One of my favorite early street church memories is when Chris, the minister of music at Fredericksburg Baptist, would join us in the crowded Micah lobby and play “Come as You Are.”
Even at that time, before street church had a pastor and name, the lobby was far too small for the 20 or so who would gather. The music in that time and space was often a prophetic backdrop for the neighbor having a mental crisis, another peeing accidentally on the floor and a newcomer busting through the door wondering how they could get help. We didn’t really know what we were in those early days or how this gathering of friends on Sunday morning might evolve, but there was always something about that song and what was happening in the room when it played that always said to me “God is here. God is in this. God knows exactly what God is doing.”
“Lay down your burdens.
Lay down your shame.
All who are broken.
Lift up your face.
Oh wanderer, come home,
You’re not too far,” the song goes.
“Come as you are.
Come as you are.
Fall in his arms.
Come as you are.” I would hum to myself.
I’ve had a lot of fun reflecting on those early days, as of late, not just because of what it says about how far we have come but what more can come of this little church community we are nurturing.
It was a soundtrack in my mind as I watched Sue read scripture at our Micah noonday worship service this week. There was a time that the lure of lunch afterward was our best attempt at getting our neighbors to join us for a Lenten observance. This year they are sharing in leadership, showing us that they too have a critical offering in the name of ecumenism. Sue was so serious and so proud of being invited to participate. In our usual worship routine, she did nothing fancy or out of the ordinary; but it meant the world to her to come as she was and share the gospel text as a representative of the body of Christ to which she belongs.
I couldn’t help but hum the tune, as Arritt emerged as the most joyful passer of the offering basket today; and George again called upon our street community to “give something back to God,” be it the change in their pocket or a simple rock as a symbol of a commitment to God they were making for a change in their heart. We all laughed together as they fumbled their way through and took great interest in learning the “right” way to do it. What is the “right” way to call for and take up the offering, I wondered. The genuineness in which they approached the task was beautiful, just as they are.
And there are others—so many other reflections—I could offer on the ways those least likely to belong and succeed in a community, particularly one of faith, are finding their place. We wouldn’t be here had we not embraced from the beginning and continued to hold firm that above all things, our neighbors come as they are.
In bringing us a message today, Deacon Nat Harley, from Shiloh New Site, talked about knowing what it means to be an outsider. As a child he was small and easily bullied. “I needed a defender,” he said. And that, he found in another child who chose to become his friend.
What Christ did by turning over the tables in the temple (John 2:13-22), Nat explained, was not all that different. The poor and disenfranchised who had traveled very far to make their offering to God were being taken advantage of. “Jesus could have walked right on into the center court, but he chose to make a difference and stand up for those who couldn’t care for themselves,” Nat said.
Nat is a gentle, quiet soul who often doesn’t say much, but when he does it is often heartfelt and meaningful. As such, our neighbors listened quietly and intently to what he had to say as we gathered yesterday. But as Nat described the passion by which Jesus cleansed the temple of all things separating humanity from God, Junior began to preach.
“The Spirit says ‘come as you are’ man. Come. As. You. Are.,” he said.
Come as you are indeed, I thought. So many of the people gathered with us are there because they first came to Micah, to street church, to one of our mainline congregations on their very worst day. It is because this community accepted them and all of their quirks that they have come back, again and again. They are calling each other for rides. They are extending invitations to others they know are in need of a place to belong. And because of the relentless love they have received, the success of showing up has become victory as leaders and hope for a community whose circumstances stood for far too long between them and God.
We are also thankful today that Stafford Food Security joined us to offer breakfast to neighbors who joined us for street church. We are looking forward to breaking bread with them on first Sundays for the foreseeable future.
Thanks be to God for those who continue to come as they are to this space we call street church. Blessings upon all of you for the prayers you lift on our behalf and those of our neighbors. I hope you know what a difference it is making.