Rockford as a Place for Healing

I remember a United Methodist pastor saying that we just can’t be “anti-casino,” we should be “pro-something.” I responded that, when it came to legalized gambling, we have to take a stand against it.

But she was right; it’s better to advocate for something than always saying “no.” So let’s advocate for making Rockford a place of healing and a refuge for the poor. Lord knows we have plenty of poor to work with (and no, they aren’t coming from someplace else). Rockford could be a city where people turn their lives around, are inspired and encouraged. We respect the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota as a place of healing the body using the latest techniques. I pray Rockford becomes a model of healing lives, habits, and one’s soul.

Rockford has all the problems of a big city, but is small enough to get a handle on them. Two examples: RUM advocated for helping intravenous drug users and women who sold themselves for sex on the streets. There were many social service agencies that supported our actions and helped find resources and ideas for outreach. It was controversial, but cutting edge. Rockford’s helping network is oftentimes congenial and mutually beneficial. I recall when Mayor Charles Box started the Homeless Task Force. Public & private agency leaders and staffers shared ideas and tried to patch the bigger holes in our tenuous safety net. Instead of fighting over turf and shrinking tax dollars, those who work with poor families worked with each other.

Rockford has many things going for helping the poor: number one is affordable housing. Some people may bemoan the slump in home prices, but it does allow for people to share apartments and living spaces. There is a network of support for many families that would otherwise be out on the street. Food is also affordable, available and sometimes plentiful. Rockford has many nationally recognized organizations, from Crusader Clinic to Milestones to Carpenter’s Place (and I am not going to name them all). People come to Rockford to learn how to save lives.

I believe Rockfordians are more approachable and friendlier than in some of the larger cities, and this is the most important blessing: Rockford folks are generous with time and money. This city provides volunteers for many of the social service agencies, both Christian and secular, private and governmental. With leadership this town could actually become a safe haven for the poor and oppressed, experimenting with new ways in dealing with the related problems that poverty brings with it. Physical and mental illness needs healing, and we could be the place to do it!

Some bemoan the fact that there are people who are poor living amongst us, accusing other cities of sending their poor to us. But the poor move around no more than anyone else, and though some are drawn to Rockford because it is more affordable, there’s no conspiracy to take advantage of the meager resources we have in place now. Just because Jesus says “the poor will always be with you” doesn’t mean you can treat them poorly. Every exhortation is to “help the poor, or go to hell” (Matthew Chapter 5, verses 41 to 42; look it up in your Bible).

Like Rochester Minnesota, when professionals are hired to help those in need, it lifts the standard for the whole community. Let’s face it; people make a living off of helping the poor. By advocating and lifting up Rockford as a place to turn one’s life around, we might be able to attract jobs and personnel who will then increase the economic base for the community.

Your church can be a catalyst for making Rockford a place of healing. We must try to counter the prevailing mood of disliking the poor, reminding people that we are blessed with a good family, a safe neighborhood, a loving church, and should share God’s love with those who need it the most.

Lift up those in your church community who volunteer their time and mention the special relationships your congregation has with various nonprofits. By serving on boards we have the opportunity to encourage working together. And commending our community leaders that work together, we can double efforts and ensure little redundancy and even fewer wasted resources. Our community should not be overwhelmed with animosity towards the various governmental and private services, but take courage when seeing everyone working together. We can contribute to the communal good.

Advertise and lift up what your church does in the community. This encourages others to give as well as remind people that we are called to help those in need. Many times I have asked for notification of churches’ good works and found later that some churches give quite a bit but do not broadcast it. Are they being humble? No, we should shout it from the rooftops, stop hiding our light under a bushel basket, and get out and blind the community with God’s love.

As Rockford becomes a place of healing, we improve the schools and the social service programs and city services to work together and advocate for Rockford being a place to turn one’s life around.  And by turning peoples’ lives around, we increase the community’s spirit and livability (and profitability). Amen.