If you've followed imagine/Northampton on Facebook in the last few days, https://www.facebook.com/pages/imaginenorthampton/64020924946?ref=stream, you're aware of our visit with Jon Katov of the Open Table ministry, theopentable.org/, Saturday and yesterday. His being here in Northampton stemmed from frustration a few of us have been experiencing because of what felt an ineffective approach to helping the poor and homeless who populate Northampton. Dave Sweeney took the initiative to do an Internet search, and found some options. I looked at them and agreed with him the Open Table was something we needed to look into. Dave took the lead in making the connection. Happily, Jon was going to be on the East Coast last week, and we met. He also joined us yesterday at imagineWORSHIP, and told his compelling story of how God set him free and drew him into helping the poor transform their lives.
Jon is a true believer in Christ, and in the travesty of how the poor fare in America. He's determined to be a part of the solution and travels hither and yon motivating the Church to adopt a different approach. He talks much of how Christians have adopted the transactional model of helping the poor: write a check to a ministry to the poor; hand them a buck or two at an intersection; give them a meal or money to get one; offer them a bed for the night in a shelter; give them used clothing, blankets, etc. All these transactions are well-meant, and handle an immediate need, but they do little or nothing long-term to help lift poor folks from their predicament -- band-aids never set broken legs, or mend broken hearts, no matter how genuinely offered
Jon says the Gospel, by its very nature calls for transformation. He makes, with great conviction and passion, a strong case for gathering weekly around an individual (termed a brother or sister), or family who demonstrates the will and volitional potential to overcome the many obstacles enmeshing them in the devastating cycle of poverty (including working poverty). He references Jesus's words from Matthew 25:35-40:
35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
The transformational investment Jon has experienced and champions comes in the form of gathering a team from collaborators in the church and local community, people with practical skills, networks and resources, and having them dedicate a year to help an individual or family tackle their obstacles to get up on their feet: http://theopentable.org/table-model-2/ .For most of these people, they've never experienced having a team of folks gather around them to share the burden of changing their lives. Jon says most of the poor people he's encountered are so weighed down with repeated failure and crippling shame that they have no way of working through the multiple problems they'll have to address to get free. It's utterly overwhelming. To not have to do that alone; to have help with legal, medical, criminal, vocational, housing, educational and relational problems is monumental for them.
We also find compelling the notion that if we do this, and can build a team of collaborators -- not necessarily Christians, by the way -- from folks in the community, we have the wonderful opportunity to create relationships with people with whom we have no substantial relationships. We become partners with them in helping Northampton's working poor and homeless break free. We get to know folks who get to know us as friends working together on a common goal. Jon says he's been amazed at the generosity of people who don't get a chance to give back in the way an Open Table affords. They want to, but don't know how either. imagine/Northampton would be able to initiate the opportunity as well as partner in the work. Wow!
Also, Jon is offering us the chance to be the first church in New England to adopt the Open Table transformational model. We didn't realize that. They're happening all over the country, but not yet here. What if?
As I mentioned, we've been looking for a way to make a bigger difference in the lives of the poor in Northampton.. We work at the Interfaith Shelter, the Northampton Survival Center, and have relationships with many of the "regular" homeless on the street. It's just not transforming lives to any substantial degree.
We really want do do that on our watch.
So as we listen to God and one another this week, please pray for us. Ask God to make it clear we are to become part of the Open Table movement or not. I need to tell you we are intrigued, and some of us are ready to get going, so we're not cool to the idea at all. There will important practical decisions to make and a substantial commitment for some of us, so we need to proceed with wisdom. We know imagine/Northampton is not to become the Open Table ministry; there are many other things God has for us to do as well. But this is the best format we've encountered for helping people heal and find their way back into a fruitful life. We also see the remarkable potential for opening people to Jesus, just by helping them find their way. Our Kingdom mission embraces the Open Table idea, so it feels right. We just need to know God is calling us for such a time and opportunity as this.Our Leadership Team will meet tomorrow night, and it will be on the agenda.
If God tells you anything he wants us to be aware of, please don't hesitate to let me know.
You know where I am.