Franklin Lakes, the community where I serve, is a small and affluent city in Northern New Jersey. In 2005, the average income in Franklin Lakes was just above $144,000, and houses on average valued at $1.1 million.
About 7 miles from Franklin Lakes is the city of Paterson. Average income: under $35,000. Percentage of residents living in poverty: 24.1
Over half of Franklin Lakes residents have at least a Bachelor's Degree. 8% of Paterson residents have one.
90% of FL residents are white. 50% of Paterson residents are Latino, followed by 30% black.
Today, I traveled to Paterson for the first time to visit CUMAC-ECHO (Center of United Methodist Aid to the Community Ecumenically Concerned Helping Others). FLUMC is a frequent supporter of this social justice agency in Paterson. As a congregation, we collect food year-round for CUMAC's food pantry, and particularly we do so at Thanksgiving. We put together backpacks for school children over the summer for CUMAC. We just finished our Christmas toy campaign and delivered many items for presents for children in Paterson.
However, I hadn't yet been to Paterson, been to CUMAC, talked to the leadership there, etc. It's one of those things I keep meaning to do but putting off. I mentioned recently being inspired to reflect on how little time of my ministry is actually spent with people outside of my congregation. Very little time in my ministry is spent outside of my comfort zone. I like to challenge myself as I study the scripture and prepare my sermons. I like to challenge my congregation to see texts in a new way, to hear Christ's good news as something other than "believe in me and you'll get to heaven." I like to preach about the kingdom of God as something of which we can work for and be part of now.
Following through on the challenges I put out there? Doing what in my heart I know God is calling us to do? Somehow that usually ends up on The List of Things I Keep Meaning to Do.
I don't have to go very far to start responding to God's call. 7 miles away is a community that is in such stark contrast to the one I serve. Why is that? How can it be that there is such great disparity? How can we rest comfortably knowing that people are hungry in a 10-minute drive from our homes? How can a response to such need end up on a list of things we keep meaning to do but will never really do?