THOUGHTS FROM THE PARTICULAR ….
We live and work in the reality of everyday struggle and celebration. Life on our street is in touch with people wondering how we will pay our bills, especially the utilities. We wonder if we can get employment before we fall too far behind in debt. Jobs are hard to find; even harder is keeping the car repaired. The on street parking is an altogether different challenge with every-other-day restrictions dedicated to the 9:00 o’clock hour. A lot of the time we spend our physical energy on transportation. Our homes belong to landlords many of whom are slow or even unresponsive to our requests, quite like the police when we call about an altercation. And the density of families and neighbors living close together brings relationship issues through the walls with easy flow to the street.
It might be easiest just to ignore the neighbors for pseudo privacy, a way to focus attention on my own issues. I may dress up and leave my street – get miles away – leaving the problems of the day behind for a moment, possibly to go worship. But more easily I can shut my door, turn up my noise and drown out the disappointments, fears of failure; my hopes exhausted just like my body by too much exercise in reaching for opportunities just beyond my grasp.
Andy and I, we bring opportunity to share where people have traditionally gathered for daily bread. We live in mutual recognition of worth and acknowledge with others the everyday sacred. We gather as friends hungry to share a meal, while opening up our joys and concerns in each other amid sounds of encouragement – of hope. We part as friends satisfied that our lives have meaning, that we have this place to go where we are part of the common good. We serve so that all may flourish. – from a reflection by Jenna Zirbel
This is church ministry – the body of Christ.
The people with whom we gather are accustomed to living outside the concept of a church as a building on a corner or a gathering on Sunday morning.
This church in which we participate has a liturgy, a “work of the people” – an ordering of the small, significant elements that sing to the rhythms of life – of hope – of faith. There is a gathering and welcoming in recognition that we are more than isolated individuals; that we are a community. The confession is practical – a corporate acknowledgment that as a society we fall short. The sharing of joys and concerns, and the holding of each other in prayer are essential. People offer of themselves for the greater good and take according to need. There is the breaking of bread, the sharing of the cup of hope, the benediction that we are able to go out and make a difference, and the blessing to strengthen each other for the journey that is life.
We’ve witnessed this liturgy, again and again, whenever we gather as community – at the Damien Center for people infected/affected by HIV/AIDS; at a march and rally to bring awareness to suicide prevention; at a training for the Trevor Project; at any one of many meetings for RAI where we discuss the particular health issues of people who are LGBTQ; at a conference for LGBT people of color where healing from heterosexism and racism was the primary focus; at a rally in the park to take back the night.
… TO THE GENERAL.
Church in today’s society exists beyond a limited sacred space at a sacred time each week, and may take on some characteristics that are unorthodox in contemporary Christendom.
Much of our discussion about ministry development has taken place in community contexts within the family; that is between Jenna and Andy, and Ezekiel who gives a younger perspective. Because we are living in what we believe to be a microcosm of larger society, we have used our particular situation to teach us some things about church in the 21st century. Some of what we have explored is counter-intuitive and some very predictable.
While Andy began deliberating in a traditional way, still centering on radical ways to bring the neighbors into the church on the corner at specific times, Jenna dared to envision a church growing organically from the community. When Andy’s arrangement with the orthodox church evaporated, along with his hopes and dreams, Jenna’s ideas about church continued to percolate and develop. Andy found the ministry with some of the people continued, even strengthened, as spontaneous unorchestrated encounters provided the balm to soothe a damaged faith. Jenna tenaciously hung onto the vision of a church existing outside of the traditional times and places, while Andy began to catch up.
It turns out that the ideas we’ve been putting into practice – ideas so far limited largely to our community – are very Wesleyan. Rather then being something new and completely revolutionary, they mirror many of the things that Wesley began doing when he started Methodism. It was a movement that began not as a new church, but as a new life in the community – a life propelled by a vision of justice and mercy that matched the times. First came the engagement in the community – especially with the oppressed and down-trodden – a new sense of mission that met people where and how they were – as neighbors on the journey.
… AND TO THE PRACTICAL
We recognize that traditional church planting continues to be viable, and that it takes resources that are becoming harder and harder to find. Outside of an orthodox denomination, where are our extraordinarily ordained ministers to find the resources to start a new church? We can help with spiritual support and examples of what has worked elsewhere. We can work with other churches.
We can also support and nurture new starts that sprout up in unconventional ways and places. What might these look like? We can’t imagine all the possibilities, but we would like to explore them. We’d like to engage – to connect – with more of the CT and others; to dialogue about more ways of BEing church, even those that might seem far-fetched. That is what we’d like this coming year – to connect more and to discuss “unorthodox” ways of becoming and BEing church.