Cooperative Ministry, Feb. 5, 2012

Cooperative Ministry: Introduction to Frankford Group Ministry

Feb. 5, 2012

When I was in seminary in New York City, I came back to Philadelphia for summer internships at various churches and church organizations.  One year I worked at a place called the Frankford Group Ministry, and I ended up writing my senior paper about that cooperative ministry.  FGM, as it was called, Frankford Group Ministry, was considered a national model for churches working together, so it immediately comes to mind as a model for our exploration of the possibility of cooperative ministry on the Main Line – working together with Ardmore, Bala Cynwyd, Narberth, PlumbLine Fellowship and St. Luke.

The FGM was a ministry of 4 churches in the Frankford area of Philadelphia.  One church was a fairly wealthy, traditional white congregation, 2 were churches serving white working class neighborhoods that were starting to transition to being more Latino, and the fourth church was a small, poor, but lively African American congregation serving a neighborhood with projects and many problems.

Needless to say, this was an interesting mix of churches.  The first thing they did together was to start a summer day camp for children from all the neighborhoods. The churches could do so much more using the resources from all four of their churches than they could individually, it was a rousing success. The group ministry took on more and more problems in the area, and eventually became of the most successful non-profit organizations in the city. They influenced everything that was going on in Frankford.

They hired me to help start a community development organization (CDC) that is still active in helping people find jobs, housing, and starting businesses in that community. The Frankford Group Minsitry has shown that when churches turned from looking inward and only helping themselves, they could make a significant difference in their communities.

In our reading from Mark this morning, Jesus may be teaching a similar lesson. After Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law on the Sabbath, he heals a bunch of other people as soon as the Sabbath ends. All of Caesarea comes to the door to be healed. Jesus wants to heal people, yet as he begins to heal folks one by one, crowds immediately begin to form and he can’t possibly reach all of them one by one.

By the way, one thing that jumped out at me in reading this passage is that line about Jesus healing Simon’s mother-in-law. All the women notice it every time, and I again noticed that part – as soon as Jesus heals the woman she gets up and begins to serve them.  Women who read that tend to scoff and say – “See, that’s what happens to women.  She’s hardly off of her deathbed and the men expect her to be serving them coffee and cookies!

As I researched that part of the passage though, I read that there is a formula for healing passages in Mark. The sickness is revealed. The person is brought to Jesus. He heals the person by one method or another. Finally, the person does something to show they are healed. The woman’s service is the sign that she is healed. As the head of the household, it was an honor as well as an expectation for her to serve her honored guests.  It would have pained her not to be able to do so.  But that’s not the new insight I had this year.  This passage subtly asserts that when we are healthy, we serve. When we are alive and well, we give to other people and serve other people.  Not just women, but men as well.

But back to the story –the morning after healing all these people, before daybreak, Jesus gets up and goes off to a deserted place to pray. (Jesus is always doing taking time to go on retreat. We sometimes have trouble doing it once a year.)

Jesus goes off to pray, but the disciples search for him and find him. They say, “Everyone is searching for you.” You’d think that might be what Jesus wanted to hear, but it wasn’t.  He doesn’t say, “OK, let’s go back and continue the healing ministry.” No, he says, “Let’s head out the other direction. We need to go to other towns and proclaim the good news there.” He can’t restrict the good news to one town or one group (one church) of people. He is trying to get at the root causes of the afflictions of the people. He heals people and he also proclaims and works for an end to their afflictions. Jesus heals people individually, but he also challenges the demons that keep separating them from others and causing illness to return to the community.

Jesus heals and offers healing to all people – even to us today, who think we don’t need healing, but in fact need healing as much as anyone.  The healing comes with an expectation that we too will become healers. Jesus balances serving others and taking care of himself, knowing that they are intertwined, that one who is well serves others, and one who best serves others takes care of him or herself to be able to serve others. Jesus challenges us not to just be healing presence to our own, but to reach out beyond ourselves, and spread the good news.

When we are well we serve others; as we serve others we become more healthy. God’s healing power aims to heal the core illnesses of our lives.  God’s healing power enables us to be of service and also to take care of ourselves. To serve and to advocate in the lives of the poor. God’s hand works in and through us all.

Communion Hymn: 2175  Together We Serve