A Lament

A Lament

Back in December, I spent almost an hour on the phone explaining to our insurance carrier what we do.  I explained that we coach, train and support residents who want to be agents of change in their community.  I explained that the “work” the leaders do is “theirs” and not Embrace’s.  For Example:  the Family team in Hillside belongs to the leaders in Hillside.  Embrace does not direct it or control it in any way.   Embrace is simply a connector and a coach.  We connect caring residents that make up the Family team with people and programs to support their dreams for their communities and we provide the training and coaching leaders need to succeed.

I thought he got it.  I prayed he got it.  He did not get it!  He sent me a very long “Social Services Addendum” to complete with all kinds of questions geared for “programs” that have “clients.”  I don’t have “clients.”  I have “leaders” and they have “neighbors.”

When did neighbors caring for their neighbors become “social services” ?

When did neighbors become clients?

I don’t blame my insurance man, he wants to mitigate his company’s liability and labeling me a social services agency is the most conservative approach.  However, my frustration is not just with my insurance man.  It is with our culture that turns everything into “programs” that need to be administered by “professionals.”  We have lost the ability to simply “love our neighbors as ourselves”.    Love of neighbor is so rare that we can’t even recognize it anymore.  We have become so fearful of liability that we don’t practice it anymore.

This blog is not a rant against my insurance agent – he is a very nice man.  It is a lament over the brokenness of our society. 

Christians abdicated their responsibility to love their neighbors to the professionals and now simple “neighboring” is not even seen as a “legitimate” activity.  It breaks my heart and I believe it breaks the heart of God.



  1. Hi Wendy,

    Me again, Dave Roycraft….

    You are so right in your assesment of what has happened with simply loving our neighbors. Sadly, it is my observation that our churches – especially our more “fundamental” churches, see “neighbors” as a project for evangelism – to be conquered – and if they don’t respond immediately to the “gospel” message, then they’re forgotten and they move on to the next group of “neighbors” to be evangelized.

    And worse, after having abandoned them, they then complain about government programs that attempt to solve their numerous and deep seated problems. If our churches were genuinely reaching out to the poor – as Embrace Richmond does, the government would have much less to do in this area. But if the church doesn’t do it, who is left but the government?

    I drive for Meals On Wheels – a wonderful service to those not able to prepare meals for themselves. Its a very easy activity for me, but so useful and needed by the recipients. I wish our churches would get involved in more “Embrace Richmond” types of programs, providing tangible ongoing help to those less fortunate and in need. But, as you’ve discovered, its far easier to pass out gospel tracts than to get involved in the messy world of the poor with their myriad of problems of broken families, drug use, extreme poverty, crime, lack of education and unemployment. Sadly, a great many of our churches do very little to address the issues of the poor and and also rail against the government for their programs that are attempting to help them.

    Sadly, I’m very disappointed and disallusioned with the church.

    Dave Roycraft

    • Dave,

      Sorry for the slow reply, I was traveling last week. I feel your pain. It does seem that those most against government programs are often the ones least likely to respond in a personal way. This work is messy, heartbreaking and frustrating but it is also rewarding, joy filled and healing for all involved. Thank you for your kind remarks and for your support of our cause. Don’t give up hope in the church, I do see signs that things are changing.

  2. We live in a culture that is all about self and not others, so often when we are going to church to get something for ourselves and not give of ourselves, or only withing that community. In addition the church as a whole seems to historically use a model that worked the previous era/paradigm and is slow to adapt. The previous successful model often involved not sending ourselves but specialized missionaries that we support. This is also our civic approach as well were we leave it to government agencies to care for the poor etc. I left the church or quite a while frustrated that there could be 10 churches within blocks of the most impoverished part of the city or gilded sanctuaries only miles away. At some point I realized I was just as much as part of the problem because I was expecting the church to do what I was not willing to do. So finally I said send me. Part of that sending was being sent back into the church not leaving it behind. I served for 16 years in a church that I quit at least once a month. A church that had not baptized an African American sine 1949 and only because it was the pastor’s maid (the church was surrounded by African American neighbors), a church that doled out meager services to strangers but was generous to those that first made a profession of faith or better joined “our” congregation. In the past few years we have baptized about a dozen or so African Americans of which some stayed with our congregation, but more importantly we have served hundreds of families simply for the sake of service, loving our neighbors as ourselves with no evangelical strings attached. There is still a lot of room for growth. Culture, behavior, and attitudes change in painfully slow increments, but maybe I need to show the same love and understanding to those isolated in church as I do for the shut in down in Hillside court or the same patients I show for one of the clients at The Healing Place, as the christian who is still trying to solve problems with a previous failed approach. For me it is a hard struggle because I think that the church folk should now better, be more curious, etc, etc. However they are not super humans, they are just as flawed as the rest of the human race, and if we do not stay in community with them then the church will not change and it will not be the churches fault but that of those that abandoned them in their time of need, for failing to give them the spiritual food that they hunger for. When we consider the command to love our neighbor we need to remember that the church that we are frustrated at is our neighbor as well. Brian

