You live all over the east side. I know this because I have been blessed to be in your homes, share in meals, and listen to decades upon decades of faith stories. In other words, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Thank you! After thirty hours, being lost in my car a few times, more than a dozen homes, an intake of countless calories, and one hundred and twenty-eight new names and faces (which is more than 1/4 of the worshipping congregation) I am concluding the Hearts & Stories listening campaign this week.
I have asked the same questions in every gathering.
One key question: To what is Christ calling this church in this chapter of your history?
99% of the time (with 128 members) this is the answer you gave: “To reach our neighbors…the community around the church.”
Here are a few other things that you noted:
We want to insure that we share Christ with folks as well as serve them.
We want our neighbors to come to church. Our neighborhoods are changing and many don’t have a church home.
We especially want to reach young people and young families.
We want to help - not only offer help, but help change lives, break the cycle.
“Not just give a fish, but teach a person to fish…”
“When I came into the church, so and so welcomed me and that’s the reason I stayed.” That’s what I want for others.
At the end of these gatherings several of you asked, “Pastor Jen, what is your vision for this church.”
I answered, “I did not come with a vision. I came to see what God is doing in your midst and where you sense God’s call leading you.” And I must say, never have I seen a church so united and so sure of where God is calling you. Not ever. How exciting!
In response to the vision YOU have been articulating, a few church leaders have put a practice in place at the Wednesday night gathering. (Written about previously in the SHOFAR and the Day by Day.)
Why the Gathering? It’s a time when church members share a meal and a time for education and Christian formation.
What’s the practice? That we would engage in sitting with people we do not know well and with new folks and be in conversation with them and learn more about each other. Then when our Bible-based English as a Second Language course starts in the fall, we will be ready to welcome our Hispanic neighbors and engage in conversations with them. And when the Getting Ahead course (breaking the cycle of poverty) starts, we will be ready to welcome neighbors who are trying to get back on their feet and share with them in conversation. The only way to offer our neighbors Christ is to interact with them and begin building relationships. Jesus did it, the early disciples did it, and we do this.
But here’s the thing. After the first night of the trial run, some of you loved it. One member said, “It was so neat to hear a ten year old asking me and my older friends questions!” Another said, “I got to know people I would never have had the chance to!”
But some members were very angry. Some threatened to never come back. Some shared with many people how upsetting this was, particularly because this meant they could not sit with some of their friends.
So church let’s be problem solvers together. Let us be people who don’t just get upset and walk away, but work together towards solutions, because grumbling and gossip do not serve any of us; it doesn’t build us up, it just tears us down. Isn’t there a way to honor the call Jesus has for this church and still have time for fellowship with those we know well? Isn’t there a way to welcome the stranger and love the friend? I bet there is!
What if you sat with three of your friends and left half your table open to others and then rotated which friends you sat with each week?
What if you rotated being table hosts for strangers?
What if you ate with strangers and then sat for coffee after with friends?
What solutions do you have? Will you write them down and leave them in the Intentional Faith Connection mailbox in the office?
What if we all sought to be part of the conversation and the solution? This can be an amazingly life-giving and positive journey!
We are in a process of trial and error. We are in the process of reaching your God-given vision which is Biblical but even more, it’s the vision in your hearts. It’s the vision you believe God is calling you to. And what a beautiful vision it is, Church! I’m here to support you as you reach out and love on behalf of Jesus Christ. For you have been doing it for many years, this is the next chapter.
It is my joy and honor to be serving Christ with you,