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Bill’s Corner: Pushing Into New Relationships With God And One Another

“We are people pushing forward into new relationships with God and one another to create strong communities.”

This sentence closes out Metanoia’s mission statement. In the earliest days of Metanoia, it was actually our original mission statement in its entirety. Before we were operating programs or

Metanoia Board Chair Ayesha Washington shares a hug with former Board Chair Lisa Mclean at Metanoia's 2016 Town Hall meeting.

Metanoia Board Chair Ayesha Washington shares a hug with former Board Chair Lisa Mclean at Metanoia’s 2016 Town Hall meeting.

initiatives within our community, this statement drove our work. We have had three or four strategic planning cycles since it was first adopted and each time the statement comes into question. Should we keep it? For some it doesn’t say enough about what we do, and some in our constituency feel naming God in the sentence is too overtly faith-oriented given how much work we do with public and corporate partners. But the sentence continues to survive.

For me, the most important concept in the statement is precisely the concept of relationship. Metanoia has always had a fundamentally relational approach to community development. That is, we believe that the best and most transformative community development efforts arise out of authentic relationships. Here are two things that define these kinds of relationships and make them authentic.

  • They are characterized by mutual giving and receiving. Too often when people want to help in a neighborhood like ours, they think they hold all the resources, knowledge and capabilities and they must do something to or for a group of people that they view as deficient in some way. No relationship can be sustainable when one side of that relationship is doing all the giving and the other side of that relationship is doing all the receiving. For relationships to be sustainable there must be giving and receiving from both parties. So whether someone is our wealthiest donor or lowest income citizen, we hope that they are both giving and receiving something through their participation with Metanoia. This is one reason why we try never to give things away through our work; there is always some system of exchange offered to those who receive goods and opportunities through Metanoia. This priority is rooted in an effort to create sustainable relationships.
  • Relationships are focused on long term commitment instead of short term return. We often distinguish between transactional community development and relational community development. All of us meet people with whom we have transactions every day. It can be a clerk at a store or a person driving next to us down the road. We engage in some sort of interaction that is mostly designed to achieve a given result for us. We don’t generally think about what the person on the other side of the transaction wants because we know we will not likely engage with them again. Often non-profit work is principally transactional. That is the non-profit waits until a client has a crisis at which time the non-profit is there to potentially help. No one is trying to establish a long term relationship to truly understand the situation that gave rise to the crisis. Instead there is a transaction of aid that helps for a time but does little to bring sustainable change. When we are in long-term relationships with people we are much less likely to pat ourselves on the back when we propose short-term solutions to their long-term problems. We begin to understand that there is very little that is transformational about transactional relationships.

A funny thing happens as we develop relationships of mutuality that are less focused on transactions and more focused on people. The work becomes sustainable. These days I am often asked how we have sustained this work over nearly 15 years, and without question the value of relationships has been our saving grace. I could never wake up and do the hard work we have done for a hypothetical concept or ideal. We all wake up and work for people we love and care about! That is especially true when we know those people love and care about us as well. One of the great privileges of my life is that I get to have authentic relationships with a remarkably diverse set of people from so many backgrounds, races, incomes, etc. These relationships are what sustains the work.

This past month we spent a significant amount of energy working to apply to have the southern half of the City of North Charleston designated as a federal Promise Zone. To do this we collected 21 partners across the non-profit, business and civic sectors. The application was extensive and required a letter of support from each of these partners. Suddenly the relational work Metanoia has done over the past few years was put to the test. Happily, within a week or so, we were able to collect significant commitments for the Promise Zone possibility and we got our application turned in on time. That may not have happened if we had pursued a principally transactional approach to working with these partners through the years. We don’t find out whether we are awarded with the Promise Zone designation until late April, and it is a very competitive process. But whether we are funded or not I can promise that we will still continue to focus on building quality relationships as the primary vehicle for our holistic community development efforts.

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2005 Reynolds Avenue,
North Charleston, SC 29405
Phone (843) 529.3014
Fax (843) 529.3639

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