I graduated from seminary in May of last year, knowing that I would move to Salida by July 1. I knew very little about what awaited me, but I grew up in Alamosa, so I knew some things about small mountain towns. The mountains are much closer here, however.
Sometime in my high school years the mountains began to feel like prison walls that kept me from the excitement of the outside world. I wanted to get out and see for myself what life in a big city had to offer.
Many years later when I would return home for a visit from those big cities, those same mountains would become fortress walls. I slept so very soundly on those visits and the rest was renewing. A little over a year ago I returned to a small mountain town with fortress walls of its own.
In the second week of September last year one of those walls was struck by lightning and began to burn. I was just two months into my first year of ministry and this community was being threatened by a natural disaster. I did my best to find ways for the church to be of assistance.
Quite frankly, there just were not many opportunities because the community was taking care of itself, thank you very much. Restaurants provided food. Evacuees had little trouble finding lodging. The community was fulfilling the call of Matthew 25 by feeding the hungry, giving the thirsty something to drink and inviting in the stranger. If I am to be honest, it was a little disappointing. Perhaps this is the result of the Church Universal spending too little time outside the fortress walls of its own church buildings.
I have since found ways to partner with organizations in the community as a volunteer. It has been both rewarding and challenging to serve on the committee for the overnight winter shelter. Fundraising is not one of my favorite things to do, but I am able to set aside my discomfort when the cause is just.
I soon found out that the generosity of the community is extended to those experiencing homelessness in the community. We will soon begin our fundraising efforts for the coming winter. I am grateful that the congregation I serve has agreed to provide space for the women’s shelter. The men’s shelter will once again be housed by The Lighthouse.
The committee’s first public fundraising sojourn took place at Salida Soup. We were selected to receive that night’s micro grant. The experience was more than just the grant. The community that was gathered there validated our efforts through their votes and boosted our morale. While I have yet to cut vegetables for the soup, I am hopeful that I get that opportunity when a more normal Salida Soup returns.
Full Circle Restorative Justice is another organization that has garnered some of my volunteer time. The organization works closely with the justice system to build community and reduce recidivism. The reconciliation that is sought in each case walks closely alongside my own theology.
The world has changed around the Church and in many cases the church has been passed by. Rather than be a time of lament it should be a time of soul searching: a soul searching that leads to wonder about new ways that the Church can partner in community. Perhaps that’s the invitation that the world has been waiting for all along. Jesus was really good at inviting people in.
The Rev. Brent Wiescamp is pastor of First Christian Church in Salida.