Column by Emily Perper.
The Friday morning worship congregation participated firsthand in the sermon. The Rev. Buzz Thomas preached, then encouraged the congregation to divide among the pews and discuss its ideas for community improvement. Thomas’ conclusion of his Week Two sermon series called “Becoming that City on a Hill.” The Scripture reading was James 1:22.
Thomas began by sharing some successful examples of community improvement and reform. In Denver, Colo., the One Family One Church initiative pairs homeless families with a church congregation to provide support, mentorship and friendship.
“What the government can’t give them is a relationship,” Thomas said. “You can give them that. Love them. Guide them.”
Family Promise is a coalition of local congregations and local communities that join together to provide emergency housing and employment support. The Community Food Connections works with large grocery chains to encourage patrons to buy nonperishable food items for a food bank. Tennessee Achieves sends thousands of students to community college free of charge.
“It costs $35,000 a year to keep a kid in jail. We can send 40 kids to college for what it costs to keep a kid in jail,” Thomas said.
Every student participant in Tennessee Achieves receives a mentor.
“As a result of that, we have doubled the retention rate of our staff,” Thomas said.
But the improvement doesn’t have to stop at the local level. Thomas offered ideas about global warming and climate change, and he encouraged the audience to read about James Hansen’s carbon tax proposal, which refunds every collected dollar to the general public.
Thomas also reiterated his belief in paying back the national deficit.
“It’s immoral to spend your grandchildren’s future,” he said.
He asked the congregants to close their eyes and picture problems plaguing their communities or areas in which they needed improvement. Then, he encouraged the congregants to speak to one other, to listen, to offer suggestions and encouragement and to make connections.
At the end of the service, Thomas gave an encouraging word and concluded by quoting the morning’s Scripture: “But prove yourselves to be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”
The Rev. George Worth presided. Whitney Webre and Gabrielle Szamburszki of The International Order of the King’s Daughters and Sons Chautauqua Scholarship Program read Scripture. Webre is from New Orleans and studies biochemistry at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala. Szamburszki is from Ukraine; she graduated from Beregszasz College with a degree in education. She works as a computer operator. The Motet Choir provided sacred music; the anthem was “Light Looked Down” by Milburn Price, based on the poem by Laurence Housman. Jared Jacobsen, organist and worship and sacred music coordinator, led the choir.