The boys always walk to church, sometimes carrying random children’s ministry items. Like baby swings. And pink crates full of baby toys. Their walk to church – two white boys and two black boys carrying baby things – is an epic thing to behold. If you’re local and happen to drive by on a Sunday morning and catch this event, toot your horn and yell out your car window. They will surely die and you will surely laugh.
Anyway, yesterday we gathered for church in a room outfitted for dance classes.
Our usual room had been having some air conditioning issues and so the lady who unlocked the building for us graciously allowed us to move our chairs into the next best room: The Dance Studio.
It was a cool 68 degrees in there, had killer acoustics, and opened up into our children’s ministry room. By all accounts, the room was perfect for us.
It had floor to ceiling mirrors lining two walls which only encouraged this mama to take a good hard look at her chicken legs and limp hair and awkward hand gestures. It was a humbling experience for everyone involved except for the last Harris baby who couldn’t take her eyes off of herself. She was in little piggy heaven.
In the only corner of the room that had no mirrors, we set up a small table for coffee and one tray of little pigs in blankets and the first four women to arrive each grabbed a side of the table and sat down. We were the lucky ones.
I sipped coffee from my dinged up Starbucks travel mug, the one I use when I fly because it’s short and squatty enough to not tip over, and ate my four pigs in a blanket with a side of French’s mustard. The four of us joked about the mirrors and how we’ll miss our music guy when he heads back to college in a few weeks and we talked about the lack of rain. You talk about the rain when you have a garden and we have a community garden in dire need of rain.
We laughed and chatted about all the nothing in the world until one of the ladies got really honest.
“He said he paid his child support, but he didn’t. He only has to pay $159 a month and he is two months behind. So if he isn’t gonna pay it, he’s gonna have to keep them and feed them,” she said. “Even when the six kids were at home, he never paid his full amount. And it’s hard to feed them and clothe them and work full time. But you do what you have to do, you know?”
I dipped the end of my little smokie in the mustard and probed a little further. We all did.
“You mean you only get $159 a month for all three kids? Are you kidding me? Why is he only required to pay that much? I’d have dropped the kids off for the weekend, too. And school is getting ready to start back and they’re going to need shoes and school supplies.”
We carried on for a good fifteen minutes about the audacity of this daddy and the crappiness of the powers that be because we are women and this is what women do. We commiserate and nod our heads and cheer for one another. Even at church. Maybe, especially at church.
And then, after the commiserating had ended, one of us spoke up and veered the conversation into a whole other direction that was as equally as needy as the first voice of need. It was a Me, too. moment that eased its way into the conversation already happening around the table and it leveled the playing field.
Because that is what the table does.
It levels the playing field.
And so does gathering to worship, right where you live.
Four years ago, when we first planted Fellowship Rocky Mount, we met in our home. The home worked for a period of time, but we soon outgrew the house and needed to relocate. We were still new to our neighborhood and trying to figure out the cultural dynamic- the black and white dynamic to be exact- and thought maybe if we relocated to neutral ground we would be able to reach our black neighbors. Our black neighbors were warming to us, but no one was coming into our home and we couldn’t figure out why.
So we moved into the local YMCA, just about two miles from our house, and to our surprise, we did not grow. Not one family from our neighborhood made their way to the YMCA. For a year, we muddled through, trying to put our finger on the disconnect.
After our year contract was up, we moved our church across the tracks to the elementary school where the majority of the children in our neighborhood were attending. We reached no one from the community. Not one single family. We did community meals and community clean up and community service projects and yet, no one came.
We were dumbfounded.
A year later, we regrouped and moved back into our house and began to open our yard for community meals. We immediately went from reaching 10 kids on a Saturday morning to 50 kids on a Sunday night. We began to reach scores of children and a few of their parents around our picnic tables, over plates of chicken and baked beans and child-focused Jesus-storytelling.
And we began to listen to our neighbors.
We put aside all the things we knew about church planting and gave Jesus white space to teach us how to love our neighbors.
And in our white space, Jesus began to scratch out a clear and simple plan: Be all in, right here on Avent street, share the table with your neighbors and let Me build My church.
So we did.
We dug our heels in and served meal after meal after meal and Jesus set our neighbors around our picnic tables. We told the stories of Jesus and played basketball and hula-hooped until our bodies ached and we began to pray that Jesus would show us how to gather as a community for corporate worship.
And Jesus heard our prayers.
He gave us the building across the street- the one right in our neighborhood that belonged to everyone- and then He sent two families from our street to join us there.
Jesus built His church, right where we lived, right around the table.
As we began to gather for worship where we lived, we have found ourselves immensely committed to the community that Jesus has placed us into.
Our focus has narrowed to include only a few blocks of people– our people.
And as our focus has narrowed, our roots here have grown deeper while our view of God has only gotten bigger.
The degree to which we have been able to know the people we live with, eat with, and worship with has expanded in ways that would not have been possible if we gathered all during the week only to scatter on Sunday mornings.
We’ve become a family who walks to church together.
Tim Chester says this,
The future of Christianity lies not in a return to the dominance of Christendom, but in small, intimate communities of light. Often they’re unseen by history. But they’re what transform neighborhoods and cities.
He’s right, you know?
He is so right.
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