Abundant Life Begins with Discernment

Looking for God in the Neighborhood

We didn’t set out to start a new ministry for community health and healing.

In fact, we weren’t sure what God was doing with the Episcopal presence in Northeast Greensboro, which in 2017 was a small mission congregation called Church of the Holy Spirit, worshiping on Sundays in a renovated house sitting on 11 acres of mostly wooded land near the edge of town.

With a new vicar and some energy for exploring a call to new mission (and a general lack of enthusiasm for starting programs), we decided to focus on getting to know God and our neighbors, building relationships and listening until the Holy Spirit’s movement among us became more clear about how we might be called to be a blessing.

As we walk in the neighborhood, we don’t know who God is preparing us to meet. We endeavor to trust God to be present in every encounter and to bring us into new relationships that will transform us and prepare us to do something new and life-giving together.

Gathering the Prayers of God’s People

In 2017 and into 2018 we canvassed our neighborhood by knocking on doors, hanging out in shopping centers, and pretty much just finding ways to bump into people. We brought notecards, a pencil, and faith that the Risen Christ has already been working in the lives of our neighbors, and we wanted to find out how!

Our encounters generally went like this: “Hey, I’m [name] from Church of the Holy Spirit over there, and we’ve been praying for our neighborhood for some time now. I wonder if there’s anything in particular we can pray for you or someone you love this Sunday when we worship. Something you’re concerned about, or maybe something you’re thankful for?” We’d chat, write the prayer on a notecard along with their name and address, and ask them to pray for us in a specific way, from the beginning building mutuality and prayer into our encounters.

We went out in pairs or 3s, representing the diversity of ages and races in our multi-cultural and multi-lingual congregation. Even considering the general air of social mistrust and tension among strangers in our public life, we never had a bad experience. Each time we’d come back to the church and pray the prayers that’d been shared with us and set them out for inclusion in our intercessory prayers during Sunday worship.

Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit, Greensboro. The site where we began to ask, What is God wanting to show us about our neighbors, and what the Spirit is dreaming for us to do together?

Listening for the Spirit’s Guidance

Over time, we began to ask: Is there a common theme among these prayers? What do we hear that connects with the Good News of life and liberation that we’ve known with Jesus?

Out of these prayer walks we heard a common concern about health: many people are uninsured, low-income, experiencing chronic physical conditions as well as mental health crises, domestic violence, and social isolation (from different neighbors including elders, immigrants and refugees, and LGBTQ+ folk).

People expressed concern for health in terms of access to medical care, emotional and mental and spiritual issues, intergenerational relationships, and the yearning for healing on individual and communal levels.

One neighbor, after we’d prayed with him in a third encounter, said, “It’s like what Jesus says: I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly!” to which we said, “Yes! That is indeed what he promises!”

How did we move from listening for the Spirit and discerning a generative spiritual concern like God’s abundant life through health and healing… and move toward a ministry?

The Power of Collaboration talks more about our discernment.

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