Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Apostles at the local level

Apostles are particularly concerned with environments and networking. Or, in the extension of healthy environments, through networking.

I’m thinking of Jeanie. Jeanie is a little old lady, who walks the dogs in our neighbourhood. She carries an enormous bunch of keys (it is quite safe for her to do so: not only is she always accompanied by a dog, or dogs; but the keys are identifiable only by pet name, not address). I don’t know her full name or where she lives or her phone number. I don’t know the boundaries of the territory she walks, several times a day, every day. But I do know that if I need to speak with her, to arrange her looking after our cat when we go away on holiday, I need only keep an eye out for her: it won’t take long. I often pass her on the pavements.

Jeanie’s motivation isn’t pastoral. She is much more interested in the dogs (and cats) of the neighbourhood than in their humans (this is an observation, not a criticism). She does not have animals of her own, and enjoys the benefits of dog-walking without the down-side of vet’s bills. It suits her, and it provides a (free) service to the community. Without anyone really knowing how she has done it, Jeanie has created a network of clients, and indirectly a network of neighbours. She carries within herself a very particular kind of intelligence (or, the gathering and collating and application of information within the community). There is a somewhat intangible but very real sense in which she holds the neighbourhood together: at whatever point Jeanie no longer does what she does, the community will feel the loss of her.

This is classic, if not immediately obvious, apostolic behaviour, at a very local level. Jeanie isn’t going to change the world, but she makes a significant difference to this corner of it. As an aside, Jeanie is an introvert: we often expect apostles to be social extraverts, but they are not necessarily so—another reason we might overlook some.

Jeanie isn’t a member of our congregation. In fact, I have no idea where she stands in relation to faith. But she, or someone like her, could be. In what way might that be a gift to us?

Many of our churches have well-established pastoral networks, caring for members of the congregation. We tend to be less well-networked regarding the wider community. Not necessarily less well-connected: every member of every church congregation has connections with people beyond the congregation; but networking is more intentional, joining-the-dots between our connections. Asset-based community development (ABCD: starting from the resources within a community, as opposed to starting with the needs facing that community—and I’d argue that APEST is all about ABCD) is more-or-less impossible without apostles.

So, who is your Jeanie?

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