I know several of my readers are religious and I’m kind of curious what people think. I’m part of a committee with my church to organize and hold a parish wide day of service. We were discussing our mission and our “slogan” (for lack of a better word), and one person objected to not including Jesus in the promotional materials and our language of introduction when we go on these service opportunities.
I objected to that overt evangelizing once we get to the service location. The locations are places like soup kitchens, nursing homes, hospitals, etc.
His main point was that we’re doing this in service to Christ and walking in his steps, and we should be expressing that to the people we’re volunteering with.
I obviously don’t believe we should ignore the fact that we are coming from the church. And expressing Jesus’ influence and mission as part of our recruiting of parishioners to volunteer is clearly appropriate. I also don’t have a problem with telling the people we’re working with that we are with the church and this is our day of service, that we’re volunteers and we’re excited to be there and even that our faith influenced our volunteering for service.
I do think, however that there’s a difference between evangelizing and serving and we need to be aware of what our mission is as a volunteer and follower of Jesus.
Our mission as volunteers is to walk Christ’s path.
That may not the expectation or interest of the random person we’re working with whom we’ve never met before.
I’m not suggesting hiding our Catholicism or that we are doing this as part of our works of mercy, and I’m not even afraid of offending people, which is the word my acquaintance used. It’s not about offending or not offending.
It’s about respecting.
I think that the majority of people we’ll be encountering will be at-risk, whether they’re kids or elderly, poor or other marginalized groups, and they shouldn’t feel blackmailed into being prosthelytized to just to get a special service. Or to feel that if they don’t listen to the Jesus time-share lecture, they shouldn’t participate.
For anyone who’s ever experienced that (and I have been on the receiving end of condescension of my own faith and the hard sell that I was following the wrong religion). It’s a turn off. More than that, it’s not just offensive, it’s painful to be on that side, to be the other.
Maybe I’m being overprotective of a group that doesn’t exist in this case, but I really do think it’s more important to be there in the moment and not worry about giving the message of Jesus. Our being there doing Jesus’ works is sending the only message we should be concerned about; the tangible message of helping our neighbors, of service with mercy and humility. That includes letting our actions dictate our works, and not our words.
I think we need to take into account the diverse nature of these types of places and include everyone without excluding anyone.