    • Oh so true! My prayer for the past three years is that I don’t judge the judgmental. I obviously need to keep praying that prayer. Thanks for your comment Brian. I do see signs of an awakening in the church with more and more people saying, “Here I am Lord, send me.”

      What i have found is that there is always a remnant of the church. An elderly shut in who prayed every day for 30 years for Hillside reminded me that the church never really left, even when there were few visible signs of her presence.

  3. I had the same experience with our insurance agency and every year I have to go over with them again about….. but that’s ok…. every year I get to explain a little more of what we do :)

    • So…maybe I should use your insurance company. You have already done the hard work. Can you send me there information? I am being totally serious. I gave them my best argument and now he is not responding to my emails. I think I need a back up plan.

  4. When did the church become peripheral to the world?

    Ephesians:1:23 The church is not peripheral to the world, the world is peripheral to the church…The church is Christ body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence. ver.The Message

    Thank you sharing frustrations with these organizations that so many think of as “churches”. I have felt the same thing but in reality I realized that I needed to take a step back and examine my thinking. My whole perception of what I consider the church has changed. We can seek Gods will first in our lives and thus be a part of Christ church but thinking that any of the 57 flavors of a denomination are necessarily churches in Christ terms is foreign to me now.

    Many people professing to be Christian look no further than their denominational declaration. In doing so we have professionalized Christianity, where some founding person or groups particular take on Christianity is the limit of how far their followers get in their own spiritual experience. Just like the insurance agent who is stuck in a box of organization thinking we as Christians often get no further than the denomination we were born into. What a limiting box on the power of God and the experience he offers us if we limit it to some historical groups interpretation. The God I know is living today and is not limited what goes on in most of what we see in organized religion. Great works are occurring every single day in his church. The world is peripheral to his church. Christ church is not dependent upon some organized group of (this or that) doctrine followers to accomplish his mission. So don’t get down when things aren’t as you or I think they should be. We are just getting to observe some misguided goings on that can be a learning tool for our own journey. Understanding who is the center and who is the peripheral is a great lesson we all have to learn.

    • Praise God, the true Church is not defined by what happens in institutions. The most beautiful expressions of the Body of Christ i have seen have occurred in some of the most unexpected places and were led by some of the most unorthodox people I know. I love watching the spirit move in the Body in ways no human organization could every dream up. Thanks for this reminder Jerry. It does require a shift in thinking but when you can see the “Church” as the full body of Christ followers, it does change your perspective.

  5. I appreciate this post, Wendy. I’ve been thinking and writing about this lately. Even the existence of my “organization” is due to their being a dearth of neighbor-loving. We have to create structures to do it. I’ve recently run across cuddle parties and eye-gazing parties, and dinner parties in homes are novelties, as are co-sharing tools and equipment. All of this used to be part of the fabric of life, but now we are having to innovate and spin visionary tales to reawaken such connections. I’m delighted that so many good people are doing the work. Thank YOU! But I’m sad it’s necessary “work.”

    • Cary,

      Thank you for your comment. I am glad to know others are lamenting over this. I truly believe the breakdown in our sence of community is driving many of the social ills that plague our society. I am not sure how to regain what used to be core to our exisrence but I am comforted knowing others are asking the same questions.

      • Yes, I’m comforted too. Hope we can meet before too long when I am down your way. And dream in person.


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