If your heart is as my heart, give me your hand

Published 10:33 am Saturday, April 16, 2016

by Andrew Book

There are times that make me proud to be part of the Franklin and Southampton County community and Thursday night was one of them. On Thursday night I had the chance to gather with many people from many different life and economic situations for the Southampton County Planning Commission meeting as part of the proposed rezoning of property on Camp Parkway. I came expecting to see people at their worst and expecting tempers to flare because I know this question is near to our hearts. I was ready for the worst, but what I saw was our community at our best, and I want to celebrate what it means to be a community together.

As I listened to people from all over Southampton County and Franklin stand to address the Planning Commission that night, I heard passion and deep, deep conviction over the “rightness” or “wrongness” of this proposal. I was touched by people sharing about how they fear the zoning could shut down their businesses and ruin their quality of life. I was moved by hearing mothers talk about children who had left home never to return because they could not find work in our community. I heard voices crack from the emotional strain and could feel hearts racing as people stood to share from a mix of nervousness and passion — and yet through it all I was awed by the unity of heart that we possess as people who are in this journey together.

Time and time again speakers both in favor of and opposed to rezoning reminded us of our common goals to build a better future for our county. We clearly do not agree on the best step to get to those goals, but by respecting each other and holding up our common heart for the community, the Planning Commission was truly able to hear each person. The unity of heart gave the Commission the chance to understand the concerns and arguments of each person (much better than any shouting, name-calling or arguments would have allowed!) and, I trust, they will be able to make a good decision for the future of Southampton County and Franklin rooted in the same heart.

As I reflected on the one beating heart we represented at that meeting, the words of the founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley, came to my mind. Wesley preached a sermon about the importance of different groups of Christians working together called “Catholic Spirit” (“Catholic” meaning “universal” — you can read the entire sermon here tiny.cc/CatholicSpirit). Wesley asked this question: “Is thine heart right, as my heart is?” He recognized that, in the church (as in Southampton County), we have many differences. Those differences are important and we must not deny them, but the core question for whether we can work together is, “Are our hearts alike?” I am confident that the answer at the Planning Commission meeting for us in Southampton County and Franklin is, “Yes, our hearts are alike!”

Wesley goes on from there to ask, “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may…”If it be, give me thy hand.” I do not mean, “Be of my opinion.” You need not: I do not expect or desire it. Neither do I mean, “I will be of your opinion.” Keep you your opinion; I mine; and that as steadily as ever… Let all opinions alone on one side and the other: only “give me thine hand.”

As long as we are people of one heart, we can take one another’s hands and declare that we will work together to create a bright future in this community. I doubt we will ever all be of one mind in regards to the rezoning of property on Camp Parkway whatever happens, but I do know that we can walk together into the future as one people, with one heart.

To walk together means, according to Wesley, that we commit to 1) act out of love for one another, 2) to pray for each other, and 3) to encourage each other to do good works. We can do all three of those things while still working to support different on the rezoning proposal. My challenge for each of us today is to consider how we can act in love for someone we disagree with (think of someone specific). Take time to genuinely pray for them (don’t just pray “God, change their mind!”).

Finally, consider how you can encourage them to continue to work for a better community in a way that tells them you know you are of one heart even if you aren’t of one mind.

I do not know what the Planning Commission will decide, but I am confident that, if we are able to walk into the future with one heart taking one another’s hands, the future will be bright for our community. People working together will always create a better community than people intent on fighting and clinging to disagreements. May we hold onto our unity of heart and take one another’s hands so that Franklin and Southampton County can truly thrive!.

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or andrew@courtlandumcva.org.