It is increasingly clear to me that even a church without walls will have flock issues. When I say flock, I intend to name both the people who are developing a deep, intimate relationship with the worshipping community we call Street Church and those on the periphery, who may not yet be joining us on Sunday but have a name and place in the hearts of those who are with us. Some folks join us every week, or at least often enough that we say, “where’s…” when they don’t make it. Then there are folks who haven’t yet been able to be with us, but have benefited from the network of care that Street Church is bringing to fruition. We are still new enough, that plenty of people don’t know about us yet. But sometimes an absence from our community is for logistical reasons like transportation or work obligations. Other times, they may be in jail, the hospital, or battling a deep distraction, like depression, addiction or other illness, that keeps them from being with us on Sundays.
Many things have occurred, however, to remind us that an absence on Sundays is not an absence of yearning and seeking a relationship with God and others.
My phone, for instance, was ringing at 6:30am yesterday. A woman who has been trying to be with us ended up with a last minute opportunity to have visitation with her child.
Another of our neighbors caught me on the sidewalk this week to let me know he would be gone for a few weeks. Work has been scheduling him on Sundays and he needs the extra money to pay his rent. “But I’ll be there on Monday for the leadership group” he said.
Then, just before we began our worship time yesterday, my dad handed me a letter from a woman (Vicki) who has been in jail for a little more than a year now. He has been keeping up with her these many months, visited her a few times, taken her calls, helped protect and store some of her belongings. With her release date fast approaching, however, she is getting nervous. There is often a conflicting emotion for homeless neighbors who are being released from jail. They want nothing more to be free from stone cold cinderblock walls and pretty bad food; but on the outside there are new problems like lack of housing and complicated relationships. No matter how free a person is, the things people have to do for survival when they do not have family or community are sometimes scarier than losing freedom all together.
In Vicki’s letter, she pleads with God to free her from her sorrow.
“My God, my savior, where are you at?” she writes. “I’ve been battling the enemy for so long. I’m scared and weary from the fight…..What is your purpose for me and my life? ….My story must be powerful for you to continue leading me through these trials…Jesus can’t we just call it quits and you give me joy?…I’m screaming in fear that you haven’t accepted me. Please don’t leave me alone. Please save me before I give up. I want joy and peace. I want to spend my day and nights with you. Let me suffer no more.”
Our neighbors who cannot yet be with us for one reason or another have been heavy on the hearts of those of us involved in Street Church. It isn’t just Vicki who feels alone, confused and anxious about what is to come. We receive so many letters or calls from jail each week, that we cannot respond to them all. There are people who need rides on Sunday, but our bus can barely hit all the stops we currently have in the hour before church starts. There are people who always work or have other survival obligations on Sundays, but desperately want and need the community that is forming through Street Church on a different day of the week.
“The wolf snatches them and scatters them,” read our passage from John 10: 11-18 yesterday. “The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.” Yet Jesus, the good shepherd, beckons for all to belong to a fold in which they are fully known and fully loved.
To care for both the flock that joins us on Sunday and the sheep who graze the wider pasture, we are going to need a lot of help with the herd. There are many ways we already see that happening and still others we are praying for partners to emerge.
Volunteers are aligning to help us run a bus on Sunday, but we are praying for seed members who are willing to personally fetch specific neighbors who need a little extra TLC on Sunday. It is our hope to have a network that helps people get to church, worships with them, takes them home and shares a bit of relationship in the process.
Folks like Fredericksburg UMC’s Sandy Howson have offered to help us correspond with people in jail so that friends like Vicki will have a little bit more assurance they are not alone; But if we are going to be the church in the ways our neighbors need us to be, God’s going to have to bring us a lot of new people to help us accompany those who are in jail, the hospital and other places of struggle.
People are sharing their gifts! Tim White of Stafford Food Security has graciously become our first Sunday meal at Street Church. This last week, the folks from Ebenezer UMC teamed up to not only feed the neighbors at Street Church, but stay and share our worship experience.
We also had the pleasure of hosting a wonderful woman, Jennifer Galvin, who came share the arts with our community.
Our neighbors were given a printed passage of Psalm 23 and a set of watercolors to spread upon the page as they listened to and contemplated the message of Jesus the good shepherd. Jennifer encouraged them to choose colors that spoke to how the passage made them feel and paint pictures of images it brought to their minds. Kinesthetic activity is one other way that Street Church is reaching those who may not absorb a message that is only spoken verbally or delivered visually. Jennifer’s unique way of making the scriptures real and relevant to our neighbors makes me wonder what other gifts are out there, that could further enrich our worship experience.
And speaking of answered prayers… yesterday was the first day that our message, music and collective sharing of scripture could be heard clean and crisp throughout the worship service. Many thanks to David and Anne Pierce of Fredericksburg Baptist for the fantastic blessing of a new sound system. Not even the wind could mess with those speakers yesterday. As you may very well know, the Street Church experience is very participatory, and oftentimes the words our community were speaking could not be heard due to the sound system we were using. It was so nice that the voices of God’s people could ring loud and clear throughout our gathering space yesterday and the neighborhood in which we worship.
Many thanks to all of you for the ways you continue to help us care for the flock, both those who are with us and those still finding their way. Please join us this week was we lift up some critical prayers for things happening in the lives of our neighbors and those who love them.
Please pray for Sue as she will attempt this week to reconcile with her son.
Pray for Kathy and her diagnosis of breast cancer.
Pray for Michelle’s friend
Pray for Vicki as her release date nears and she seeks relief from her suffering.
Pray for Mike as he faces a difficult court day this week.
Pray for Nat Harley, the wonderful deacon from Shiloh New Site, who has been interning with us this last year. He has finished his final class and will no longer be joining us on a regular basis, but we are ever so grateful for the ways he has shaped our community and our neighbors have moved in his.
Keep praying friends! God is moving among us. All. The. Time.