Thursday, June 13, 2013

Loving Houston -- A Review

We did it. During June 1-8 the church showed the love of Christ to the city of Houston in real and demonstrable ways. Loving Houston Week is behind us ... but we're not through!

Loving Houston began with an official launching ceremony in which Houston Mayor Annise Parker declared June 1-8, 2013 Loving Houston Week. The ceremony was held at Olivewood Cemetery, "an historic resting place for many freed slaves and some of Houston’s earliest black residents" and a site where significant work was done by Loving Houston participants.

Who participated?  What did we do?  More significantly, what's the long term impact?

Who participated?

More than 2,000 volunteers from approximately 75 different churches participated in Loving Houston work projects. (There was a glitch in our registration system, so the number of churches represented will increase, but this is what we know right now.)

In addition to those who participated on site in the work projects, hundreds and hundreds more participated in prayer walks and prayer gatherings to pray for the city. We did not attempt to tally that number, but it was significant and, I believe, the primary reason the work of Loving Houston had such an impact. (I believe the number of folks who prayed for the work of Loving Houston is significantly greater than the number of folks who participated in the projects, but I cannot document it.)

While Loving Houston began as an initiative of Union Baptist Association, it quickly became a kingdom initiative with participants coming from a broad range of churches. Of the 2,000 volunteers that participated, approximately half came from churches that were not affiliated with UBA.

What did we do?
We completed 83 projects:
  • 21 home renovations--which included various things like replacing a roof, building a porch, building a wheelchair ramp, power wash, scrape and paint, put up siding, gutters, sheetrock, screen doors
  • 22 beautification projects including 4 esplanades, medians, 6 community gardens, 9 parks, 2 schools (including the refurbishment of a middle school library and installing computers in an academy), 2 historic cemeteries (cut down and removed 75 major trees as well as cutting back underbrush, leveling grounds, landscaping, mowing, trimming … these were huge projects that spanned the entire week and involved hundreds of volunteers)
  • 21 clean up projects--empty lots, streets, parks, esplanades, including one 2.5 mile neighborhood thoroughfare
  • Information distribution informing thousands of households about resources, services and ministries they can access (most of these homes do not have internet access and would not know of these services otherwise)
What did we accomplish?   I really think this is the question that moves to the crux of Loving Houston.  I do not want to diminish the work we did.  It was significant, especially for those we served.  Our greatest work, however, may not be quantifiable.  What do I mean?  What else did we accomplish?  Here are my thoughts (in no particular order of significance).
  • Loving Houston became a kingdom coalition.  As I mentioned earlier, it began as a UBA initiative, but quickly churches from other traditions began to join us.  About half of the folks who served came from non-UBA churches.  I celebrate that, because it means Loving Houston was a kingdom initiative.  We talk a lot about being "kingdom minded," but the candid fact is most of what churches do is focused on their "tribe" (church or denomination), not the kingdom.  Not so with Loving Houston, and that's a reason to celebrate!
  • The church gained a voice in the city.  There was a time when the church was a major cultural influence.  That is no longer the case.  In most major urban areas, the church has little to no voice, no influence, beyond its own constituency.  Because of the relationships built through Loving Houston, because of the good work our volunteers did, the church in the city is now viewed differently.  We are viewed as a partner and a resource.  That's means the impact of Loving Houston going forward will exceed the work done on the various projects.
  • People were given a chance to serve God in non-church work.  Not everyone can teach a class, sing in the choir or do other things commonly identified as church work.  Through Loving Houston people could use their talents and training to serve in other ways.  An environmental engineer worked every day at Olivewood Cemetery.  Folks skilled in the construction crafts repaired homes, replaced roofs, and did other similar projects.  Chain saw gangs took down 75 trees in two cemeteries without damaging one marker.  People were given a chance to serve God and to feel the joy and satisfaction of doing so that might not otherwise have that opportunity.
  • Relationships were formed between people, churches and entities that will continue.  Denominational barriers were broken as churches served side by side in a kingdom cause.  Racial barriers were broken as folks of all racial identities served one another.  In some communities, church leaders reconciled with one another after years of ill-will.  "How can we show the love of Christ to the community if we aren't showing the love of Christ to one another," a church leader said to me.  
  • In this same vein, churches began working in communities that will go back again and again to continue what they have done.  That's where we will see the real power of Loving Houston.  In a conversation with one church leader this week, he talked about the good work they did at a school.  Then he noted that school serves fifty homeless kids.  Because of the work they did at the school this church has an opportunity to serve these homeless kids on an ongoing basis.  Who knows what impact they may have on these young lives?
  • The role of the local Baptist association is changing.  I realize this is not significant to most folks who will read this, but this is truly significant.  I may reflect on this with you in the future.
It's really too early to measure the full significance of Loving Houston.  Yet there is no doubt that Loving Houston has the potential to be a watershed event in the history of the church in the city.  If it does, it may not be for what has been done to date, but what we going forward to build upon what has been done.  For now, though, I believe all who participated can rejoice in a work well done.

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