Last summer, the United Church of Christ invited members and congregations to live their faith, and love their communities through the “Faith,In Project.” That call to action, to make your faith visible through mission and community outreach, was echoed July 1 at General Synod 2013, as author Peter Kageyama reminded delegates and visitors at the Long Beach Convention Center that faith in their cities is as important as ever.
Kageyama’s goal is to motivate everyday citizens to do extraordinary things. “I start out with the question, ‘Do you love your city?'” Kageyama said. “The vast majority of citizens may not love their cities –– at least not as much as many of you probably do. That notion of wanting to do something is a very precious, precious thing.”
The “Faith,In Project” spurred hundreds of UCC communities to lift up their hometowns through community services, volunteering at soup kitchens, and cleaning community parks and vacant lots.
“‘Faith,In’ says we owe a debt to the community that serves us,” said Ann Poston, director of communications for the UCC's national offices, in her introduction of Kageyama to General Synod.
But how can people from across the UCC repay that debt? Bike riding, dog walking, hand-written notes are part of the examples Kageyama shared with those in the plenary hall as ways to promote their cities as better places for meaning-rich lives.
Kageyama, author of For the Love of Cities, has spoken all over the world about bottom-up community development and the types of amazing people that make change happen, but he usually speaks to government and business leaders –– not faith groups.
His remarks and presentation before General Synod were well-received, as Kageyama compared amenity-rich lives versus meaning-rich lives. In the context of cities, amenity-rich locations highlight sports teams, local attractions and nightlife –– usually fine for large cities like New York, or Los Angeles or Chicago. Smaller cities, or even cities that are struggling economically, can’t compete with the big-city appeal.
“Some people actually want to make things happen in their cities, and by doing that, they’re actually creating meaning,” Kageyama said. “What they want is a life that is meaningful, and they want to give back to their community. And certainly, that is at the core of faith-based organizations.”
Kageyama explained that the UCC and the “Faith,In Project” are the gateway for people who want to make their cities more lovable, but don’t know how to do it. “They come to their church, and the church is able to plug them in and allow that notion, that spirit, to happen,” he said. “That’s a key role the faith-based organization will play.”
“When you love something, you will go above and beyond for it,” he said. “You have to love your place. That’s a message you need to carry forward.”
The sense of accomplishment and satisfaction people feel from expressing their faith through loving their community can become a continuous cycle and habitual.
“Once people do something, once they get that in their blood, they feel good about it, and it becomes, ‘Hey let’s do that again,’” Kageyama said. “It’s kind of like faith. Once you have it, you have it.”