God is at work in our communities right here in southwestern Vermont. God is in fact extremely busy in our neighborhoods, opening our eyes and our hearts to recognize and address injustice around us. I am feeling that we, as people of faith, are being called by God to move out of our buildings, out of the same old comfortable routine, and beyond the familiar.
I was ordained at St. James’ seven years ago in 2007. At that time, I understood my job to be guiding and caring for a specific faith community and standing behind the altar on Sunday mornings. And that was enough. That is what I felt called to do. Today however, I don’t necessarily feel called only to that. I am still called to that, because that is near and dear to my heart, but I believe we are being called to look at the world in a different way, and to engage in the world in a new way. I believe we, as communities of faith, are being pushed to really swing the tried and true melodies of our faith traditions.
God is active, continually creating and speaking in our world, gently guiding and occasionally pushing us into new and exciting places -- places that connect us and help us feel like we belong to something beyond ourselves. Pushing us to recognize the many social injustices in our communities: hunger, poverty, lack of affordable housing and quality jobs. The list is almost endless, isn’t it? While the challenges we face can seem insurmountable and overwhelming, there are people out there right now confronting these problems head-on.
God -- whatever you may call God: Abba, Amma, the Holy One, Allah, the One beyond ourselves -- is bringing people together to look closely at our communities and identify needs and concerns. As we enter our neighborhoods with open eyes, minds and hearts we can recognize God’s hand at work. We see individuals gathering together to address local challenges. We see new groups being formed and moving out in public ways to stand up for what is just, making slow and steady positive change to the world around us.
Our local faith communities are a part of this movement. Acting as individuals and as groups, leading the way in some cases and following in others. We are working alongside those from different faith backgrounds and those with no faith backgrounds at all.
As faith communities, we have always worked toward a common goal of respecting the dignity of every human being, of all living things. I believe God is now calling us to focus on these challenges our communities face in new ways. I believe we are being asked to look outside the walls of the buildings in which we worship, to see ourselves as part of a larger Southwestern Vermont community (not simply a community in and of ourselves), to take on the responsibility of listening to our neighbors and addressing their needs, to keep our eyes open to identifying where God is at work around us, to shine a light on injustice, to offer help to those in need, and to offer direction and support to those who feel called to help others.
God is at work in our communities right here. God is pushing us in new directions. It’s an exciting time.
Scott B. Neal is rector of St. James’ Episcopal Church in Arlington