The aim of Common Good RVA is to promote the well-being of Richmond as a city; well-being that derives from Richmond being magnificently itself.
Erik Bonkovsky is a pastor at City Church of Richmond and a cofounder of Common Good RVA.
Two years ago, a pastor friend and I began talking about an initiative to help more people in Richmond see that their work matters to God and for the good of the city. In part we were acknowledging that we had failed our congregations by focusing too much on service in the church rather than work in the city. We admitted that we were so focused on filling the parking lots of the church (real and metaphoric) that we neglected helping people find on-ramps to public work. From that conversation, Common Good RVA was born.
Common Good RVA seeks to shape a different story of Richmond, precisely by telling stories of vocational faithfulness. At a time when many people question the purpose and value of their work, we see an opportunity to connect people’s professional lives to the larger good of promoting order, beauty, truth, and abundance. To those wondering “Is my work working,” we want to say “The work you do matters, to God and for Richmond.”
The work of artists–creating beauty and inspiring others–matters. The work of business–cultivating order and wealth–matters. The work of mechanics–setting things right –matters The work of mothers and fathers, writers and weavers, butchers and bakers and craft-beer makers. It all matters.
By emphasizing work for the common good we are recognizing a pattern that says our natural world is improved through human ingenuity and effort. Human culture, as carried out by individuals and communities, is not always a work of desecration or destruction. At its best human work can accentuate, augment, and extend the givens of a place to make it even better. Just as a fine piece of furniture can improve the natural wood from which its made, so the collective efforts of a population can enhance a city’s resources and improve its quality of life.
The aim of Common Good RVA is to promote the well-being of Richmond as a city; well-being that derives from Richmond being magnificently itself. That means not trying to be the next Charlotte, the next Atlanta, or the next Charleston, but a better Richmond. Richmond’s common good won’t come simply from mimicking neighbors next door, but working to express our own true essence.
As such, Richmond’s common good won’t come by denying our past wounds and failures. We can’t whitewash our history, but neither can we allow that history to forever determine the future. By reaching back into the city’s past to find and tell counter-narratives, we can inspire more work for the common good today.
If the common good of Richmond is informed by reaching back into the past, it is also shaped by looking ahead to the future. Resignation and cynicism are threats when it comes to progress for our region. Common Good RVA wants to help residents see our work as a foretaste of what Richmond can and may become. There are times when our work won’t be the fully loaded hot fudge sundae we want it to be, but it may be the sample taster spoon of ice cream, the hint of what will be.
The second Common Good RVA conference takes place on the weekend of October 3rd and 4th. The conference keynote speaker is an Indian-American writer and speaker named Skye Jethani, who has provided editorial leadership to a project called This is Our City which included an extended feature on Richmond and some of the common good work going on here.
But the emphasis of the conference is local, featuring Richmonders who are using their work to advance the common good. Friday night begins with No BS! Brass as an example of inspiring local music. Other presenters include: Bill Martin, Director of the Valentine Richmond History Center, sharing vignettes of how past Richmonders have used their work to benefit the city; Patience Salgado and Ham Glass describing their mural project “The Light of Human Kindness” at the old GRTC bus depot; and Richmond business leaders Jim Ukrop and Bob Mooney explaining how their position within the Richmond establishment allows them to seed new businesses advancing the common good of the region.
Why all this talk from a pastor about the common good? Because for too long Christians have separated their public lives from their personal faith. Even in a pluralized world, the two shouldn’t be separated. They can and should be joined in a way that is neither proselytizing or pretentious.
The idea of the common good jibes with the world’s ancient wisdom that says cities flourish when the privileged voluntarily disadvantage themselves for the sake of others. As Proverbs 11:10 states, “When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices.” We hope to encourage widespread vocational responsibility in a way that produces a welcomed difference in Richmond for the common good.
The church is often known and maligned for its battles and its fighters. Christians are identified by what they are against rather than what they are for. An emphasis on the common good can flip the script, so that Christians align themselves with others (religiously identified or not) in their cities, not against them. It begins to build trust in places where the commonwealth has long eroded. It fosters working together rather than shouting past. It gets Christians out of a religious echo chamber where voices grow more strident and unintelligible and into the broader world so that a city can sing in harmony.
There is much we agree on. We see the same world. We feel the same pain. We love the same city. So let’s talk. And let’s do. Let’s trust the stories of hope, the flashes of grace, the signs of life that lead us toward our common good.
Common Good RVA is hosting a conference on Friday, October 3rd, and Saturday, October 4th to explore how Richmonders can use their vocational lives to write a different story for the city and for the region. Friday is a public exploration of the common good; Saturday is a deeper dive into faith, neighborhood, and vocation. More details and registration can be found at commongoodrva.com.