Thursday, October 13, 2011

Report to the Synod of the Trinity Oct. 10, 2011

Lend a Hand

Lend a Hand is the disaster response ministry of the Presbytery of Carlisle. Lend a Hand became associated with the Presbytery of Carlisle in response to Hurricane Katrina. We expected Lend a Hand to last about six months, and then we would be finished. Thus Lend a Hand since its first days in cooperation with our Presbytery has this sort of temporary, free form, flexible, close to the ground feeling about it. We do not have to worry about sustaining and continuing the work of Lend a Hand because we have no expectation that it will be sustained and continued. Lend a Hand operates day to day, disaster by disaster. Through these years, Lend a Hand has sent teams to Mississippi, Iowa, New York, Missouri, Tennessee, Florida, Georgia. Now our own Presbytery is a disaster response site.

The purpose of Lend a Hand is simple. There are victims of disasters. There are many people in the church who immediately want to reach out to, care for, respond to those victims. Lend a Hand has been successful because it has been focused like a laser beam on this one task: connecting disaster response volunteers with victims of disasters.

There is huge benefit in having such a singular, focused task. This focus allows a very fast response. The rain stopped and the rivers and creeks crested on Friday; Lend a Hand had teams in homes on Saturday.

Lend a Hand only works with homeowners. The ministry of Lend a Hand is comprehensive. We will work with homeowners from beginning to end. We will rebuild homes, in addition to simply cleaning them out. We have a database of skilled construction people, and we keep detailed skills inventory of our volunteers. For our response within our Presbytery now we have already a database of almost 200 homes that we are serving. We will track each home individually. We trust that volunteers will keep coming. We expect to continue this response within our Presbytery until next June.

What can we learn from Lend a Hand? I ponder this question often.

Lend a Hand has not been highly organized. We refuse to institutionalize Lend a Hand. So legally there is no such thing as Lend a Hand. It is not its own non-profit corporation; it does not own anything; it is fully owned and operated by the Presbytery of Carlisle. The Presbytery donates the time from our office support staff, office space and I am responsible for all financial management. But our Presbytery does not give Lend a Hand any money. There is no Lend a Hand board of directors; there are no by-laws or operating manuals; people are not elected; there are no long term plans, goals and objectives. Lend a Hand is a movement.

It is this movement quality that I want to highlight. It is this movement quality that may be something we can learn. We should ponder together the difference between a movement and an institution. Now there is no doubt that I am an institution guy. I was called, formed, blessed, and nurtured by the institutional Church. Many of us who would bother to attend a Synod meeting or a Presbytery meeting are the same way. The institution has formed us. A good friend of mine likes to say that I am so loyal to the Presbyterian Church that he is convinced that I have the Presbyterian symbol tattooed on my but. I also now believe that people like me – institution people – are obsolete and increasingly extinct. People today do not come to Jesus through the institutional church. People come to Jesus through much more free form, loose, flexible, relational, spiritual movements. We need much more of this movement quality in our common life.

This leads me to a difficult question, “Can institutions create movements?” How can we institution people create more of a movement quality in our common life? How do we do that? My conclusion is very clear for me. We cannot. Institutions cannot create movements. All we can do is get out of the way. This is very difficult for us. This is difficult for me. I am an institution guy. Institutions cannot create movements.

We may use Lend a Hand as a case study of this. Here is a tiny example where we have allowed a movement to flourish in harmony with the institution. My role in many ways is to serve as the offensive line for Lend a Hand. Lend a Hand is the quarterback. Too often, most of the time, we allow the institution to blitz and bury all the movements that rise up in our midst. My job has been not to allow our obsession with institutionalization to take control of Lend a Hand. Lend a Hand is a movement. This is very difficult for Presbyterians today. We want to institutionalize everything. A pastor walked into my office, closed the door, and said, “Suzie spends a lot of time doing Lend a Hand work. Don’t you think we should keep track of her Lend a Hand hours, and then Lend a Hand can reimburse the Presbytery for her time?” The institution is blitzing again. My response, “NO, we are not doing that.” Of course, afterwards I asked Suzie that question. Her response, “That’s dumb.”

Obviously, Lend a Hand is small and rather peripheral. It has been easy to allow its movement quality, its freeform, close to the ground way of running to blossom. But what if we begin asking the big questions? In the life of the Synod, in the life of our presbyteries, for the future of the church can we get out of the way and allow this kind of movement quality to emerge? And when such movements do emerge with energy, innovation and leadership in our midst are we going to blitz and bury them over and over again? Institutions cannot create movements. But we can give permission and encouragement. We can get out of the way. All over the world and throughout our society today there is a profound Jesus movement emerging. Can we institutional people get out of the way and allow that movement to bless and transform us.