Monday, January 08, 2007

My kind of church

Yesterday (Sunday) we held a goodbye party for one of our co-labor-ers here in the neighborhood, and so we used the Eagle's Nest (fellowship hall) at our church for a simple meal of pizza and soda and generic cookies. The party opened with a DVD of kids and moms and grandmas from all over Glenwood saying their video-goodbyes, complete with a blooper reel at the end, and concluded with people in the room saying their goodbyes "live." A group of women from a recovery home (all of whom were baptized together just a few weeks ago) sang a beautiful song about hope in the midst of feeling in chains. And we prayed for our friend to have a safe and transformational time away.

In the room were single moms and singles without kids. Young married couples with babies, and older marrieds whose kids were in college. There were poor and moderately wealthy, black and white, struggling and established, many walking with Jesus and some teetering on the brink of falling away. I watched Eliza and Psalter playing with some of the kids who come to tutoring and felt the ease with which everyone in the room interacted and loved each other, not dwelling on racial and class lines. The community love there was genuine, not a forced attempt at reconciliation or a sense of the haves giving to the have nots. And I couldn't help but think, "Now this is church."

That is not to say that my worship experience earlier that day was invalid or not spiritual. I was fed from God's Word, I worshipped with Brothers and Sisters in Christ. But as I continue to read Scripture with the lens of reconciliation and transformative justice in place, I can't help but believe that church is should be more than homogeneous, more than based on worship preference, more than good sermons. It should be a place where the boundaries of our culture and prejudices are overcome by love and good deeds, by a commitment to relationship for the long hall, and by a commitment to gathering people of varying background, cultures, and financial means.

And that gathering of a diverse people should be a more concentrated gathering than what I typically experience. There certainly are people of several races and cultures who worship regularly at my church. There certainly are people of varying economic levels in service on Sunday. But they are scattered, not concentrated, and are therefore often overlooked and unheard, and their transformative presence is not felt by the Body at large.

I am both sad and thankful for the gift of our time yesterday. Thankful because it was sweet to my spirit and gave me a hopeful picture of a beautiful church. But sad because most of our friends from Glenwood who were at this party do not attend our church on Sundays, and I wonder how long it will be until yesterday's snapshot becomes a living reality.


Elizabeth said...

Marshall, the description of the goodbye party warms my heart. What a wonderful gathering! But I would encourage you not to mourn more than necessary over Sunday morning.

Certainly it would be great if Sunday morning looked more like the scene you describe, but given the choice of Sunday morning, or the other 160+ hours of the week being more kingdom-like, I'll choose the latter.

I am certainly not a person who thinks that corporate worship gatherings are unimportant, or that we don't absolutely need community and the church. But I think we have so specifically narrowed what it means to worship corporately that our dearest dreams often become of a concentrated, transformative diversity during 2 or so hours on Sunday. If we truly believe, as we say we do, that worship is way more than that gathering in a certain building on Sunday, that there can be holy, set apart action and experience in normal things we do (our work, our play, our conversations, our mealtimes...) we can (and you do, more often than many of us can dream) corporately worship God in beautiful, transformative diversity before those sacred cows like style preferences are eliminated.

I would love to see Sunday morning look like the beautiful goodbye party, but I think sometimes we so elevate that time, and so narrowly define corporate worship that folks (maybe like you) who are able to worship corporately in more kingdom-like concentrated and transformational diverse circumstances in the other 160+ hours of the week end up undervaluing that majority of the time.

This will be heresy to some, but I'd handsdown prefer for 160+ hours of the week to be more beautiful and kingdom-like, even if that doesn't include the 2+ hours of church attendance, than to have the church gathering right and the rest of the week fragmented and segregated.

I don't mean to put down your dream at all; of course it is a great thing to long for Sunday morning and the formally defined church to be more kingdom-like. But I just want to encourage you that the snapshot you saw WAS a reality, albeit a short-lived one. That beautiful time doesn't have to happen on Sunday morning to be real.

Marshall said...

While I hear what you are saying, I also think that coroporate worship gatherings also tend to reflect who we are hanging out with, spending life with, etc. And so my desire for "diversity" on Sunday morning extends beyond that 2 hour block, but rather to operate and live in a transformed community. What my hope is that the 160+ hours of the week and the 2 hours on Sunday not seem so separated and different from one another.

Elizabeth said...