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ALL means ALL

The cat is napping on my leg, (Catnapping?!?!), and I am processing what I have just experienced this last Sunday after a last second decision to jump in my car and head into Columbus for church. I had no idea what to expect, other than the fact that the prior Tuesday, Ken had worked at the Fresh Market that the church and community sponsor together. He thought we might visit the church.

So, while Ken was working a 12-hour shift, my sister-in-law joined me, and we walked into a setting we are quite unfamiliar with. We were surrounded by folding chairs, and a simple and portable setup that housed “the church.”

Suffice it to say – that today – two days later I am still thinking about what we experienced. I would like to give my reflection interspersed with thoughts from my doctoral program, the book I am reading, and the processing of my heart.

On our way into the building, we were a little uncomfortable because of the part of town that we were in. It was different than where we live, but there was a greeting from the bus stop, “Hey Ladies, God Bless you.” And we joyfully returned the salutation.

Then, we walked inside.

Please understand that in my doctoral dissertation(2018) I wrote about the institutionalization of the church. At the time - and still today - power, wealth, and patriarchy seemed more important than the Gospel and Jesus. And then, two years later we experienced devastation (and continue to face many challenges) at the hands of an institution, after giving almost all of our lives and energy to support it – so returning to a church building has included huge trust issues. (Please know that so many people we have walked with in our 50+ years in the church have been nothing but supportive, kind, generous, loving and have been and are family to us. And, over the last few years we have found precious people doing God’s work in different places, but we were not sure we really “fit”. There were things God was doing in our hearts and minds that didn’t seem to comply with the narratives we were hearing.

Keep in mind that we have also felt quite helpless to see what has been taking place for those who are homeless, marginalized, hungry, and in need, as a result of difficult economic times, political unrest, gentrification of downtown cities, etc... while churches build expansive and elaborate edifices with seemingly little notice of those who are struggling. Add the raw emotion associated with hierarchy, homophobia, power, racism and patriarchy that continue to assault our country (many doing so in the name of God) and it has seemed natural to find our “church” outside of the four walls of a building.

Sometimes we have been on nature trails, watching the sunset together or walking the loop at the park amidst wildflowers, hills and endless skies. We have loved being with “our church” – the ones who show up steadily – where there is no pretense, no expectation and instead just people, with real and deep love, extraordinary compassion and uncanny empathy. No one “dresses up and takes pictures” when we meet. And no one knows the depths of relationship and communion with God and each other except those of us gathering.

So, imagine my surprise when that type of setting was right in front of us. There was no polish. There were just real people experiencing life together. PhDs and homeless people sharing space and life and requesting prayer and speaking words to each other that seemed to flow from the very mouth of God. Every song, every Scripture read, every interaction, and even the chaos (at times) seemed so honoring to God and so uplifting of the people. The message brought by Pastor Joelle moved us deeply. And the honesty of the people astounded us.

The children participated in the music, playing bongos with joyful faces and dancing or moving their bodies to the rhythms felt and heard. The teaching moments for children were funny and endearing. And the teenagers participated in a nature walk. My heart was/is so full taking it all in – and now reminiscing.

After the service we interacted with so many people who were eager to talk, share and welcome us. We were amazed. These people were free and honest with their stories. Hearing about how they were being the hands and feet of Jesus every single moment of their lives – especially “outside” the walls still resonates with me.

Next, we learned that this same church partners with the community to host 350 people per day in the Fresh Market where they can pick up food. They facilitate 200+ people per day in the free thrift store, and then they have ‘Soup for the Soul’ where they connect with anyone that wants to eat soup together and have conversations around the tables while playing chess. This is a place for ALL people. Oh Wait! Right! That is the actual NAME of the church! “The United Methodist Church for ALL People.” Yep!!!

