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When the secular becomes sacred


These days, more businesses are “churchier” than churches

December 17, 2022

I still remember the furrowed brows of saints in my rural church when I suggested that rather than ask for donations to feed the children for an upcoming event, we should pay local food purveyors to cater the meal instead.

“Imagine purchasing sandwiches from a mom-and-pop deli, baked beans from the beloved hole-in-the-wall café and a gooey dessert from the generations-old chocolatier,” I said.

“Am I hearing correctly, pastor? You want us to take what little money we have and buy what we need rather than get the items for free?” asked the treasurer, who was skilled at keeping the church purse strings tightly drawn. That’s exactly what I was proposing. After all, what is a church if it is not a body of believers investing in the community in which they live?

“Why do we always pull the ‘we are a struggling church’ card?” I countered. “Didn’t Jeremiah say that God has plans for our future, one in which we prosper?” And there lies the problem with that oft-quoted verse found in Jeremiah 29:11. God wasn’t talking about individual prosperity — mine or yours. God’s plans are for the good of the community.

While I, too, once took this Scripture to be just about me, I now lovingly correct that misconception whenever I can. I have also come to realize that the prophet’s ancient cry is quite hip as it recalls the modern trend known as “cause marketing.” Cause marketing is where not-for-profit companies align with nonprofits, rallying around a cause to raise awareness. Cause marketing also generates goodwill, which leads to brand loyalty, which, I will be honest here, hopefully boosts profit margins. While cause marketing is not new — I remember writing stories in the early ’90s about this — it is back and growing stronger.

Personally, I have been intrigued by a California designer, Christy Dawn, who creates with environmental and economic justice in mind. Her “farm-to-closet” dresses are made from deadstock fabric, that is, fabric left unsold by a textile mill. You can also “grow your own dress” by investing in the farm — the money goes to farmers’ salaries, seeds and organic fertilizer — that grows the fibers for fabrics. The company even eases the sticker shock one might have to its high prices by providing “transparent pricing,” which breaks down the cost of each dress, showing that the seamstresses receive fair wages and medical benefits.

I was sold and opened my wallet to give generously to a company that is trying to care for Creation and the creatures who inhabit it. As I did, I wondered: “When was the last time I gave so willingly to a church because I felt the same admiration for its mission that I had for a clothing company’s mission?”

We might have missions that we engage in, but do we have generous and trusting hearts? Do we continue to ask for donations because that’s what churches do, or do we dare take what little funds we have and invest them in our communities?

I know of a church that years ago had a food pantry, had opened its doors to help others connect with much needed social services and even welcomed children to a haven after school.

Today, the town’s library has taken over helping connect people to social services. It even has a fridge inside to share food with others, which is good because the church’s food pantry ceased operating. And what about the children? An art gallery on Main Street now provides a place for children to go after school.

What happened to the church being the beacon of hope in its community? Did it not understand Jeremiah’s words that its future was tied to the community’s future? Did it spend so much energy on self-preservation that it failed to see how to truly survive and thrive? I am not sure. All I know is other businesses in that town are stepping up and being the church more than the churches are, and … sorry, I have to go.

The UPS driver just pulled up with my new “farm-to-closet” dress.

Donna Jackson, Editor, Presbyterians Today

Today’s Focus: What happened to the church being the beacon of hope in its community?

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Brad Masters, VP Business Dev. & Financial Advisor, Trust Services, Presbyterian Foundation
John Matekovic, Vice President, Income Security, Benefits, Board of Pensions

Let us pray

Each life you create, O God, is light for all. Each one possesses seeds of overwhelming greatness and goodness to nourish a starving world. In our lies and churches, may the light be honored. May the seeds be nourished and may the fruits of greatness and goodness fill the earth. In the Light of Christ, we pray. Amen.

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