The Intersecting Identities of People and Place

by FCS on

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by Donell Woodson

Dignity is one of the core values at FCS. We deeply believe that all community residents bear the image of God and that they have inherent capacity to participate and bring about the flourishing of the neighborhood. It’s possible to take this posture for granted, nodding in agreement that everyone has value. 

But I am convinced that any work we do in development or ministry or neighboring is rooted in history and context. And we must increase our awareness of this environment and its influence over our daily lives. To begin, this awareness stems from a nuanced understanding of my own identity. For me, everything is born out of faith. 

It is my core belief that I bear the image of the Creator. And the first step in partnering with others is a recognition that they, too, are bearers of God’s image. For many people who serve those in need, this concept is both revolutionary and freeing. It is easy when we are trapped in the limiting roles of “giver” and “receiver” to forget that we are all made in the image of God. We are tied together. And this acknowledgement can move us toward more equality and an approach that honors the dignity of all.

If I understand my identity is tied to the Creator, I can hold loosely to my programs and services. It’s easier for me to grapple with hard questions about the work I’m doing. And my shared identity with those I serve can be a bridge that connects us more deeply.

Our identity then begins to build on this foundation of image bearing. Layers of personality, family makeup, faith, work, environment, and more contribute to who we are and who we will become. Similarly, the neighborhoods where we live and serve also have an identity of place that’s built on history, faith communities, local institutions, and the families who’ve made it their home.

When we break out from these roles of giver and receiver, we recognize the complexity that is present in our communities. As we get to know a neighborhood’s identity, we learn that we cannot exact a formula on a place. Rather, we begin to discover its identity anew and watch as it unleashes its flourishing in surprising ways. 

This is why understanding the identities of ourself, our neighbors, and our community is crucial for upholding dignity. We must acknowledge our shared identity as image bearers of the Creator, as well as discover the valuable fabric of a neighborhood. From that place, we can work together to create program and services that will nurture its unique and God-honoring flourishing. 

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