The church, according to Mark V. Brown Sr.’s interpretation of Acts Chapter 2, should have an upward focus to God, an inward focus on one another and an outward focus on the community.
Brown, senior pastor of New Wineskin Ministries, takes that last focus quite seriously, as the doors of his sanctuary are opened regularly to address various needs. “We’ve taken a posture that we should be engaged,” he said.
Last week, City-County Council President Maggie A. Lewis used the sanctuary to hold a town hall meeting on criminal justice reform. On other days, it’s used to welcome civic leaders or for programs hosted by the Indiana Math and Science Academy, a school New Wineskin Ministries “adopted,” that’s located next door. Weekly, those in need come to get food from the church’s food pantry. Brown estimates that over the last three years, 700,000 people have been served through the households they’ve impacted. As active members of the International Marketplace, New Wineskin has held cultural events like The Amazing Taste to expose residents to diverse cuisines, and this fall, the church will resume teaching English as a Second Language courses to non-English-speaking residents.
“Sometimes churches get so focused on just serving members, but you have to think beyond just your members and think about, you’re here to impact society,” said Brown. “Society isn’t really happy if you don’t have the church or the nonprofit sector working with the business and government sector, because there’s just things that business and government can’t provide.”
Though the role of the church as a service-oriented agency has long been part of the Black experience in America, the more publicized stance of faith-based organizations on civil and political matters has increased.
Groups like PICO National Network, for one example, though non-partisan in approach, have called for increased access to health care, education and affordable housing and have been outspoken advocates of criminal justice reform and the fair treatment of immigrants.
In a piece for the Religious News Service, Brad R. Fulton, assistant professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University, stated that religious progressives like those involved with PICO and other organizations can greater affect the communities they work in by being more collaborative.
“Religious progressives must collaborate more effectively with other religious and secular political actors who possess complementary political skills and practices. But as with most collaborations, it will likely entail a measure of flexibility and compromise on the fine print of flashpoint issues,” he wrote. Fulton added that faith-based groups should “bolster” their community organizing work by coordinating with those operating similarly on a state and national level.
For Brown, operating from a Christian point of view for the benefit of the community requires a certain level of outspokenness.
“The scripture tells us in Isaiah 1:17, ‘Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.’ If you’re gonna make change … you’ve got to be engaged and be a part of the conversation,” he said.
“I think part of the problem is, the church has been silent on some things and then we look up and say ‘Well why did that happen?’ and we haven’t had a voice.”
For more on New Wineskin Ministries events and initiatives, visit nwmcentral.com.