December 16, 2017

Slow Church Week 4: The Overflowing Church

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Slow Church Week 4
The Overflowing Church

Love is never abstract. It does not adhere to the universe or the planet or the nation or the institution or the profession, but to the singular sparrows of the street, the lilies of the field, “the least of these my brethren.”

– Wendell Berry
What Are People For?

* * *

I walked around the small sanctuary. The concrete floor was bare and dusty. Plain wooden beams and posts held up a metal roof overhead. The seats were simple metal folding chairs. Windows of plain glass had been propped open to let the cooling breezes flow through the room. In front, a handmade wooden lectern marked with a cross stood on a slightly raised platform. On the floor before the lectern sat a large wicker basket. When I inquired about it, my host said that this was where people brought food, clothing, small goods, money, and other belongings to the services to share with “the poor.” The other night a neighbor who’d had a little too much to drink brought a live chicken and tried to put it in the basket. That brought some enthusiasm into the meeting!

The room probably held thirty or forty people, more if they stood in the doorways or sat on the window sills, which they were prone to do if outsiders like me were visiting. My host let me wander while he attended to other matters, and I walked over to a wall where a half dozen pictures were displayed on a cork board. Even with my poor comprehension of Portugese I could see immediately that this was the congregation’s missionary display. I was standing in the humble meeting place of a young church plant in one of the poorest villages in that region of Brazil — and they were already supporting six missionaries! They were also providing support so that a pastor might teach them. And each week they were bringing offerings of money and goods to their worship gatherings to share with “the poor.”

Tears welled up in my eyes. There is nothing so beautiful, so Christlike as grateful, generous love.

In Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus, Chris Smith and John Pattison call this kind of trust in God’s provision, this spirit of gratitude, this overflowing practice of hospitality and generosity the economy of the Slow Church perspective. In an age when many churches are run like businesses in a competitive marketplace, operating with an illusion of scarcity that generates constant anxiety about what we must do to survive and grow in the future, the authors instead call us to form congregations that simply trust in the abundance of God and learn to live with open hands toward one another and our neighbors.

The whole congregation of believers was united as one—one heart, one mind! They didn’t even claim ownership of their own possessions. No one said, “That’s mine; you can’t have it.” They shared everything. The apostles gave powerful witness to the resurrection of the Master Jesus, and grace was on all of them.

And so it turned out that not a person among them was needy. Those who owned fields or houses sold them and brought the price of the sale to the apostles and made an offering of it. The apostles then distributed it according to each person’s need.

– Acts 4:32-35, MSG

“Grace was on all of them” — and therefore they found themselves grateful. Out of that they became generous, hospitable, open-handed, kind, caring, and sacrificial in their love for others. Living in the abundance of God in Christ, they didn’t cling to anything but the opportunity to bless and help others.

I’m not going to analyze this section of the book or pontificate on its message. I believe its message is better “felt” than “tell’t.”

To do that, I would like to introduce you to another church, one here in the U.S. that exemplifies the same spirit as that little Brazilian congregation I described above. Chris Smith’s home church is Englewood Christian Church, here in Indianapolis. The following excerpt about the congregation is from an article by Robert King in the Indianapolis Star (Dec. 25, 2013) called, “Englewood Christian Church, by being a good neighbor first, tries to live its faith.”

DCF 1.0Englewood looks at its mission as one of almost communal living with its surroundings. The church’s focus has morphed into improving neighborhood quality of life — providing housing, offering quality child care, creating jobs. . . .

. . . Where Englewood is right now is more firmly tied than ever before to the Near Eastside, an area that has been decimated by factory closings in the past 40 years and the abandoned houses that followed, a place where many residents still struggle to get by in an area where crime is always a looming concern.

Over the past 15 years, Englewood — through a nonprofit community development corporation it created — has fully remodeled 40 homes in the neighborhood and repaired an additional 200. Much of the work early on was aimed at struggling church members. Over time, that expanded to others from its neighborhood.

In 1996, the church expanded its humble preschool into what has become one of the highest-rated child cares in the city, with 75 children from diverse economic backgrounds and plans to grow further. Despite the light regulation of ministry child cares, DayStar Child Care is striving to surpass the standards set for fully licensed day cares.

In 2012, the church took the gift of a nearby building that was once Indianapolis Public School 3. Englewood converted it into a 32-unit apartment building that now serves an eclectic mix of residents: a Butler University professor, a Lilly engineer and others who pay market rates, but also low-income people who pay below market rents, and people in 10 other units whose last home was on the streets.

Along the way, Englewood has tried to breathe economic vitality into the Near Eastside and create jobs. It was heavily involved in getting the Pogue’s Run Grocer food co-op off the ground on East 10th Street, and bought and restored a vacant building across the street that it now leases to Little Green Bean Boutique. It has begun to do similar work on East Washington Street, funding micro-businesses such as the Tlaolli tamale shop and planning a bigger project that would include a senior living facility, a charter school and new storefronts.

Friends, not saviors
Yet, to highlight these bullet points of success makes leaders and church members at Englewood a bit uncomfortable. They point to other community organizations on the Near Eastside that were part of the effort. Mostly, they don’t want to be seen as saviors on a white horse. They much prefer to be thought of as the helpful neighbors next door.

“There are plenty of things wrong with our neighborhood,” said Chris Smith, who moved into the Englewood neighborhood in 2004 to be closer to the church and edits the church’s quarterly book review. “But we’re not here to save it. We are here to be friends.”

