“What does it mean to be the Church?” I asked our small group of dedicated leaders. We decided to hold our “community forum” the last Sunday of the month after church to discuss the business of the church and the places we want to grow in and glean from as a new faith community. Together, about 15 folks from our worshipping community gathered after our Street Church worship service one breezy September afternoon to ask, “what does it mean to us, to be the Church?”
As we gathered together, I gave each member of our community a post-it to put on a board and asked them, “Write down on your post-it: What has the Street Church Community meant to you?”
I hear a collective chatter amongst them, as they share their reflections and then, one by one responses, came forward. Words like, “relief,” “help,” “respite,” “sanctuary,” “foundation,” “safety,” and “[a place for] unity” filled the page.
Honestly, I was touched by their responses. As their Pastor, I want to make sure that they feel welcomed in the house (or in our case, yard) of God. My goal from day one has been to make them feel like they are coming, “home” to God’s house; if we can do that, then we know the Spirit is here. Seeing their responses reminded me that this special place, our little rag-tag church, had not only found a place to worship, but they found a sanctuary where they could feel safe and lay a firm foundation in Christ…right in the backyard of Fredericksburg.
When we were started to dream about what it meant to be “Street Church,” we had spent a lot of time in the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-9). I remember making the connection that it was God who sows the seed, but we have to be tillers of the spiritual soil to make sure that the seeds God would lay in our path could grow. Suddenly, the words “Gather, Sow, Grow” came to me from a still place in my own spirit. I knew it was God touching my heart and giving me a visual cue of what this community could root itself in. Since then, it has been the tag-line of our community, and it helps me be intentional in the various branches of our ministry.
One-by-one, I asked them, “What does it mean to you to ‘gather,’ to ‘sow’ and to ‘grow’ as a community?" They filled out their post-its and we discussed what it means to be a church who gathers, who sows seeds of discipleship, and who grows in Christian maturity together. Below is a word cloud of all of their responses. As you can see, the complete themes started to bubble up in font size, depending on how many times the word showed up. The word “blessing” stands out to me as the main focus of this community, a “blessing” to others and a blessing to this community.
As we were discussing what it meant to be a community, one member raised his hand. “Pastor Chelsea, I’m concerned that we have some folks in our community that don’t understand the expectations of what it means to be at church and to behave accordingly.”
This was a member of our community who had experienced homelessness, himself. I was surprised by his critical reflection of the community. I wondered if he was alone in his thinking. Suddenly, others spoke up and shared that they too struggled with those who spoke out of turn or were not respectful during the service. In my world, not experiencing homelessness, I didn’t have high expectations for what they would expect from church or each other. Yet, here was our church, who had higher expectations of their community and certain ideals about what it meant to be in “God’s house” despite my constant invitation to “come as you are.”
I realized that this commentary was not new for the Church. Since the early apostolic movement, Jesus followers have been trying to figure out what it means to be a living body of Christ. Paul spent many of his letters explaining to early church congregations what it meant to live out the gospel. Ironically, roughly 2000 years later, we are still struggling with the same thing.
Together, our Street Church community committed to a season of reflecting on what it means to come together as one body and lean into the principles of Gather-Sow-Grow. The first week, we talked about what it means to enter into the “House of the Lord” with expectation and anticipation of what is to come. We focused on the fact that we must put ourselves aside in order to encounter the living Christ in our midst. We come with intention and center our hearts on what God has for us in that space, as a people intended for community with one another.
Last week, we had the opportunity to focus on what it means to “Gather” as a community. We rooted ourselves in the book of Hebrews lectionary text for last week (Hebrews 10:11-25). Together we emphasized the reasons why we gather. We gather to Repent, Remember, Rejoice and Proclaim the good news. As a community, we recognize that we are all fragments, broken pieces put back together with the help of God’s grace active in our lives. We gather to remember and remind one another that we are all in need of God’s grace and God keeps the promises set for us. Finally, we gather to rejoice in this good news and to proclaim it to others in the form of love and good deeds for our neighbors.
As an activity, each member of our community took a piece of broken sea glass. One of our members, ‘Dre, drafted, designed, and molded a cross out of clay during worship time. After the sermon, we put each of our broken pieces into the mold of our cross, which represented the love and Grace of Jesus, which holds all of our broken pieces together. Now, this collective piece of art will be a part of our altar at worship time.
In this season of “gratitude” I am immensely grateful that we have a community who shows up for one another. A community who asks the hard questions of what it means to be the “Church” for a community who has often been left out of the question. They have often been ‘served’ rather than asked how they want to serve those in their community (something, I have found, they have already been doing long before Street Church was ever in the picture). As the larger Church, we have the opportunity to gather-sow-grow alongside our neighbors and to come and see what they have to teach us about what it means to be the unified Body of Christ.
I can’t wait to see where we grow next…
Thanks be to God.
Grace and Peace,
Chaplain | Micah Street Church