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A Community Focused Church

Is your church community focused? I mean, really? Sometimes we throw this phrase out as if we were serious about helping our neighbors, but a quick look at church board agendas shows whether or not this is really true. Your church is probably viewed as an insignificant player when it minds its own business and fails to engage with local issues and concerns. If you were to pack up and leave town, no one would probably notice.

What if the mayor of your city knew your pastor on a first-name basis, and the city council viewed your church as a partner in its efforts to address its local needs?

Pastor Bob Mason of the English Oaks, Lodi, California, Seventh-day Adventist Church, recently decided he wanted English Oaks to be more than a non-descript entity that minded its own business and kept to itself. We asked Bob to give us the scoop:

Editor – Bob, my son recently saw you being interviewed on the Sacramento evening news about an offer the English Oaks Adventist Church was making to the city of Lodi. What is this about?

Mason – A local proposition [a city-wide vote] to fund park repairs and upgrades failed. I read an article in the paper that said that play structures that are falling apart are going to have to be taken down instead of upgraded. I immediately thought of the one in our neighborhood park, English Oaks Commons. I had taken my kids there, and I knew that damaged parts of the play structure had already been removed.

Our English Oaks family had already started talking about connecting with our neighbors and making things better for them–not just a program, but a way of life. We call it “Brighten Our Corner,” and we intend to be that way until Jesus comes–not just in our church neighborhood, but each member in their own neighborhoods too.

Editor – OK. In the past, churches have passed out loaves of bread, cleaned parks and helped with food banks, etc. But sometimes these kinds of efforts can be misconstrued.

Mason – We weren’t sure how to start connecting in a way that wouldn’t make the neighbors feel like we were just ‘working’ them. Prayer walking? Going door to door with Jamba Juice gift cards?

After reading the article, I called the Lodi Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Services department to see if I was right that our neighborhood play structure was on the list to be removed. I was. I asked if they would buy a new play structure if we raised the money. They said they would.

Editor – Wow! That’s an ambitious goal, and it must have taken city hall by surprise.

Mason – I knew this was a God-given opportunity to link up with our neighbors to do something for the kids, to truly mingle with them as ones who desire their good. Working together with our neighbors, we have begun raising the $112,000 it will take to buy and install the new play structure with the necessary upgrades. The Lodi Community Foundation will hold the funds for us until we have it all raised. Then we get to roll up our sleeves and join with a crew of neighbors to do the installation with a factory supervisor.

Editor – How did the city respond?

Mason – Doors have continued to open for us. The Parks and Recreation Director, Jeff Hood, sent the newspaper and television news after me. With that media exposure, and connecting on the Nextdoor neighborhood social network, and door-to-door invitations, we’ve set up a neighborhood meeting with residents and the Parks and Recreation Director at our church.

Editor – What kind of timeline are you on?

Mason – With money from our church fund, our neighbors, and outside foundations and donors, we believe we can have this done by late spring.

Those who wish to donate can designate their donations to Lodi Community Foundation–Parks and Recreation, and send them to us at the English Oaks SDA Church, 1260 W. Century Blvd., Lodi, CA 95240.

Editor – What benefits do you see going forward?

Mason – As we engage with our neighbors in this project, create fun events for the neighborhood kids, and connect in other ways, we anticipate that they will find us to truly be their friends. When we have spiritual outreach events, the invitations we share will look different. They won’t be coming from ‘that church;’ they’ll be coming from ‘our neighborhood church,’ from ‘our friends over at English Oaks.’ And they’ll be able to name names.

Editor – Sounds wonderful. Thank you for your time and ministry!

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About Rich DuBose and Bob Mason

Rich DuBose

is director of Church Support Services for the Pacific Union Conference

Bob Mason

is a pastor in the Northern California Conference

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