We were a bakers dozen or so. A beautifully eclectic bunch of folks gathered in our living room last night. Our quirky and lovable fluff-monster was there too, usually on the brick red carpet that centered our group.
The intent for our gathering was informative. We had invited newcomers to our church over in order to share the story of our faith community, offer ways to get connected, and answer any questions that people may have had with regards to the church or faith.
As a start up community, we’re always experimenting with ways to build community and for people to hear one another’s stories. We started hosting these newcomers desserts about a year ago and I’ve been consistently captivated by the diversity of backgrounds and experiences of the folks who hang with our church. People from various faith traditions or no faith background, from a range of careers and regions, and all with a unique expression of personality and perspective. Getting to know people is absolutely one of the gifts of my job.
After introductions I shared our church’s story and offered some ways to get connected. Towards the end of our time together we open up the floor for questions or comments. There were several comments and a few questions, but one question stuck with me.
Quick disclaimer. I’m writing this the morning after, so I’m paraphrasing to the best of my memory.
The question was something like this: “It seems like the church is has a sense of its values and what’s important to it. But what’s important to you personally? What do you care most about with the church?”
Once the question was asked I did my best to restate it to make sure I was hearing it.
“When it comes to our still young and forming church, what’s the thing I care about the most?”
It was a great question, and one I was thankful to be asked. Often people direct questions to me about our community that are more institutional or abstract in nature, so the concern for my personal experience felt nice.
As my mind bounced around in that moment considering a reply, a few different thought kernels popped open.
Is it involvement that I hope for the most? Like, for people to actually be a part of the work of the church rather than just being attendees? For people to move from spectators to participants?
Yeah, that’s important but that’s not the thing.
Is it for our church to make an impact in our community? For folks to be an expression of justice in a world of so much injustice?
Gosh, that’s up there, but that only feels like part of it.
What’s the thing?
What’s the deepest hope I have for the people who engage with our church community?
Over the last few months and even years our community has grown into an established and somewhat stable church, and much of my energy and focus has gone towards establishing teams and systems that get us closer to sustainability. Because of this, I don’t think about the thing as much as I used to.
So, here it goes. My attempt to restate what I said last night and also put some more thought into it in ways I couldn’t flesh out in the moment.
For me, the deepest hope I have for our church, a work I’ve consumed myself with, is that people encounter Jesus.
For me, the Jesus story, and the experience of life tangled up with that story, with its reality and with its mystery, has been everything.
It’s formed me and shaped me towards love and empathy more than anything else.
It’s been the biggest source of comfort, strength, and hope in my entire life, and even beyond.
It’s invited me to offer and receive grace at the most vulnerable levels.
Encountering, following, learning from, wrestling with, and discovering the love of Jesus has made me who I am.
It’s in a very real sense rescued me.
It’s subverted my worldview an upended my politics.
It’s transformed the ways I see other people.
It’s sent me into homeless camps, high-rise corner offices, jungle prayer circles, holy slums, wedding altars, hospital bedsides, mountain top monasteries, sacred cemeteries, pub-theater congregations, and a increasing list of incarnate contexts that my memory can’t fully hold.
Its forced me to confront my own darkness and the darkness of the world and illuminated the ways of freedom through repentance and forgiveness.
Its a story that has been wed to my soul at the deepest level and unveiled the infinite orbits in the universe of Love. And it’s this love that I’m still learning.
Because of my following Christ I care about justice, am learning to love my enemies, and believe in Resurrection; that new life really can happen in this world.
Jesus Christ, in all of the complexity and mystery surrounding those two identifying words, has been life, hope, nourishment, healing, transformation, joy, joyful-sorrow, peace, and more.
Jesus has been everything to me.
And if there was a word I could use to say everything that didn’t feel like an understatement, I’d use that word.
Jesus hasn’t given me all the answers or cleared up all the deep questions of my life or of our world, but Jesus has always been near.
In tears, ecstasy and everything in between, there has consistently been a presence of solidarity, hope, and still small love that has haunted me in the best of ways. No accomplishment, possession, or experience has ever come close to comparing to the immensely rich sense that lives somewhere deep inside my being of Jesus’ love for me.
That’s the thing.
That’s the thing I hope our church can reflect and that people can catch a glimpse of. Involvement, attendance, membership, activism, charity, and even theology- all those things are distant seconds.
To be honest it’s not that important to me if people label themselves as Christian, share my political positions, give to our church, behave in ways that match my morality, or volunteer in the community. Those things have their urgent importance and are part of the equation, but hyperbolically speaking, those things don’t compare. My very real experience is that those things will be transformed as people encounter Jesus and begin to walk, step by step, day by day, meal by meal, purchase by purchase, vote by vote, conversation by conversation, and encounter by encounter with the personification of divine love found in Jesus.
That’s THE thing.