The gifts, skills, passion and knowledge of the Binghampton United Methodist Church (BUMC) congregation and its neighbors are converging in ways that church members hope will catalyze new possibilities in the neighborhood through expanded relationships.
People working in ministry can sometimes be seen as doing “for” someone as opposed to “with” someone, says BUMC lay leader Barbara Vann, so the congregation is always on the lookout for new ways to come alongside people in their community in a shared quest to learn from each other.
An Advent Study now being shared with community members seeks to expand conversation around what the diverse people of the neighborhood have to offer, especially those who might consider themselves clients utilizing services as opposed to friends with something to contribute.
Over the four weeks of Advent, people who come to the Food Pantry that the church operates will be given the opportunity to define their passions, skills, gifts and knowledge.
This gift inventory, as well as those discovered within the congregation, are being collected and will be shared during a Christmas luncheon on Dec. 19. The hope is that a greater understanding of what each person has to offer and how they can impact the community as a whole will emerge, Barbara says.
If a person takes the time to identify their gifts and talents and put language around them, they might instinctively look to others and wonder what gifts they hold inside, she adds — at least that’s what she found after this process of discovery was introduced by John McKnight during a community conversation event hosted by the Center for Transforming Communities last month.
In the eyes of BUMC church member, Lisa Smith, this is a means of igniting new possibilities centered on friendship.
Lisa has lived in Binghampton all her life, and since 1999, she’s been working at the Food Pantry offering support to friends and neighbors.
The word the central food bank in Memphis prefers when referring to the people in need, however, is client.
Yet, Lisa has given herself license to change this perspective.
“No, they’re our friends because they live around me and they’ve been around me for a while,” Lisa says.
Stigmas would more readily lift if that language could shift in more communities, she adds, and people might feel less ashamed to visit the Food Pantry when times are tight, especially if they have an opportunity to honor and offer their gifts.
The “Food Lady”, as Lisa is sometimes called by people in the neighborhood, has a unique perspective on the people she meets and has always had an eye for connecting the gifts and talents of the people she meets. She’s connected caregivers to people in need of childcare, for example, and seamstresses with people who want to learn to sew.
She sees the Advent Study as a way to help map some of these gifts and looks forward to the discussion this concept might inspire at the upcoming Christmas luncheon.
This is one more step in the neighborhood’s journey to becoming more like it was when Lisa was a child, at least in terms of connectivity among neighbors.
“It’s getting back to being a friendly neighborhood like it used to be,” she says.
“When I was little, everybody knew everybody, and it seems to be coming back around to that.”