Monday, September 24, 2012

The Servants in Sharon, PA

So often, Jesus more difficult statements are relegated to the category of "good idea for the pious, but not very relevant in the real world."  As I prepared to preach Sunday's gospel, however, I was struck by how much one of Jesus statements was embodied in the real world earlier in the week.

After the disciples are arguing about who is the greatest, Jesus says: "Whoever wants to be first must be the last of all and servant of all" (Mark 9:35).  What Jesus told his followers two thousand years ago still makes good advice for leaders today.

Last week, a number of officials from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development came to Sharon and other Northwestern Pennsylvania towns to see what was going on in our corner of the commonwealth.  Over three days, numerous business, community, municipal and civic leaders gave of their time and energy to share the progress Sharon and the Shenango Valley are making.  The highlight, however, was the public event on Tuesday afternoon when the Deputy Secretary Champ Holman made a stop during his whistle tour of the area.

Now I don't think anyone would take offense if I noted that fewer people are probably interested in coming out on a rainy afternoon to see a state government official speak than to see a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  No one probably would have faulted the city for rounding up a few interested parties to hear about potential changes in DCED funding priorities, share some area pitchbooks and have lunch at Quaker Steak and Lube.  But Sharon didn't.  Instead, many of our true public servants (from a wide variety of sectors) came together for one of the best civic events I have had the honor to attend.

Starting with an ad hoc planning committee that gave their time to plan an event that would both showcase the community and be a worthwhile celebration for everyone who attended, numerous people offered their gifts.  Sharon's band played outside the James E. Winner, Jr. Arts and Cultural Center, while the Tiger Kittens and Men of Note opened with the National Anthem.  Daffins provided tiger paw chocolates, the Lube provided twizzlers and the city provided bottles of water.  The Dempseytown Ramblers played some bluegrass as people gathered and after the event, and Rosewood Vintage Guitars helped with sound.  People came from the Sharon School District (including a number of students who were a great help), Sharon Regional, PennState Shenango, numerous local businesses and manufacturers, elected officials and municipal representatives, Visit Mercer PA, non-profit and religious leaders, and a few regular people who would claim nothing more than to be good citizens.  The energy was electric, largely because we could all look around the room and see people from different walks of life for the good of the larger community.

In addition, however, a number of other projects were mentioned that day that could only happen because many of the people in the room had already come together to serve our community with their time, their skills and their wallets.  A number of manufacturers are expanding in the area, including Sharon Fence which just broke ground on a new Dock Street site.  The creation of these new jobs in the community is a result of community efforts to make this area a great place to live and work.  Making our workforce even more attractive to new businesses would be the establishment of a Manchester Bidwell site in Sharon.  Begun in Pittsburgh, Manchester Bidwell provides high quality arts instruction to youth while offering job training focused on the jobs available in local communities.  Manchester Bidwell has someone preparing an expansion proposal for Sharon.  We also heard about Waterfire Sharon, an exciting initiative to create a artistic and cultural celebration along the Shenango River offering significant opportunities to our downtown economy.  These and other positive local developments were highlighted during inspiring remarks that Karen Winner Sed directed to our high school students. 

Sharon and the Shenango Valley, like many communities in this part of the country, face significant challenges.  In too many places, people are fighting to be the biggest fish in a shrinking pond.  As we come together from all facets of the community as servants of each other, not only do we find that we increase, we find that our entire region grows as well.  Whether everyone is aware of it or not, this sense of serving is alive and well in Sharon, PA today.  People are striving to be first the way Jesus' says to be first, and those people are benefiting us all.

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