Since we've been living on Main Street, we've seen it essential to connect with our neighbors who make up a combination of business folks, apartment and condominium dwellers, community service folks, and homeless/poor people who spend the day selling homemade crafts or asking for money. We are a part of the Main Street community, and as such, we support businesses near us as much as we can, and we've gotten to know many of the street folks, some of then quite well.
A year or so into being here, God seemed to nudge me about imagine becoming a part of the Chamber. I didn't move on it until Dave Sweeney who is a part of imagine and a member of the Chamber even though he lives in Agawam, invited me to an Arrive@ 5 meet and greet event a few months ago. I'm an introvert, so it was with some trepidation that I went. The folks I met were warm and friendly: I had a chance to chat a bit with Jasmin, the Member Services Manager who was very helpful in explaining how the Chamber might fit us and we them. A month or so after, Tricia and I joined Dave again for another meet and greet. We met a few more folks, and the door opened to joining which we did 4 months ago.
Today, Tricia and I went to a New Member Orientation at the Chamber offices.The room was packed with folks who'd recently joined. The meeting's purpose was to introduce ourselves, and then hear a presentation about the benefits of being a Northampton Chamber of Commerce member. It was informal and over a light lunch. Suzanne Beck, the Executive Director of the Chamber gave a helpful presentation, and then opened the floor to questions or comments. A little later, she asked if anyone wanted to comment about the benefits they'd experienced from being a member or any other thoughts. After a couple of folks talked, I explained that being a Chamber member, given we were a church, was a kind of "pioneering" act in that we were the only church in Noho who were members, and none of the pastors I knew in the outlying areas were members of their Chambers. Given that we aren't a business (the Chamber does serve a small percentage of non-profits) it might appear, on the surface, there was no benefit to anyone. I then noted we moved onto Main Street for the express purpose of becoming part of the community; to know and be of service to our neighbors because we cared for the community and wanted to benefit it. On the contrary, I asked why wouldn't a church want to be a Chamber member so as to know the business community and be of help where we were needed.
imagine/Northampton's stated mission has always been to: "help people discover and follow the God who is more than they imagine." To do so, we have to build relationships; real, genuine friendships with our neighbors, loving and serving them as they have need that we might show Christ's love to them which is the Treasure of all treasures. We've done so in a number of ways since moving here; a Chamber membership is another avenue of knowing and caring for people near us. Whether it's through the imagine ART Gallery, FEAST, the Florence Organic Community Garden, serving a meal at the Interfaith Shelter, giving out Christmas Gift Bags to our homeless neighbors, supporting Safe Passage, working in Hospice, or serving children and families at Halloween, or anything else, our goal is to serve with Jesus as he works in our Northampton community to open hearts to freedom and joy.
Happily, I've been very impressed by the passion, warmth, friendliness and dedication I've seen in the staff we've met at the Chamber. They are full of enthusiasm for their mission and I think we have something to offer our neighbors in the business community through our passion for imagine's mission. We'll see how the relationship unfolds. I hope it enfolds.
This Friday morning, Tricia and I will sit down with Jasmin to go through something they call a Game Plan to help new members get really connected.
Looking forward to it.