated at Hope Presbyterian, which is serving as the largest shelter for residents displaced by the floods in Shelby County.

There are close to 180 people sleeping on cots and inflatable mattresses. They are fed three meals a day and get help with transportation, health care and other services.

“We’re doing this because we just believe that’s the church’s responsibility,” says Scott Milholland of Hope Presbyterian Church. “Step up and be the church, take care of people and serve people — it’s in our DNA and it has been.”

What’s unique about this effort to shelter, feed and clothe flood victims in Memphis is that it’s not being run by the Red Cross. That organization is usually the lead charity in providing shelter services in disasters, which it has an agreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to do.

The Red Cross is in Memphis operating shelters as well as providing other disaster services. But when displaced residents check into Shelby County’s center, they’re assigned almost exclusively to one of the faith-based shelters that are part of the initiative called Shelby Cares.

“… We want to take responsibility for the citizens of Memphis and we’re willing to fund it,” says Craig Strickland, senior pastor at Hope Presbyterian and coordinator of Shelby Cares. “We believe that’s what the faith-based community should be about.”

In between briefings at the Shelby County Emergency Management command center, Strickland recalls that the impetus for the initiative was Hurricane Katrina nearly six years ago. He says there was an enormous outpouring from the faith community in Memphis to help out during that crisis.

“A light bulb went off, and something changed,” Strickland says. “I don’t know what. I think the church realized that they had abdicated part of their responsibility in society and they wanted it back. And so they began helping in Katrina. The problem was finding a strategic way to do that.”

Strickland says clergy started working with county officials well over a year ago to begin developing the strategic framework for this local, faith-based disaster response. The flooding is its first major test.  (Emphasis added)

Read (or listen) to the whole story here.

Kudos to pastor Stickland and Shelby Cares! Here’s hoping that their good work will be a motivator and model for other churches in other cities in the US and around the world.

– Scott Allen

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One Response to Step Up and Be the Church!

  1. On circumstances like these we must “step up and be the church” but what does that mean exactly? and how would it look like if the church did step up?
    I think one of the main aspects that we would see, is that it would be people in the form of people. Meaning that it would be people coming together to sacrifice themselves to satisfy the urgent need of others. In such a way that it would not simply be the opening up of a building of common use, and the giving of money or time. But it would be the giving of self in what ever form capable and necessary. So that our homes would be open, and our selves and not simply an institution.
    That is a mayor difference between the church and an institution. An institution needs to wait for a board meeting to decide if they will help or not. Or for the leader of the institution to choose to help. Not so with the church, she needs only the voice of her conscience, and the voice of love. And she will unite with those who are of the same mind. She will do what is right not because is her responsibility, but because she loves. And she loves not to be seen or promoted by men, but because she was loved first, just like that, in a disinterested fashion.
    We must elevate our thinking about the church above relive work or any good work per se. For we could have a group of people unite to do relive work or good works, but that doesn’t mean they are a church.
    We must really understand what does it mean to really “stand up and be the church.” Not only under these circumstances, but on any circumstance. Among the rich, among the poor, among the world. Under tyrannical rule, under anarchy or under liberty.
    If we don’t know what it means to “stand up and be the church” under any circumstance, then we don’t know what it is to be the church.
    For a discussion on this subject you can go to starfishdiscipleship.com

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