Pastor’s Page – SSJ Neighborhood Center Part II

Our parish has a history of serving and financially supporting several other churches and local charities. Often these outreach ministries were led by parishioners who had a special connection to the charities, though they did their work in the name of, and with the support of, Christ the King Church. This “laissez faire” approach promised diverse opportunities for participation but effectively meant parishioners were working in silos.

With Social Justice Sunday entering its third year, I floated the idea of succeeding the speaker series with a parish-wide service project. In the fall, I met with the coordinators of the existing outreach ministries. The idea advanced from the social justice committee to the pastoral council and I’m happy to say all of these groups were supportive.

The big question was identifying our partner. A few of our parishioners were already working at the Sisters of St. Joseph Neighborhood Center in the Cramer Hill section of Camden. In fact, they were introduced to it at a Social Justice Sunday. After John Kearney from pastoral council and I made a site visit, we were sure it was the right fit.

For the next two years, we will focus our efforts with the Neighborhood Center. I believe the focus will be transformative for them and for us. I will make the bold claim that the new friendships that will form among our parishioners, serving side by side, and between our parishioners and the neighbors who are served at the Center, will be as valuable as the tangible work we will accomplish. Many churches have a long history of an annual foreign mission. Christ Our Light Parish in Cherry Hill, for instance, has such a relationship with a village in Guatemala. Some churches serve a little closer to home, like repairing homes in Appalachia. Think of this new adventure in outreach as a local mission.

Cheryl Judge, in her new position as Director of Stewardship, will work with service team leaders. The leaders will coordinate parishioners who will serve together in a specific area of the Neighborhood Center’s work, e.g. clothing pantry, food pantry, ESL classes.

During the two-year partnership, we will promise the SSJNC volunteer hours and financial contributions and they will promise us opportunities for education, advocacy, and action for every interested parishioner from the homebound to the youth.

The SSJNC director, Sister Bonnie, will speak at Masses at May 19 and we’ll have opportunity to learn more about the service teams during hospitality in Morgan Hall after the Masses.