Recently, I was asked to speak at a Rotary Club event as someone who works in the local Southport community. It followed a dedication in a church of some Christmas banners that had been placed out in the community over the festive season. They’d had them in some supermarkets and banks, with a note asking folk to write down what they felt their needs were at that time, which they could then attach to the banner. I felt this was a good, interesting and compassionate way to engage with the community in itself, but I was even more impressed to see the Christians from amongst the Rotary crowd were praying for these needs.
Obviously, as I was speaking, I was there representing Southport & Area Schools Workers Trust. So with Hannah’s Plea being my current hobby-horse, I decided to pull out 1 Samuel 1 and see what relevance I could draw out for the people gathered (who I was told would be a mix of Christians and many others who wouldn’t be).
I explained how Hannah’s Plea was a story of a lady who desperately wanted a son to be born into her family – a God-fearing family, for whom a man’s life being devoted to God in His house would be considered full of purpose, life transforming, and a privilege above anything else, in touch with all things divine and perfect.
This brought me on to some questions I’ve been pondering recently:
How is our community the perfect family?
I interviewed a young person who had agreed to come and join me for the morning. He told us about how through the support of our ministry, he’d come into church. A church where he considered there to be a loving welcome and a whole host of different opportunities – opportunities to grow, serve, lead, developing both himself and others. This made me think of Samuel and that perfect family that Hannah so desperately wanted him to be a part of.
Obviously, ‘community’ is a pretty broad term. In the case of this young man, we’re speaking of church community. But community could mean our family, our friendship circle, or the neighbours down our street. For our Rotary friends, it’s the local community of Southport where they have their focus, but community even exists in national charities and organisations. Eg. Car owner’s clubs, or the National Trust.
But whatever the ‘community’ may be that we have influence over, what makes it so good? What makes it worthwhile? What’s it’s purpose? What does it do for those who would join?
How do we as part of that family welcome others in?
For me, this is the difference between feeling ‘welcomed’ and feeling ‘wanted’.
A couple of years ago I remember moving into an apartment in a block of retirement flats. It was a nice flat, two bedrooms, owned by a friend whom I payed a bit of lodging cash to – all around a bit of a blessing really. Apart from the fact that I wasn’t really sure what to make of living amongst people old enough to be my grandparents. I mean, many of the people in this world who I respect the most and love dearly are of that generation, but the rather extraverted thought came to mind of how on earth will I relate to them? Whilst I was wanting to have movie nights and entertain my fellow millennial friends, was I not going to feel like the odd one out amongst the rest of the residents? What sort of welcome would I receive? I was fairly hopeful they’d be civilised and say a nice “hello”, but for some reason that didn’t seem to cut it.
After months of changing smoke alarm batteries, shifting heavy furniture, carrying shopping bags out of taxis, and much more, for all the elderly residents, I realised exactly what it meant to be ‘welcomed’. It wasn’t a smile and a nod, it was actually the feeling of being ‘wanted’.
Rather than knowing he’d made some church members happy to see a young man sitting in their pews, I believe this is what the young person I interviewed experienced in a church community. Could it maybe be what Samuel would have experienced in his family and temple community also? How do we help people see they have a place? What opportunities do we give for them to fit into the community and to do their bit?
In what ways do we bring transformation by welcoming others in?
As I write this, I notice today is Martin Luther King Day. Here’s a man who made such a difference, such a huge mark on history. Not only did he see injustice as a concept, he saw the people affected by it most, and even experienced it first hand. What he understood was something very powerful about community. He saw millions of people oppressed because the colour of their skin, chose to grow a community with a common purpose in combatting this, welcoming in anyone who would want to embrace this movement and find comfort in the knowledge they were standing up. These people knew they were wanted in this community, because each and every one of them knew the power of the movement depended on them all being in it together.
The people of this movement, who were once downtrodden and oppressed, were instead empowered and transformed people with the confidence in what their place and purpose in society should look like. Not because of any huge political changes (although these are of course to be remembered and praised), but because of the power of knowing their place in their community.
When we welcome people into this attempt at a perfect family that we call community, founded on love, justice & mercy, how do these people see transformation in their lives? If Hannah hadn’t devoted her son Samuel to a community serving the Lord, would he have grown up to be one of the greatest figures in the history of Israel?
How much do we want this transformation for the people we see around us?
Do we have something here? I’ll tell you what we have: In our back pockets are the keys to a community that can bring transformation into the lives of everyone we walk past in the street.
How desperate are we to see community like this? Hannah wept bitterly. Her desperation was so evident that people thought she’d totally lost the plot. They thought she was a drunkard in the house of the Lord. What passion! How much do we want to see lives born again into the transformational power we possess? Where are we putting the effort in? Where are we making the sacrifices?
As a Christian, I believe the best example I can follow is Jesus. He was so desperate to welcome people into the life-transforming community of his family, that he gave his life for it. The Lamb of God sacrificed in all His perfection, for the salvation of the broken and lost, in all our imperfection.
Also, as a Christian, this passage has inspired my prayer life a great deal. To find out why, please do have a read of our Prayer Guide for Hannah’s Plea, and try praying with me on this for the town I love and know I am called to live in.
I don’t consider myself a hero of the community by any stretch, but I do really want to leave you with these questions, along with the people and organisations and lessons that I feel like I’m learning from, simply because this is what has challenged my thinking most recently. I really hope these challenges have been a bit of an inspiration at least, because they have been to me!
God’s blessing to you all,
Tabz (David Taberner) is the employed Schools Worker for Southport & Area Schools Worker Trust. He leads our team from the Pais Project doing a lot of work amongst the community of primary and secondary schools in Southport, as well as with other projects in the wider community.