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Aug29ThuHow Sydney Community Church is making a difference through integrated mission. August 29, 2019 by Major Corey Vincent
On Cape Breton Island, N.S., Grading Day is a big deal. Unique to the region, it takes place on the last day of school in June and everyone in Cape Breton celebrates. Parents give their children vacations, bikes and other gifts, and businesses celebrate by having huge sales.
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Not everyone can afford to celebrate, however. Child poverty levels are so high in our region that many kids do not have the luxury of a new bike or a family vacation. At Sydney Community Church, N.S., we wanted to make sure that every family would have a great Grading Day. So our church decided to throw a free Grading Day community block party and bring the celebration to our neighbourhood.
When we started to plan this event, we never guessed that it would be as successful as it was. We prepared for 500 people, but more than 1,000 showed up.
Events such as this are part of our commitment to being a community church. When a corps is making a difference in the communities it serves, it is practising integrated mission.
Since accepting Jesus as my Saviour, integrated mission has been a vital part of my life and ministry. I’ve always had the sense that the church should play an important role in the community. It is how we fulfil Jesus’ command to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15).
Integrated mission is about building relationships in our communities, and it begins with a passion to make a difference. I recently saw a meme on social media that sums it up nicely: “A church that ceases to reach out to its community is not a church but a religious social club.”
Leaders in our movement have a particular responsibility to demonstrate a passion for integrated mission. Passion starts at the top, but so does apathy. If we, as leaders, display a passion for community ministry, people will follow our example. But if we display an apathetic spirit and focus all our energy on the “religious social club,” our churches will also have an inward focus.
Living It Out
At Sydney Community Church, we strive to live up to our name—to be a true community church.
Two years ago, my wife, Major Charlene Vincent, and I formed a ministry/program committee of passion-filled, community-minded, Jesus-loving Salvationists. Our mandate for this committee was to be creative and think community. Since its formation, it has envisioned and helped facilitate many events, including: a lobster and steak barbecue for men from our local halfway house; two mental health walks, which have included representatives from the local Membertou and Eskasoni Mi’kmaq First Nations; two community trunk-or-treat events; a paint night for women; and more.
In the past three years, our region has been challenged with two significant disasters. In 2016, our community was hit by a storm that brought 255 millimetres of rain in less than 24 hours. Hundreds of homes were flooded and deemed uninhabitable. Our church was called on by the mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality to help feed, clothe and distribute government and charitable funds to victims, depending on their need.
We responded similarly this past December when, 18 days before Christmas, 600 individuals lost their jobs because ServiCom, the largest employer in Cape Breton, closed down. Without hesitation, our staff, volunteers, partners and corps members stepped up and offered love and support. Our church became the hub for all support for the victims of this horrible crisis. In addition to our regular Christmas hampers and toys program, which serves around 300 families, we provided support to 600 families which included presents, Christmas dinner and financial assistance to help with heating, rent, utilities, clothing, food, prescriptions and more (read Miracle on Inglis Street for more details). In circumstances such as these, we have no option but to serve. When our community hurts, our church hurts, too.
Party With a Purpose
The Grading Day block party was our most recent integrated mission event. We had bouncy castles, a magician, a reptile zoo, carnival games, balloon animals, face painting, free food, a candy buffet, bike giveaways and many prizes.
The purpose of the party was twofold. First, we wanted to celebrate our children’s accomplishments and hard work throughout the school year. But more than that, we wanted to show our community that we love our church, our church loves Jesus and through Jesus we love our community beyond measure.
Putting on such an event was a major undertaking, but we trusted that God would provide everything we needed to make it happen. All it took was a few phone calls and some letters to our community partners, and in no time we had significant donations coming in to support the event.
Further, many volunteers showed up to help, including 15 people who lost their jobs when ServiCom closed. They wanted to help our church give back to the community because we supported them during their time of need. All volunteers received a free T-shirt that said “I ♥ My Church.”
We are already seeing the fruits of this event. The block party happened on a Friday, and the next Sunday a father and his children came to our worship service. They experienced a welcoming, loving atmosphere at our event and decided that they wanted more.
Building relationships in our communities changes lives. It’s not rocket science, and it does not have to cost thousands of dollars. All we need is to have a heart for people, a love for the community, a sprinkle of creativity and the courage to leave our buildings.
For Cape Breton, integrated mission looks like a Grading Day block party. For other ministry units, it might be a barbecue; a walk through the neighbourhood for the purpose of having intentional conversations with people; or a youth group sidewalk chalk art day to remind people that Jesus loves them. It might mean taking a walk with a sign that says “I will pray for you for free.” Community ministry ideas are endless and are fuelled by a passion to engage with the community and a longing to see lives changed in Jesus’ name.
Major Corey Vincent is the corps officer at Sydney Community Church, N.S.