Community Development as Church, pt. 1

Many of you know, a word I am learning to hate is, “missional” not for its real meaning, rather for its use and abuse.  I think you all know my idea of church and it is pretty unorthodox, or maybe it is truly orthodox, it better represents Irish Monasticism, St. Basil Caesarea’s engaged monasticism, and today’s modern community development anyway, I came across this blog, and at the end of it, while it is marked Social Justice, I couldn’t help but think, finally, CHURCH!  So, on that I decided to do a series of blogs on Community Development as Church:

True Christian Community development is not a new thing, in fact it dates back to the times of St. Basil of Caesarea.  St. Basil’s idea of community was commented on by St Gregory at Basil’s funeral, “Go forth a little way from the city, and behold the New City, the storehouse of piety, the common treasury of the wealthy … where disease is regarded in a religious light, and disaster is thought a blessing, and sympathy is put to the test.”

St. Gregory is referring to the great philanthropic foundation established by St. Basil where the poor, the diseased, orphans and the aged could receive food, shelter, and medical care free of charge from monks and nuns who lived out their monastic vocation through a life of service, working with physicians and other lay people.  Basil, made our ideas of “for the city” look like rhetoric, as he was truly FOR HIS CITY and a true vision for restoration.

Basil had two great passions the city and his faith.  He tried to live out his faith as a monk in the secluded monastic life, but could never expel the love of his city from his heart.  So, he came back to his city to become a priest – his basic line of thought was, “to be a monk, yet not live in a monastery, rather return to the ‘world’.” Throughout his ministry, he remained committed to the ideal of a community of shared life and resources, as exemplified by monasticism. But he was equally determined that this ideal not be limited to the monasteries, but should rather be brought to bear upon the greater society.

Basil envisioned an engaged monasticism, urban rather than rural, and dedicated to service to the poor as an essential aspect of monastic practice. His inspiration was to bring together the involuntary poor and the voluntary poor (monastics) in order to create a new kind of community.  Basil’s vision is radical because it represents both a reform of monasticism, calling monks and nuns to return to the world and embrace its cares and sorrows as their own, and a reform of society, advocating the creation of a social order based upon simplicity and sharing rather than competition and private ownership.

Chrysostom summarizes Basil’s principles in his message, I Will Tear Down my Barns, “If we all took only what was necessary to satisfy our own needs, giving the rest to those who lack, no one would be rich and no one would be poor.” The result to Basil’s teaching with regard to the ethic of sustainability is what might be called, ‘distributive mandate‘.  The content of this ‘distributive mandate’ is that whatever one has that is ‘extra, over and above’ onen’s actual needs, should be given to those who have less than their needs.  Basil described this process with a Greek word that literally means, “to restore balance”.   This is essentially the idea of loving others by sharing with them.  The most quoted saying of Basil is:

The bread you are holding back is for the hungry, the clothes you keep put away are for the naked, the shoes that are rotting away with disuse are for those who have none, the silver you keep buried in the earth is for the needy.

Basil best sums it up like this: You are guilty of injustice towards as many as you might have aided, and did not.

On the other side, Basil describes those who live by the rule of competition and private ownership with the Greek word that simply means, “unsocial”.  Basil says, of the foolish rich man who tore down his barns to build bigger barns, that God was “inviting his soul to a more social civilized demeanor.”  According to Basil, God is calling every person to become a social human being, one who understands his or her social obligations and lives in proper relation to his or her neighbor.  Sociability is not seen as merely a virtuous quality, but rather as a conversion to a new way of being in the world and this being made fit to live in the New City.

I want to use this to lead into series of blogs that explores Community Development as Church by thinking of what Perkins calls, his three “R’s”.

  • Relocation: Far more than the poor and broken need our money and simple projects, they need us—people.  People with skills who will work with them and teach them how to become contributing members of society (click HERE to read the blog specific to relocation).
  • Reconciliation: This includes coaching; life-on-life mentorship; true relationships; housing that will help undergird the families and move them from poverty to productivity; and Option Creation, because poverty is much more than the lack of money, it is the lack of options.
  • Redistribution: The vision being that today’s receivers become tomorrow’s givers

My plan is to do four more blogs on this, one for each “R” and then one more putting these together to ask, what a real restorative community could look like.  Let me end with this quote from Basil and a filter of thought:

Tell me, what is your own? What did you bring into this life? From where did you receive it? It is as if someone were to take the first seat in the theater, then bar everyone else from attending, so that one person alone enjoys what is offered for the benefit of all in common – this is what the rich do. They seize common goods before others have the opportunity, then claim them as their own by right of preemption.

The above blog was motivated by Fr. Paul Schroeder and John M. Perkins
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