Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Porch Story :: Church

porch story 26 September nearby church

Intro

Last Saturday was the autumnal equinox; in southern California, September and October tend to be our hottest months, though this has been the third overcast day in a row instead of fulfilling predictions of near 90 along the coast and beach, close to 100 inland. As much as I love the poetic light and shadows of late summer and early fall, shorter darker days affect me physically and psychologically as they do most people. I've begun my dance of almost October ... Reformation again ... Advent's near ... then the shortest day ... followed by Nativity's bright winter lights. Then days get longer!!!!!

For her Wednesday blog, Porch Stories host Kristin reveals her September Highlights. For the first time in almost forever, nothing bloggable happened during my September, but I'll post an October summary because at the end of October we'll celebrate Reformation 501, and I anticipate other eventful activities, so stay tuned.

Questions

April asked the question on her Facebook page; she also has a standalone site—April Fiet. What question?

If you had a church located in your immediate neighborhood, what kinds of things would you love to see that church doing? What might a church in your neighborhood do that showed the church was present and cared about the people around them?

Immediate neighborhood. When I read Kosuke Koyama's Water Buffalo Theology and discussed the book on a long-ago iteration of the United Church of Christ forums, little did I know the neighborology concept would stick closely to me as I later (that later is this now) facilitated the mostly-lectionary adult forum, a.k.a. "Sunday School" at the church I attend. That word – the logos – about the neighbor was central during Luke's lectionary year C that included so much Deuteronomy and Jeremiah. For the past few Sundays we've had a semi-continuous reading through the epistle of James, though last Sunday, Pentecost 18, was my first time talking about it because we have time to consider only a single lection each week. James wrote to an experienced Christian community, and despite popular impressions of Martin Luther's not liking James because he emphasized works rather than grace, Jimmy's not about works-righteousness, but about walking the talk, living the word about the neighbor out loud. Remember, he wrote to mature Christians.

Mr. Rogers always asked the question and offered an invitation, "Won't you be my neighbor?"

The guy asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

Where We Live

Everywhere you look they claim the year 2018 is post-Christian; stats all over the place show a low rate of weekly worship attendance, despite people continuing to check the "Christian" box on surveys and questionnaires. You've heard a one-on-one invitation most often gets people to at least visit a church? Not the pastor, not the building, not the programming.

Before saying more about what I'd want a church to do to prove its interest to the surrounding community, I'll describe how the first church of my involvement achieved local creds. Because it was very small, everyone could hold each other accountable. A person pretty much had to attend worship, go to bible study, participate in "Holy Club"—a small group that studied a book, chapter, sermon, or other document and met at someone's home with all of us taking turns hosting and providing yummy snacks. We casually called it holy club because activities for kids and teens all had the "club" designation. In addition, we got involved in local civic affairs, sometimes with more than one entity. They expected everyone to choose a political candidate or broader cause and get their feet on the ground or hands on the keyboard for whomever or whatever it was; Christianity was a lifestyle. Being a Christian meant being a neighbor by walking the talk. Their worship and study informed their public witness, so it wasn't a matter of glancing at the 'hood and deciding to do something random. I'll end this paragraph by adding that church met some of my unique needs by giving me a chance to teach piano as part of the affiliated multi-service center's programming and design some event posters and fliers.

So he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" A guy was going down to Jericho.... Technically and theologically, every human, every creature, every part of nature is our neighbor, but practically and realistically, we need to concentrate on people God's places physically closest to us. My current church doesn't remotely meet my needs to work with youth and kids or to teach art; in fact, a couple of families with young kids (young kids aren't my specialty, but all of us get older) moved far out of the area because of high housing costs. My current church can't respond to my sense of call to do any of the pocket of poverty inner-city ministry I've prepared to do, so I need to continue looking elsewhere for those things.

As examples of what a local church can do to demonstrate their presence and their care about the people around them, I'll cite my Current Church's outreach to surrounding ethnic communities, particularly several families from nearby Little Tehran. The church has provided scriptures in farsi as well as (English-language) instruction in Christian basics with an overview of the apostle's creed and the commandants, has explained why we follow Jesus, what it means to be Christian and counter cultural in twenty-first century southern California. Every other Wednesday evening they host a pro bono immigrant law clinic with legal counsel in Persian, Spanish, and English languages. Those actions directly meet obvious needs and will attract people who have those needs. Kosuke Koyama asks, "How can anyone be a teacher of religion unless he is at home with the language of the people?" It doesn't take many if any semesters of cultural anthropology to realize languages go beyond words spoken and read.

In a pocket of poverty urban or rural setting, it would be wonderful if a church could provide more than occasional fill in today's hunger food, if it could offer tutoring for students and recreational, social opps to help connect humans with other humans, to help individuals belong to community. Needless to say, wherever they are, people need to abolish typical church insider activities and insider language, to invite newcomers to take part in all aspects of ministry, even to join committees that have consisted of the same people for eons. I'd specifically like to see a church in my neighborhood say "yes!" to my offer to offer some art classes or workshops, but at least current church has been happy with my posters and bulletin covers—a distant second.

Church?

However, we're talking about church, and cannot stray so far the church turns into another social service agency. Claiming the authority of scripture, the Reformers insisted the church was the assembly gathered around Word and Sacrament, so that's where we need to begin, that's where we'll always return. If there's not sufficient energy, time, personnel, or budget for anything else, available resources go to worship. This liturgy – laos ergon, literally work of the people – models the words and the actions we need to repeat when we venture into the world after the Sunday assembly.

April asked how we in the church, we who are the church, can convince our immediate neighbors we care about them? How do we offer the invitation, "won't you be my neighbor?"? We need to acknowledge, maybe learn their spoken and written languages. We need to learn how some of their cultural habits and symbols speak a vibrant language of communication and meaning. Food, anyone? Of course!

I'm an Amazon Vine reviewer and get my choice of cool products I can keep for the cost of a timely, intelligent (whenever possible) review. A few days ago I received a copy of Across the Street and Around the World: Following Jesus to the Nations in Your Neighborhood…and Beyond by Jeannie Marie. I'm excited to start reading, and I'm excited my church invited me to serve on their newly-formed evangelism committee. With my lifelong passion for cities and The City, I tend first to think of street evangelism, but there are other-than-that approaches and I suspect Across the Street and Around the World will be inspiring.

More Chances

The font I used for the word Church in my header porch picture is Second Chances Solid by Kimberly Geswein. She has a lot of theology-tinged font names; I used her "Be Still and Know" for my Reformation Sunday 2016 worship bulletin cover. Be still and know is verse 10a of Psalm 46 Martin Luther loosely paraphrased for his hymn, "A Mighty Fortress." The Revised Common Lectionary that provides the Sunday scripture readings we use most weeks always appoints Psalm 46 for Reformation Day/Sunday, so Be Still & Know {the font} added up to a theological, liturgical, ecclesiastical triple win.

Will we as the church provide those second chances, a third chance, sixth and tenth chances just as Jesus did, those chances to reclaim disarticulated lives and fragmented humanity and show our neighbors we are with them and we care for them? It's not about scoping out the scene, picking an interesting activity off a menu, and trying it out. We faithfully can provide second and eleventh chances to our neighbors and for ourselves when our worship and study inform our public witness.

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