This is the third in a series of “Best Practices” posts that will cover various aspects of Life & Justice Ministries. (To see the all the entries in the series, click here.) Today, the Ampersand interviews Brian Crook, director of missions at the Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Maryland, about parish-based justice work. Brian was one of two fantastic guest speakers at the diocesan “Rebuilt” event last month, along with Fr. Michael White, pastor of Nativity and co-author of the smash-hit book.
What is the role of missions within the parish? Why is it essential for our parishes to be reaching out to those living on society’s margins?
We are all called to be missionaries. The Church, the Body of Christ, exists for people outside of the church, and as members of the Body we share in that mission. Church isn’t ever just about one thing. It’s a movement, a movement that is ever-evolving and ever-expanding. It’s been said that a parish should always be going “deeper and wider” — that is “deeper” in the faith of its members and at the same time “wider” in its reach to outsiders. Both are necessary. Both are essential.
In my experience, service activities can be great igniters of faith for people. Why do you think that is?
Seeing God at work is inspiring. Even more so, experiencing God at work first-hand and being a part of that in the world is precisely what we’re made for. I think you’re absolutely right: by it’s very nature Missions ignites faith. We can’t just come to church for an hour each week and expect to experience all that God intends for us. We have to get involved and take responsibility for our faith, and when we do, we learn about who God is, who He has created us to be, and our purpose in the world. That’s exciting.
What are some practical tips you’d have for parishes looking to deepen their engagement in service and justice work?
Do fewer. That’s not good English, but my point is not to “do less” but to “focus more.” So many parishes I know simply have way too many social justice ministries and outreach programs. As a result their efforts get spread too thin and a significant impact is never made. We’re called to do something, but not everything. By narrowing the focus of your parish’s service and justice work, you can actually accomplish more. Think of it this way: when someone asks what your parish does for Missions, try to answer them in once sentence.
Why do you feel called to the work you do?
My story has revolved around Church of the Nativity for many years. I know God because of this local church. More than serving as the Director of Missions, I feel called to serve the kingdom movement that God is unfolding in Timonium. I would say though that my Jesuit education and past experiences with service trips have ingrained in me the importance of Missions. I am most passionate about Missions work because by serving others, it has helped me understand how desperately I need of God in my own heart and in my own life.
Any favorite Scripture passage that inspires your missions work? Any favorite quote from Catholic social teaching?
I love Galatians 5:13-14: For you were called for freedom, brothers. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” I love these verses because it drives home for me that Missions overflows from the freedom we’ve received in Christ. It’s not an obligation, it’s not a duty, it’s an honor. It’s an honor, and it’s simple, so simple that it could be summed up by saying, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”