How a church can love its city

Sunday’s sermon at First Pres was on our newest (of six) core commitments: To commit our time, gifts, and resources to serve our neighbors in downtown Winston-Salem in the name of Christ. Unpacking this commitment, the church lists five themes:

  1. Ministry to the poor
  2. Outreach to people who live and work downtown
  3. Racial reconciliation
  4. Outreach to the arts community/using the arts as outreach
  5. Being a good neighbor to other downtown businesses and schools

This is great development in our church’s sense of mission and life together. Once, long ago, our churches website said something to the effect of: “while we may be a downtown church, we feel more like a suburban church.” This little statement was almost enough to stop me visiting, but in the end we came and we stayed.

In reflecting on the sermon, I came up with six ways that our church could be a blessing to Winston-Salem without having to do much in the way of programming. Here they are:
  1. Stop giving people tickets for parking in our parking lots. We all know that we need spaces for people coming to church events, but except for Sundays and Wednesdays there aren’t that many of them.
  2. Open our playground to the community. I’m sure our lawyers suggest we not do that, but keeping the playground under lock and key seems a little inhospitable.
  3. Open the sanctuary for prayer daily. Again, this is another risky step — things could be stolen. However, I have always admired the way that many Episcopal churches stay open as a sacred space in the midst of a busy culture.
  4. Encourage parishioners to move downtown — let’s make our neighbors our neighborhood. This isn’t practical for all of us, but surely some of us could do it.
  5. Encourage parishioners to be involved in city council advisory boards or otherwise invested in the life of the city outside of our church.

Here’s another idea: find a way to pay some taxes to the city. This gets a little complicated. We could form some sort of entity that would be taxable and that entity would be the part of our broader organization that received revenue for any uses of our large worship center that do not fall under a non-profit use. Just an idea, but in a time when tax revenues are low it might be nice to find tangible ways to bless the city financially as a church organization — I guess we could just give a gift??

What do you think? How does your church bless the neighborhood it’s in?