Who Does Our Congregation Serve?

In our service on January 10, I invited people to consider both who they as individuals serve and also, who we as a congregation serve and who we might serve.

The members make up the congregation, and to some extent, the members are who are served. But any institution that serves only its own members is narcissistic in the same way as a person in love with themself.

Robert Greenleaf, who has devoted his career to servant leadership, wrote an essay called, “The Institution as Servant.” In it, he explains:

This is my thesis: caring for persons, the more able and the less able serving each other, is the rock upon which a good society is built. Whereas, until recently, caring was largely person to person, now most of it is mediated through institutions – often large, complex, powerful, impersonal; not always competent; sometimes corrupt. https://www.greenleaf.org/what-is-servant-leadership/

So, institutions, too, must become servants. The congregation, for example, needs to understand its role in service in the world. This fellowship does service that might be unexpected for its size. Last Friday, I joined with a few others and served breakfast at Happy Kitchen. Since I often find the service I do abstract, or based in words — speaking, writing, or listening –, to do something concrete as service, cooking eggs, washing dishes, serving food, is rewarding. To see the people who eat and their appreciation for having a hot breakfast touches me. And to do it with people from the congregation I serve moves and inspires me.

I am convinced that congregations that are internally focused, thinking mostly about themselves, do not ultimately have staying power. They are social clubs rather than change agents. I don’t think that is true of this congregation, but there is always more that can be done.

Who should we serve? Those who need it most — always, we want to consider how our decisions affect those who are least privileged in our society. Someone in the congregation also suggested the need for us to serve the earth. Indeed, that’s consistent with our values and principles. Service turns us outward rather than inward and makes us a better congregation and better people.

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