Boys and Girls Clubs. Twice this morning in the span of 30 minutes I heard about Boys and Girls Clubs. Mary Alice McKenzie, Executive Director of the club in Burlington, offered testimony* yesterday in Rutland at a hearing conducted by Sen. Pat Leahy. She was powerful in presenting the hard truth about drug trafficking and use in Burlington. She was eloquent as she laid out what the Boys and Girls Club (“B&GC”) here in our city is doing in response.
Then, I gave a cursory glance at today’s NY Times. I always give a look at the columns written by David Brooks. The title of his piece caught my eye: How Cities Change. He writes about the mayoral contest in Newark, NJ. Shavar Jeffries is running against City Councilman Ras Baraka. Brooks characterizes the race as one between “regular” (Baraka) and “reformer” (Jeffries). The B&GC connection comes in with Jeffries, born to a 19 year old mother who didn’t know what to do with him. They moved to California, then back to Newark. Abandoned by both parents he ended up living with grandparents – and he became active in the B&GC. With a measure of stability in his life, Jeffries thrived, left town to get a law degree, then moved back looking to make a difference.
I confess to being a bit jealous – and envious. And I wonder … Did a church have anything to do with Jeffries’ journey from confusion to clarity? And here, locally … Are churches aware of the problems in our city, and are we doing anything about it? Mary Alice McKenzie mentioned the partnerships that exist between Burlington B&GC, Spectrum, JUMP, and our local Police Department. David Brooks referenced the role played by grandparents, the educational system, scholarships, and several prestigious schools. It is very possible that faith – and some faith community – are players in these two stories; but they are not significant enough so as to warrant any mention.
Just this morning alone, I can think of two very powerful reasons to contribute to the Boys and Girls Club. So … Why do I give to church?
Further reflection eases my jealousy. A closer look lessens my envy. Let me tell you why I give to church:
It takes people of faith to work in the kinds of services provided by Boys and Girls Clubs, Police Departments, Schools, Spectrum, CVOEO, BES, COTS, The Howard Center. I don’t mean that every employee is a self-consciously devout believer; but some of them are. Church (and Synagogue and Mosque and Temple) is a place where some of these folks go to find strength to live out their commitments to a better world.
It takes people of faith to provide space for 12-Step groups to meet – and not charge them rent. Faith-filled people allow a local non-profit the use of space for a time for street and homeless folk – and not charge rent.
It takes faith to allow a New American group of youth to use space – and not charge rent.
Faith is what inspires people to teach English to new neighbors who hail from far away.
“Church” is a place – and a people – who don’t necessarily need a lot of publicity for the good they are about. Other non-profits need to get their name out there; and they often come to churches when some specific crisis or opportunity arises (like the cell phones for homeless folk). And amazingly, along with supporting their church, these people of faith also generously support the other organizations as well.
Why do we do this? Why do I contribute to the maintenance of a building and the salaries of a staff and the support of ministries for a place like First UMC Burlington? I do it because I believe we are changing the world. Some of our congregants already do, or someday will work directly with these non-profit organizations mentioned above. Some of us are leading the charge and providing ‘ground support’ in the efforts to fend off poverty, overcome illiteracy, end homelessness, heal the sick and comfort the lonely.
Along with whatever support you provide to other good causes, will you contribute generously – perhaps even sacrificially – to the ministry of First UMC Burlington? It’s expensive. I know. And you won’t necessarily find your name on a plaque. But is there fulfillment in knowing that something essential is being provided because you are willing to give? It takes faith to do all that needs to be done. As Christians, our faith rests in the life and teachings of Jesus. Faith in him, and love for our neighbor – that’s what our church offers. That’s what First UMC Burlington teaches. Jesus is the one who taught us: When you give your alms, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Let your alms-giving be done in secret, and God your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.
For all you give – to our church, and to our community – Thank you. I pray that your knowing why I give will inspire you to want to do the same.
A blessed Tuesday to you.
*Mary Alice McKenzie’s testimony begins at 9:18 in the video clip.