Friday, August 19, 2011

Being Church in The Village


UMODE: Context for A Creed

Five United Methodist congregations located within about 10 miles of each other in the Dundalk and Edgemere communities of Southeast Baltimore—calling ourselves "UMODE"—have been working together for the past couple years. We are each proud of our unique history; our individual efforts to date have accomplished good things. However, we believe we can do even greater things for God's kingdom as five churches working as one than we can as five individual congregations struggling to do effective ministry independently with increasingly limited material and human resources. The effort to work together has not been without complications—it's inevitable that any worthy effort like this would have its "growing pains" and "roadblocks"—but we have persevered together and are making good progress.

Together, UMODE has hired a youth and young adult pastor to work for our five churches . At least as important as what she has done in our churches is the work she has done OUTSIDE our church doors—reaching out to the community around us that, for many reasons, doesn't choose to "go to church" on Sunday. She has spent time building relationships with the people who frequent the "gathering places" of Dundalk and Edgemere. And her work is bearing fruit ...

Building on the efforts to date, and the "seeds" we've planted in the community, this weekend we hope to start "harvesting"—or at least seeing some "germination". Today and tomorrow (August 19-20), we plan two days of outreach to our community at Heritage Park in Dundalk with an informal time of worship concluding each evening.

Please pray for our outreach efforts to be a "success"... and for the PM thunderstorms to not be too intense... (Contrary to popular belief meteorologists like me really can't control the weather; we just report what's coming—and sometimes, as is well documented and criticized, we don't even do that very well!)

UMODE has also started a new "informal" worship gathering called The Village that meets in a local coffee shop—with substantial contributions from people in other churches in the area and folks with no formal church connection at present. We had our first gathering last week and it seemed to go well. We had ~72 people in and out during the evening—with a few more lurkers on the perimeter not sure if they belonged yet. We want to make it clear by what we do that ALL are welcome at The Village. We're seeking a form of expression that is "organic", adaptable, and most of all, flexible so we can effectively respond to the pressing physical needs and the spiritual hunger in our community. We would appreciate your prayers for this new worship gathering as well.

The outreach this weekend is taking place in the same vicinity as the coffee shop and the coffee shop owner is helping us, so the events are very much related.

This effort to "take church to the people" is well established in our Wesleyan DNA. When people no longer felt welcome in church anymore, the Wesley brothers decided to take church to the people of their day. We the churches of UMODE are merely trying to do what the Wesley brothers did in our own time and place.

Doing this sort of thing seems a little strange to people (myself included) who have gotten used to "going to church on Sunday" and not thinking as much about "what the church is supposed to be". This kind of outreach pushes us out of our comfort zone, but it is really a good thing in that it gets us back to the root of what it really means to be the church—the Body of Christ—in our world.

So I hope John and Charles would be proud of what we're trying to do, but more importantly, I hope this makes God smile... and I hope the Spirit moves in powerful ways.

"Greater things are still to come and greater things still to be done in this city..."

The Village Creed

I wrote the creed below to describe my aspirations for our new worship.

A creed is supposed to be a statement of what the worshipping community believes and this is really one man’s opinion. So while I hardly place this prose in the same league as the historic statements of our faith (e.g., Apostles Creed, Nicene Creed) that most Christians confess, I share what I have written in hopes that it might be useful to you in your setting. While I wrote it for use in a particular context I think it could be easily adapted for use in other settings. Most of what it is written here is theology on which I think most Christians agree. I just tried to say it in language that is accessible to those less familiar with the jargon of the church.

I set it up so that it might be read as a litany. The people read the statements in BOLD and the leader reads the rest. It could just as easily be read in unison however. The text goes as follows:

We are The Village!

We are a community committed to loving God and loving one another.

We are Trinity people.

We believe in Father, Son, and Spirit. We are caught in a downpour of God’s love that floods our souls and flows to a thirsty world.

We are Emmanuel people.

We believe God was, is, and forever will be with us. Nothing we do can ever earn or ever separate us from God’s love.

We are Incarnation people.

We believe that through Jesus, God got his hands dirty. He lived among us and showed us what we can become and still lives today in the hearts of all who believe.

We are Kingdom people.

We believe that Jesus calls us to live a different kind of life than what this world calls “normal”. Let your Kingdom come!

We are Resurrection people.

We believe Jesus suffered unjustly and died a tragic death… but on third day he rose again! Humanity’s worst couldn’t conquer Heaven’s best!

We are Spirit-led people.

We believe God’s Spirit is moving in our midst and we seek to respond.

We are L.U.P.E. people

We love one another because God first loved us.

We understand God better by getting to know one another.

We pray for God’s peace to reign in our lives and our world.

We encourage one another to be all God made us to be.

We are The Village!

Everyone is welcome here. So, grab a latte; share your story; share your gifts; or simply rest in God’s love.

Come Lord Jesus, come!