Almost a year ago, I moved from the diverse community of Antioch to the little hamlet of Old Hickory, TN to become the pastor of a local church here. I had been involved in community organizing and development efforts in Antioch, and so when I saw that the local Chamber of Commerce was meeting, I attended to check things out. Three months later I was invited to help with a local community event, and the next month was asked to be on the Board of Directors. Then, somewhat out of the blue (perhaps because I can’t keep my mouth shut in offering ideas to enhance our work together) the Board of Directors asked me to serve as the president of the Chamber. Several times I questioned their sanity, for I’m new to the community, not knowing all the political dynamics, and thinking that there may be persons better suited to the task. They said I would do fine. So I pulled out the coup de grace and told them that I would be working actively to help reform the chamber into an agency focused on the economic well being of the community. They said that was what they wanted, and elected me president of the Old Hickory Area Chamber of Commerce.
Frankly, it IS a bit odd for a leftest United Methodist pastor to be the president of a pro-business organization. However they way I see it is that the call for promoting justice in a community involves the economic well being of that community, a task that is at the core of the chamber’s mission. Our task is not to be blindly pro-business regardless of the outcome. No, our task is to provide resources and assistance to enhance the economic climate of a specific community, in this case the Old Hickory area. It includes working to attract responsible businesses who pay well, value their employees, and contribute back to the region. The call to love of neighbor that is a part of my calling has to involve the desire to create a neighborhood in which all are economically well served, given the opportunity to work and provide for their families. Economic Development from my perspective does not have to be pro-business, but rather can be pro-neighborhood as our neighborhoods are given the economic engine to flourish.
Yes, it’s a different role for me. But we’ll see if there isn’t a different vision of a Chamber of Commerce that balances the needs of neighborhoods with the needs of businesses.