COLUMN: Working together for a better community

Published 3:45 pm Sunday, May 5, 2024

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By Jason Stump
Guest Columnist

Matthew 25:35-36, 40 – “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. … Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

I can’t say that I have a definite favorite Bible passage, but the passage above has undoubtedly influenced my ministry more than any other. 

Even though church attendance has been in decline since the 1970s, there is no shortage of programming in the Christian church today. 

There is also an imbalance of practices. Jesus seems to be seen more heavily as some sort of personal spiritual concierge. In some cases, it appears that “personal salvation” is leaned on more as a piece of a marketing plan to fill the pews in a sanctuary or the seats in an auditorium. There’s a consumerism to seeking for and belonging to a church that worries me. The “I’m looking for a church that does what I want it to” questions in online forums are genuine, but also not the same as saying, “I’m looking for a church that does what Jesus taught.” You see, our modern view of thinking about our individualistic and personal faith practices, including a relationship with the Messiah, would be alien to first-century Christians and earlier faith ancestors. 

Life, especially their faith life, was a communal and social world. You were a part of something but not your own thing. That’s the context Jesus spoke in. 

Make no mistake, I believe Jesus is the Savior of All the World, and this is life-changing, but Christian scripture tells us so much more about Him. So do sacred texts of other faiths, like The Quran. 

On occasion, it seems to me like well-meaning folks, and some not so well-meaning, are throwing anything they can against a wall to see what sticks. I admit that I fall into those temptations as well. There are those only coming up with the next “faith fad” in order to profit and meet sales goals, and there are those genuinely trying to reach people in a new way; it can even be a bit of both. Either way, we should use discernment in our faith communities. Have you ever added too much of one thing to a recipe? The balance of flavors that is intended is lost. Let’s not forget that sometimes the best and most comforting, even healing, dishes are made up of only a few ingredients. 

I’m not here to criticize any church. I spend enough time working on improving my own ministry and my shared ministry with Oakland Christian UCC. But I do have a question or two. I’ll get to them in a bit. 

I believe that Jesus intended this passage to be instructive. This is what you do as followers of Christ. There certainly may be other things as well, but clearly this is important. In the wider text, He mentions these acts of love four times. It’s not the only place He mentions or demonstrates these types of acts either. We know that. I’m not sharing new information here. 

He wants us, His followers, to do these things and to do them in communal ways. There’s power in that, efficiency, more benefit to those in need, and that is His heart’s desire.

Recently, I attended the Blessings Banquet of the Coalition Against Poverty in Suffolk (CAPS). This event celebrated staff, recognized volunteers, and provided testimony from those who have witnessed the power of communal Christian action in response to Christ’s teachings and commandments. 

CAPS is a network of churches and organizations working together for poverty alleviation and community development. Since 2012, more than 2,000 individuals have been assisted. Everything from hot meals to shelter to utility bills and budgeting assistance. CAPS not only helps those in poverty but also has helped bridge a gap in financial security that has kept neighbors from entering poverty.

It was a wonderful evening! CAPS is a vital resource in our city. However, I couldn’t keep from pondering why, with around 180 churches in Suffolk, there are only 29 member churches. Hopefully, a few more are coming soon! There may be good answers to that question, but I don’t doubt that. Certainly, many churches help in many ways. Yet, with the minimal commitment required and the proven success of CAPS, I would think it’s one place Christ would look to find all of our churches gathered and working together. 

So, here’s my two questions to Suffolk churches:

1.) Are you a member of the Coalition Against Poverty in Suffolk?

If not, 

2.) When will you become one? 

Maybe I am wrong, but it seems to me that Jesus might be looking for you to be seated at that table.

The city will be better if you do, and God will be pleased. 

To find out more information about becoming a member church of The Coalition Against Poverty in Suffolk, please call 757-935-5497.

REV. JASON STUMP is pastor of Oakland Christian United Church of Christ in Suffolk. He can be reached at