In praise of quiet goodness

I was privileged to preach at a small church the week after the terrible bushfires that claimed so many lives, and destroyed so many homes and farms and workplaces. It was a beautiful morning service, full of the prayers and rituals and times of sharing that are so important to people processing real (and vicarious) grief. This small community was involved in running one of the official bushfire relief centres, so they had been working their proverbial backsides off all week processing and packing and forwarding on the outpouring of gracious gifts of the community to those left homeless by the fires. Beverley, who led the service, commented afterward that she hadn’t had a proper meal all week, as she had been pretty much working at the centre from dawn to dusk.

I sat next to June, an older lady who led the communion time. Her husband had been in hospital all that week, and she herself had recently had a hip replacement. (She was a little unsteady on her feet). Her homemade preserves had been so well received at one of the relief centres her name had been mentioned on 774 (the emergency services radio station most of Victoria spent the week listening to religiously). Despite her own troubles, after hearing the appreciation of her wares she then set to making another batch of homemade tomato sauce for the bushfire effort. She reminded me somehow of the woman who anointed Jesus prior to his death, praised because “she did what she could” (Mark 14:8).

I had been invited to preach because their own minister was coordinating the Victorian Council of Churches chaplains in one of the fire areas... a wonderful ministry of kindness and presence beautifully described in Mark Reisson’s blog here. http://markriessen.blogspot.com/2009/02/postcard-from-bushfire-zone.html
The team leader from my church also spent a week with the fire victims, simply being a listening ear to those who had lost so much, who had suffered trauma, and who needed to process their story with someone.

Around Australia, hundreds of churches were doing their part to support those impacted by the fires... my own church hall became a sea of toys and blankets when the call came out from one of our contacts at a relief centre that this was really needed... blankets for obvious reasons, and toys because traumatised young children had nothing to do. The church was also open for prayer and for listening... and used of course for the services and rituals that can be so important for people dealing with grief and trauma.

Of course, this outpouring of goodness and kindness and generosity wasn’t just happening within churches... a taste of the kingdom of God about which Jesus spoke was evident in the wider community in spades. But I am reminded that a huge volunteer “workforce” operates day after day in our churches... ordinary people doing their bit for the community with no thought for themselves. The church I had preached at would go on running their community centre and op shop and counselling centre long after the immediate crisis had been forgotten.

There is a perception that floats around that is cynical about churches... you might listen to some people and conclude that churches are nothing but gatherings of self-righteous hypocrites, looking down on others but doing nothing to help anyone. Well... there are dysfunctional churches out there, just as there are dysfunctional families and workplaces and clubs etc. But as a person working in a denominational office, this is not what I mostly see. What I mostly see are communities of goodness. Perhaps God’s best-kept secret... little communities who are pockets of kindness toward the lonely and the troubled and the sick and the poor... communities who touch lives around them and around the globe through generous giving.

This post is written in praise of this army of unsung heroes. Like yeast, they are mostly invisible... yet like yeast, they make a big difference to the bread. The world is a different, better, lighter and softer place because of you.

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