Compassion: "all at sea"

Being “all at sea” has opened new opportunities for compassionate engagement, or a challenge to do compassion differently.

The thoughts and questions below are gleaned from conversations with churches trying to set sail again, change tack or navigate the new, particularly with regard to compassion. They are offered as conversation starters, to shape thinking and encourage action which is (hopefully) manageable, organic and energising. I’ve arranged them under simple headings, but they defy organisation - so pick and choose and see where it takes you!

Who?  

Tip: Begin with people rather than issues to help frame compassion as “being with” rather than “working for” others.  Take time to listen to people’s stories – to know who is among you and to discern the story you share.

  • Who do we have among us? Who has God brought our way?  Think of people on the edge of church life or groups you have become aware of or have connected with in some way.
  • What gifts do these people bring?
  • What do they open our eyes to? What do they help us celebrate? How are they a gift to us?
  • What might “being with” look like?
  • Who else do we have connections/relationships with – community centres, local projects etc. Where do our aims/values converge? Who are the people of peace around us?

“Celebrating who people are, rather than focusing on their needs, is a great antidote to compassion fatigue”

What?

Tip: Ditch the community audit (for now) – you’ll likely be overwhelmed and try to plug gaps in provision. Begin with informal conversations to uncover the knowledge, insights and interests which energise. Don’t assume the church has to do everything itself.

  • What do we do well?
  • What has died out or gone into hibernation (for everything there is a season)?
  • What new things are bubbling up? Are there people on the fringes with ideas and energy to offer?
  • What will help build community and connection?
  • What can we do with what we already have?
  • Are people involved in compassionate action beyond the church? How can we celebrate and support this involvement?
  • Could we partner with other organisations with whom we share some aims and values, and benefit from their capacity, skills, knowledge?

“For a number of years we’ve wanted to open our church garden to the community, but haven’t had the capacity to take this forward. Now through working in partnership with a local community centre and an organisation dedicated to renewing urban spaces, we have people and funding to help make it happen.”

Where?  

Tip: Question assumptions that initiatives need to be on “our turf and our terms”.  Prioritise removing barriers to access, but don’t let a big building project put your community/compassion engagement on hold.  

  • What can we offer/host without embarking on major changes?
  • What can we do in spaces we don’t own or control?  Are we open to receiving hospitality from others?
  • What are other organisations doing that we could support or signpost people to?
  • What are the “bumping places” where community is already being built? How can we be more present in those?

“We don’t have the capacity or resources to run debt-counselling here. But the local community centre offers debt advice – and we could signpost people to that, and even accompany them.”

When and how?

Tip: encourage people to “run with their ideas” (starting with what they know) and experiment, but not at a risk to good practice. Carry out a risk assessment and have a timetable to review.  

  • What small steps can we take soon with the energy, capacity, resources in hand?
  • What do we need to have in place to ensure good practice?
  • What specialist input, training or resources could follow at a later stage?
  • What principles will guide our practice? e.g. participation “nothing about us, without us, is for us”
  • Which risks are acceptable? And which aren’t?  

There are many ways for churches to discern, plan and implement compassion initiatives and many aspects not mentioned here. But keeping things simple and starting small can generate energy and lead to surprising things.  It may be a while before churches feel they have the wind in their sails again, but God’s Spirit “blows wherever it pleases” (John 1:8) which is good news for the weary.

If you are looking for support and accompaniment in your church’s compassion development please get in touch: catherinemorganhickey@gmail.com