“Faithful presence names the reality that God is present in the world and that he uses a people faithful to his presence to make himself concrete and real amid the world’s struggles and pain.”
As a pastor and theologian, I work in the area of organizational culture and spiritual life with a faith-based organization supporting people with intellectual disabilities. In this role, it is a privilege to think about what it “looks like” to embed a Christian approach to service throughout our organization. As we journey with people who may or may not identify as Christian – both employees and people who use our services – it’s often just as important to be mindful of what it doesn’t look like to be a Christian organization. For instance, it does not mean imposing religious beliefs or pushy proselytism. This is why I was drawn to the writing David Fitch, who advocates for faithful presence as the way that God works in the world through those who follow Christ.
When I first met Dave at Chicago’s Northern Seminary for a video interview, he waved me into his office in the middle of an animated phone call. Nonchalantly scanning the diverse and intellectually-rigorous book titles on his shelf, I was struck by his frank openness and direct approach with the person he spoke with on the phone and with his invited eavesdropper. Sometimes we reduce being faithfully present with someone to being ‘nice’. In my time with Dave I realized that it is just as much about being authentic and truthful with one another in relationships of reciprocity and respect.
Another tall and potentially imposing man who conveyed and spoke to the significance of presence was Jean Vanier. Vanier emphasized the need to move from a posture of generousity to that of meeting – a kind of faithful presence with one another:
When you’re generous, I’m above, you’re below… there’s something else. It’s a meeting. And a meeting implies ‘I’m not better than you, you’re not better than me, we’re just children of God.’
You can check out the videos where he shares these insights here.
David Fitch and Jean Vanier are unique personalities with very different approaches. Vanier’s gentle posture is one that sets people at ease, whereas Fitch’s down-to-earth mannerisms make him relateable. Fitch teaches at Northern Seminary, yet grew up in Hamilton, Ontario. His love for hockey, the CFL, and McDonald’s (or Tim Horton’s) coffee is no secret. He has no love for Starbucks, however, as you will learn in these videos. The hours we spent together recording segments to use as part of an upcoming work conference were enjoyable and enlightening.
Please feel free to watch any or all of the videos in the playlist below. I will be taking some time over the coming months to touch on each one individually.
In this first video, we talk about what Dave means by Faithful Presence. God doesn’t bulldozer in to people’s lives. Rather, He wants to be with us and to work with us to heal and renew the world. Our attitude here is important, however. If we set out to “heal and renew the world” as a task or a project, invariably we will act on our own ideas and out of our own ideals. A posture of faithful presence opens us to hear how God is already at work in the lives of people around us, rather than feeling as though we somehow “bring” God into the world.
Questions to consider as you watch the first video in this series:
- How have you experienced God’s faithful presence in your life, and how do you seek to embody presence in your interactions with others?
- How might an appreciation for the power of faithful presence change the way that congregations approach “disability ministry” or “accessibility”?
- Why is practicing faithful presence crucial in any work with people who have experienced marginalization, discrimination, or exclusion?
Have questions or comments? Feel free to reply below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.