For the last two days I have sat with eight different churches as they take part in a Community Engagement Design Lab. They are reimagining what community engagement looks like for their churches and their communities. As part of this process they have been thinking about “what faith looks like when it moves from a belief system to an embodied reality” (Seed). What does it look like when our identity is formed out of God’s purpose and when the way we think, the way we act and the change we create aligns with this understanding of our identity? How does this affect the way we as a church engage with our local community?
The night after the first part of the Design Lab I was reading a bedtime book to my son called “Harold and the Purple Crayon”. It’s a classic children’s book from the 1950’s in which Harold, a young boy, creates a world full of adventure with only his purple crayon. “One evening, after thinking it over for some time, Harold decided to go for a walk in the moonlight.” During his walk with the purple crayon he does a number of things including: creating a forest with a tree that has delicious apples on it, drawing a dragon to guard the apples, falling into an ocean after being scared by the dragon and then drawing a boat to rescue him in the ocean. The book continues on in this format.
On each page is the purple moon (the first thing he decides to draw). It is always shining down on him as he goes about his journey. Eventually (after drawing a house with windows) he realises that he is missing his bedroom window; in this world he has created he has gotten lost. He proceeds to draw a bunch of windows in order to find his and then he draws buildings full of windows. “He made lots of buildings full of windows. He made a whole city full of windows.” Harold keeps drawing windows to try to find his way home, back to the place where he feels like he belongs, the place where life makes sense.
As I was reading this book to my son, I had the realisation that the creation of these windows is kind of like what we do as churches sometimes. We’ve built all of these platforms for engagement…our projects, our programs, and our buildings. These platforms are not bad things. They actually might even still be doing a good deal of positive work in the community. God may be shining there just as the moon in Harold’s story was shining down on him.
However, perhaps these things we build in order to engage no longer make sense. Perhaps they no longer align with who we are as a church community, or with the needs of the people and communities we are seeking to serve. Perhaps they are no longer really representing our alignment with God’s purposes. Maybe they don’t fit the context we are in and maybe they no longer allow us to think, act and create out of the identity we have found in God’s purposes and in our communities. Perhaps they have become burdensome and tiring.
Towards the end of “Harold and the Purple Crayon”, Harold remembers that his window has the moon right at the centre, so with his purple crayon he creates his window with the moon at the centre of it. “Then, suddenly, Harold remembered. He remembered where his bedroom window was, when there was a moon. It was always right around the moon. And then Harold made his bed. He got in it and he drew up the covers. The purple crayon dropped on the floor. And Harold dropped off to sleep”.
This is kind of what alignment in community engagement feels like. It is where out of our identity, found in our context and in God’s purposes, we think, we act and we create. God’s purposes, our context and our identity are aligned. We are in our room with our window (our community’s window and our church’s window). Back in his room, Harold finds rest. With the moon at the centre of his window, he crawls into bed and goes to sleep.
And in community engagement we can find this place of rest too. It’s not that it’s going to be perfect or easy, or that it will comfortable, quite the opposite actually. There will be work and there will probably be a lot of clashes with culture as we offer a different reality to the world, as we offer a different possible story (Seed). But there will be peace there through the power of the Holy Spirit and in that peace, our work is not built out of striving. In that peace we can find rest. In that place we will experience what the Bible refers to as blessing, a sense that we, as God’s people, are living as God intends us to live in the community where He has placed us (Seed).
Do you want to be a part of our next Community Engagement Design Lab? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Johnson, Crockett. 1955. “Harold and the Purple Crayon.” New York: Harper Collins Children’s Books.