“Who is My Neighbor?”
When the Diocese presented the “Tending our Soil” thriving congregations initiative, which seeks to cultivate the changed soil of our congregations so that God’s love might grow in our time and place, I was excited!
My congregation of Church of the Ascension, Silver Spring, Maryland, was at a critical juncture. We were completing a successful Capital Campaign and the time was ripe to review and renew our mission, vision, and future strategic goals. Myself and our leadership believed Tending Our Soil would be a great resource to help us do this.
Over the past 12 months, Tending Our Soil has encouraged us to think about “how to do church” in new ways to help us renew and thrive. One homework assignment between learning labs was to look around our local community and find out what our neighbors needed.
What we discovered compelled us to initiate new ministries. We began worrying less about membership numbers or the budget, and instead focused on who was in need. Following are some of these ministries.
During the pandemic, even before entering the Tending Our Soil initiative, Ascension had begun offering online worship. By livestreaming our Sunday 10:00 a.m. service, our Wednesday noon service, and all other special services, we reached and continue to reach neighbors locally and globally, providing people with spiritual inspiration and sustenance. Tending Our Soil has helped us realize the importance of this ministry. Even though we are back doing in-person worship again, our online worship ministry is permanent.
We enhanced our outreach ministries in the surrounding community. We continued to support Shepherd’s Table with our casserole ministry and to encourage members to donate financially in lieu of casseroles. Ascension has contributed over $5000 to fund Shepherd’s Table to feed the hungry.
Ascension also joined efforts with Tommy’s Pantry (an organization named after Rep. Jamie Raskin’s late son) to help the food insecure. Tommy’s Pantry is now based at Ascension where church and county volunteers compile shelf stable food and wellness boxes which are handed out twice a month. In total Tommy’s Pantry is ministering to over 600 people per month who come to the church for support.
Our deacon, The Rev. Terri Murphy, began a Street Ministry. Every Sunday morning Rev. Terri and her volunteers head to Veterans Plaza in Silver Spring and hand out $10 food cards as well as care packets. Individuals who hang out around the plaza know that Rev. Terri and her team show up about 6:30 a.m. and they start lining up. Anywhere between 30-60 people experiencing homelessness come for assistance. They have become part of our church. Each week Rev. Terri brings their prayer requests for the Prayers of the People at worship services. Some have submitted their yearly tithes of $2.00 or $5.00 (truly the widow’s mite).
We have engaged in other outreach ministries such as a diaper drive, a blanket drive, and along with Lutheran Social Services and other Episcopal congregations we collaborated to help five Afghan families move into apartments, equipped with furniture, appliances, linens, computers, etc.
And so we experienced a spiritual “aha” and discovered that “our neighbor” goes far beyond the person who lives next door. Or the immediate community that surrounds our church building. Everyone is our neighbor. And we are here to be Christ’s heart and hands no matter where Christ’s heart and hands lead us.
For Ascension, Tending Our Soil has cultivated the changed soil of our congregation so that God’s love might grow in our time and place and flourish in places we had not previously imagined by deepening our understanding of what it means to be neighbors. It is a wondrous love indeed.
The Rev. Dr. Joan Beilstein
Rector, Church of the Ascension, Silver Spring