Churches & Civil Society

| March 8, 2019 | 0 Comments

George Mitrovich

Churches are beneficial to communities, providing strength and stability.

On Christmas Eve at the Church of the Resurrection (United Methodist) in Leawood, Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City, an offering was taken for the church’s many charities, including a school built in Lebanon for some of the 750,000 Syrian children whose schools have been destroyed in Syria’s civil war,

The senior pastor of COR (as it’s known), Dr. Adam Hamilton, in his sermon that night had challenged those in worship to give as much money in offering as they had spent for Christmas gifts.

It was subsequently reported the Christmas Eve offering exceeded $1.2 million.

Habitat for Humanity has addressed housing issues all over the world as a non-profit Christian ministry founded in 1976 by Linda and Millard Fuller. It was their vision to build housing for people who could not otherwise afford to own their own homes – and to build those homes with volunteers.

At last count, Habitat for Humanity had built more than one million homes.

San Diego’s Rock Church has more than 2,000 members who have committed to volunteer service in our city, and a couple of years ago their pastor, Miles MacPherson, announced those members had donated more than $11 million in-kind services to our town and its citizens.

The First United Methodist Church of San Diego is celebrating this year its 150th anniversary, as it was the first Protestant church in California’s first city.

First Church, as it’s known, is an aging congregation with a membership in serious decline, and unless that can be dramatically reversed, First Church may be lucky to reach another 50-years, much less 150.

As a member of First Church, I am obviously concerned about its fate, not solely because it’s my church, but because I know what it means to San Diego – and has throughout its history.

That said, First Church remains a major player in San Diego, by providing social and cultural services.

In one recent year, through its members and clergy, our congregation ministered to more than 1,200 prisoners; presented choral concerts attended by nearly 4,000; participated with San Diego City Schools in their Everyone a Reader Program, helping hundreds of kids to read; distributed each Sunday more than 100 meals to families in need; offered more than 100 turkeys on Thanksgiving and Easter to those without means to have traditional family dinner; provided dinners once a month to more than 1,800 people; offered conferences by its parish nurse on such pressing concerns as Alzheimer, as well as giving flu shots to members and friends; and through its counseling center, headed by top professionals, provided counseling sessions to more than 1,000 people in need, independent of the means to pay.

Did you read that – “independent of the means to pay.”

In addition, First Church delivers on the first day of the school year, more than 400 back packs to Cherokee Elementary, for kids whose families lack the means to buy their own; thus, is a critical need met—and whose beneficiaries most likely will never worship at First Church on Sundays. Plus, once a month members and friends provide dinner to any of Cherokee’s families that wish to come – and many do.

There is no conceivable way in hell that government, even if it had the financial means to fill the void that would be left if First United Methodist Church’s doors were closed, nor that of any other member of the faith community.

That secular society is ignorant of First Church and its contributions is unsurprising; a lesson I learned as president of the Ecumenical Council of San Diego County, finding that secularists generally were clueless about the work of our 125 Protestant and Catholic churches, as well as those of the broader faith communities; and were, thereby, ignorant of the benefits they derived from our presence among them – and thus were excused from ever having to say, “Thank you.”

But it is sometimes too easy to focus on big churches sharing their stories of extraordinary contributions made to community and city, to state and nation.

The truth is that every church contributes to the welfare of America – from store front ministries to Renaissance inspired cathedrals; from churches with thousands of members to churches with fewer than 50; from fundamentalist to liberal churches; from churches that celebrate Mass and churches with rock bands; every church plays a redeeming role in holding together the fragile tapestry of our society – and there is no chance it survives without this incalculable gift to the people of the United States and the world beyond.

Which brings me, somewhat reluctantly, to a book written by James and Deborah Fallows, “Our Towns: A 100,000 Mile Journey into the Heart of America.”

Fallows a former speech writer for President Carter, who now writes for the Atlantic Monthly, has written several highly acclaimed books and is considered a thoughtful observer of American life, but the book he co-wrote with his wife, isn’t making that list – at least not mine.

He is also a former guest of The City Club of San Diego and The Denver Forum, and a likeable gentleman.

However, in reading a review of their book in “The Christian Century” by Anthony B. Robinson, I was exceedingly disappointed to read that in the 42 towns and cities the Fallows’ visited researching their book, churches and others in faith communities were not considered worthy of attention.

In his review, Robinson, a United Church of Christ minister, says in each town the Fallows’ chose for their book, they went to libraries, YMCAs, civic clubs, economic development offices, tech start-up zones, community colleges, schools, parks, and brew pubs, but not a single church was visited.

They were, ignored; as if they didn’t even exist.

To say this was an egregious oversight is an understatement, and I’m not normally given to understatements.

It is unthinkable to me that you could write a book about 42 towns and cities, from Ajo, Arizona, to Columbus, Ohio, and never once think the work of local pastors or priests, rabbis or imans, in communities, towns, and cities, unworthy of your time and irrelevant of the well-being of those communities, towns, and cities.

I mean, it’s outrageous.

No, seriously, outrageous.

Which leads me to conclude that the Fallows, husband and wife, are either ignorant of the work of the faith communities or deem it of no consequence.

I am not given, in the norm, to either/or, but what other explanation is there? The Fallows did entitle their book, “A Journey into the Heart of America.”

But the title is fraudulent, because without its churches, synagogues or mosques, there is no heart in America — and you can’t journey there.

George Mitrovich is a San Diego civic leader. He may be reached at:


Category: Education, feature, Local News, National News

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"Mine Eyes Have Seen"