Faith in Place
Recently I was informed about an organization in northern Illinois called "Faith in Place," This is an organization which assists all religious communities in practicing ecological wisdom. To learn more about their interesting work, you may google "Faith in Place" to read a Wikipedia entry and other websites.
The name of the organization is provocative. Perhaps the first thing we think about is God's call to put our faith "in place," i.e. at work in our lives. At the same time, we may think about God's call to practice our faith in a particular place. This organization probably intends for us to think of both meanings. It exists to help communities to put their faith into action, and to help communities to embody their faith in the particular place where they live.
In the current issue of "New World Outlook," there is an article about the Drummondtown United Methodist Church on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. It describes how this small congregation is helping its members to relate their faith to the particular environment of the Eastern Shore, a ecologically fragile seventy -mile long peninsula between the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay. For example, for Vacation Bible School, they constructed a kind of microcosmos of the Eastern Shore inside their sanctuary to help the children learn about God's creation in their place. They started a Creation Care Community Fair and grew a Community Victory Garden to distribute the produce to the local food bank.
The article made me think about many of our congregations in Florida. How attune are we to the place where we live and worship? Some of our congregations are in very unique natural environments. It would make sense that the congregations would learn about their environment and then start relating to it in accordance with our faith in God. This would mean developing an ecological sensibility and responsibility for the place where we live and worship.
Of course, it is not only the natural environment that matters when we think about our place. There is also history. If we live and worship where there has been racial violence in the past, a congregation might witness to the community by having a processional to the scene where the violence occured and having a prayer service. For example, there are United Methodists in Mississippi who have made a "civil rights tour" of the state as a part of learning about their place, what happened there, and what this history requires of their faith today.
There are other aspects of a place that matter to congregations. If a prison exists where we live and work, then how can we avoid at least trying to be involved in some kind of prison ministry? And so on.
I think "faith in place" is a great concept. It expresses the Scriptural teaching that faith has to be embodied. And, there can be no embodiment of our faith without it developing in some unique ways simply because of the very particular place where we live and worship.