(This is a quote from the website where the founder of Community and Church Development offers his new book - "A Front Porch for All People"

"Each year, direct service ministries provide 35,000+ individuals opportunities to touch grace and experience positive transformation in their lives. Having developed over one hundred million dollars of affordable housing, Church and Community Development for All People is forging a radically inclusive neighborhood, where everyone can dwell in unity on a front porch for all people.")

You see – at the end of my dissertation I write about becoming that place “at the Table” where deep conversations, the breaking of bread and the entanglement of life, theology, and the life of Jesus work together for the good of ALL. I theorized that the church should be trauma-informed and involved as a 7-day-a-week church, feeding the hungry, providing clean water for everyone, clothing those who need cover and working together to find shelter. I utilized quotes from Walter Brueggemann who continues to insist that ours is a theology of abundance and NOT a theology of scarcity, and that there is indeed enough for everyone! (I believe some felt I should just go ahead and get a degree in social work because I probably had no place in theology.)

You see, PRACTICAL theology MEANS something to me. It is Jesus. It is the way that I was taught by my parents. When a neighbor needed a place to sleep – our parents took a couch (hide-a-bed) down the street and loaded it in her living room, where she then had a place to sit AND a place to sleep. And believe me – my parents gave out of their own poverty – which looked a lot like extravagant love. They took in countless people who had lost everything to live with us, as they needed to get back on their feet. They parented and continue to walk with those who just needed/need someone to be “human” enough to “see and hear” them. And then, we, their kids, continued the mandate to love neighbor as self and hosted many extra members in our family for long periods of time. Just this week I was thanking our oldest for being part of our family – because she “chose” and “still chooses” to be ours.

As I have said before – doing these things and being these people is not exactly like the movie “The Blind Side.” (Our families have never had incredible wealth and prosperity – but giving felt like what Jesus would do. And, blending families is NEVER seamless or easy. It is messy.) Others gave to us as well. And those relationships have been mutually life-giving over the years.

I am reading a book that was given to my husband years ago by a man I still consider to be a picture of a modern-day Jesus. Walt was his name. He lived simply and loved extravagantly.

This passage says it all – “The work you have to do now is all new. Don’t put new wine into old wineskins. The church must break new ground for the future. Old molds are part of the past and are not sacred. New situations need new tools if the Church is to help people through difficult times. Don’t be afraid to use your imagination. God will enlighten you. You are the instrument of God. He will guide you…The church must change if it is to be responsive to the needs of a rapidly changing world.” (Excerpts from “Joshua and the Shepherd”/Joseph F. Girzone, chapter 4, p.38 & chapter 6, p.60)

I am not sure what God is doing right now in my soul. But, I am open. And Sunday was proof to me that there are very real people paying attention to very real needs that are using their imaginations in order to “…be responsive to the needs of a rapidly changing world.”

Power-plays, hierarchy, racism and homophobia can rot away in the old wineskins. New wine is being poured into new wineskins. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is – there is freedom.” Thanks be to God!

I do not know what my future holds, but I will be back to engage with a brick and mortar building whose people ARE the CHURCH! Make no mistake – these people are remarkable – but you may never know their names. That is not their interest. This is not a rendition of “Shiny, Happy People.” Instead, I believe I was ushered into a micro setting of what I believe the Kingdom of God looks like: rich, poor, educated, uneducated, hopeful, hopeless, young, old, people of color, people with no color, gay, straight, trans and everyone in between. People living simply so that others may simply live.

It reminds me of the scene in Acts 4:32-35, “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.” (NIV)

I have been privileged to work and be in institutions that helped support the work of the church in creative ways. I have been humbled to serve with people who spend their lives giving, loving, and shepherding in ways that will never be recognized by others. And, in those places I have glimpsed Jesus.

Sunday – my heart was truly touched in ways that I am still having difficulty describing.

This place lives out the mission “…for ALL people…” Yes, even for me. But, especially it is being lived out for the community that surrounds it.

God's grace was so powerfully at work in them all...Thank you God!

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