No surprise to pastor religion tied to community engagement

Debbie Nall, left, gives a tour of her home to Christ Community Church lead pastor Jeff Barclay, center and Dot Fernandez, church director of women's ministry, right. The church is considering purchasing the home as a halfway house for women in trouble. Fernandez is just one of many church members who donates her time to the Lawrence community.

Forty percent of Americans are actively involved in some form of religion, and that might be a good thing for the 60 percent who aren’t.

That’s because religiously active Americans are more likely to be involved in their communities than their nonreligious peers, according to a recent study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project. The study’s authors say their findings contradict the view that religious Americans are an insular bunch, primarily concerned with the inner workings of their own places of worship.

Those findings don’t surprise Jeff Barclay, lead pastor at Christ Community Church, 1100 Kasold Drive.

“I think it would be hard for me to find somebody who wasn’t doing something,” Barclay said of his congregation.

After the church made community service its official theme for 2011, Barclay discovered many of its members had been quietly volunteering throughout the community for years. One woman counsels prisoners, while other congregation members lead a Boy Scout troop and organize food drives.

Hilda Enoch said the connection between faith and service goes to the essence of what religion should be. As a member of the Jewish Community Congregation and a fixture in Lawrence social justice movements for decades, Enoch has seen that connection in action.

In the 1960s, she helped found Children’s Hour, a program for preschoolers that evolved into the local Head Start chapter. In the 1970s, she was involved in founding Small World, which continues to help families who have moved to Lawrence from other countries integrate into the community. Both programs were held in religious facilities, rent-free. Without the use of those spaces, the programs would never have gotten off the ground.

“I think the best of religion is in meeting the basic, unmet needs of the community,” Enoch said. “I think all religions have that in common.”

The Pew study noted that 38 percent of religiously active Americans said their actions could have a major impact on their communities. That’s 11 percentage points higher than nonreligious Americans. Religiously active people were also more likely to rate their communities as excellent places to live, all of which could help explain their motivation to be involved in them.

Matt Hertig, a Christ Community Church member, coaches youth basketball and soccer. Hertig said that service can be anything and doesn’t need to be related to the church. For him, coaching is about seeing children’s eyes light up when they begin to grasp the game, not from any desire to preach to the kids.

“I think sometimes churches can become like a country club, where we’re very adept at taking care of the members,” Hertig said. “What gets lost is what God calls us to do, which is to go out and serve.”