That’s true in a very literal sense. Of the 180 or so people who attend services weekly, church leaders estimate 75 percent live in the Englewood neighborhood, most within a couple of blocks of the church.

Some are church members who needed decent housing and were helped into nearby homes or the apartment building. Others, maybe 15 to 20, were suburbanites who intentionally moved within a couple of blocks of the church to build a critical mass of church members in what has become, essentially, a Protestant parish on the Near Eastside.

But the most common analogy is appropriate to the Christmas story, which speaks to God becoming man and entering the world. One passage from the Bible says: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.”

The Englewood translation, as proclaimed from a sign above the desk of church secretary Loretta Benjamin, states: “And the Word became flesh, and moved into the neighborhood.”

“I believe the church is Jesus in the flesh in the neighborhood,” Benjamin said. “We are the hands and feet and the voice of Jesus… in the neighborhood. That’s our mission.”

I encourage you to click on the link above and read more about this congregation, and especially some of the specific stories of people they have loved and been loved by over the years. You’ll learn a lot about one particular parcel of soil out of which this whole thing called “Slow Church” has grown. You’ll be impressed by the grace of God at work, and how it overflows through the grateful living of Englewood’s members.

And please take note, this is a church with 180 members in the inner city, not a megachurch, not a rich church. It is God’s abundance to which they testify, and by which some pretty amazing work has been done for God’s glory and the good of others.

What Englewood is doing, and what Smith and Pattison are encouraging our churches to do is:

  • To “embody the abundance of God’s kingdom in our local congregations” (p. 168).
  • To practice gratitude (not just “give thanks”) by looking at the world through the eyes of God’s abundant grace and seeking to make the most of the gifts that are present and available all around us, though they may be disguised and we find it hard to recognize them.
  • To build communities characterized primarily by belonging and sharing (Jean Vanier). To practice a “hospitality” that is not the modern, “McDonaldized” industry version, which is transactional and impersonal (though made to feel as personal as possible). Rather, it means truly becoming a neighbor, sharing a common life, welcoming others to sit down with you at a real table and hearing each others’ stories, rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep.

* * *

Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus
C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison
IVP Books (May 6, 2014)

Previous posts:

Part One: The Convivial Church

Part Two: The Neighborhood Church

Part Three: The Contemplative Church

Comments

  1. Robert F says:

    My wife has told me the story of how, when she was single before we met, she used to give in the way you describe in the post, although she was barely getting by herself and had many debts. The Christian teaching she had been taught told her to give way beyond the point where it hurt, and God would meet her needs; and, if it seemed that God was not meeting her needs, she should give more.

    She did this for several years. When we met, at a time when I had a little money in the bank and she had little of anything, no savings, no health insurance, although she did have unmanageable debts, I routinely loaned her money to help her meet her month to month living expenses, though she frankly told me she didn’t know when, or if she would ever be able to repay me.

    As it turns out, we got married during this time, and so the whole question of repayment evaporated. But we have avoided practicing the kind of giving that she had been doing, because her experience showed us that it was not rooted in reality, nor do we believe it’s what God wants of us.

    Were the people you talk about, CM, practicing giving with the same expectations my wife had? And another question you probably can’t answer: how many gave so much of the little they had that they destroyed the flimsy foundation that had supported their own meager livelihoods, and were forever unable to recover? And was the church there for these people when this happened?

    • Robert F says:

      Oh, and there were those Christians who had the unmitigated gall to tell my wife that she wasn’t giving with the right attitude, and that’s why God was not taking care of her in her need. I challenge anyone in need, if they believe in God, not to look to God in hope that he will support them. I really don’t believe anyone can, and to guilt someone for doing this is inexcusable, especially when they are giving far more of themselves than are those who criticize their “insufficient faith.”

      • All I can say is that for every virtue, there is a dark side too. I’m sure there are sad stories at Englewood too, and I don’t mean to make them or anyone else out to be people who have “arrived.” Chris would be the first to agree with this.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > and that’s why God was not taking care of her in her need

        But that is not the attitude displayed by this church [at least not in the text here]. They don’t say “God will attend to your need”, they say “we will attend to your need”.

        > I challenge anyone in need, if they believe in God, not to look to
        > God in hope that he will support them

        Agree, 110%. I like the quote: “That’s a long wait for a train that don’t come.” Which has become my, perhaps annoying at times, response to anyone who proposes god-will-provide. He won’t. And I’ve got the photos to prove it.

        > especially when they are giving far more of themselves
        > than are those who criticize their “insufficient faith.”

        I with you. But lets skip the rank-ordering of both faith and giving. That gets even uglier than when people try to rank-order their suffering. Giving good, faith good, suffering bad. Next.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > how many gave so much of the little they had that they destroyed the flimsy
      > foundation that had supported their own meager livelihoods, and were forever
      > unable to recover? And was the church there for these people when this
      > happened?

      These are legitimate concerns; especially in America, which is proportionally more expensive than many places. It is fair, I believe, to call-[a-bit]-foul the comparison of a community in a rural context[*1] in a developing country with an American [especially urban] congregation – this is a bit apples-n-oranges based on the economic context.

      But I’m not sure that is the point: the giving of the congregation. I think it is more about the participation of the congregation. And this congregation at least reads as being much more aware of the economic condition of their [note the possessive pronoun usage!] neighborhood than I believe you would find in more [neighborhoodless?] churches. Where I live there are several para-church organizations which do financial counseling, which is a huge gift to their communities. Realistic management of resources is an essential life skill – I’m convinced neighborliness encourages that; it is Wretched Urgency [usually focused on some eschatological event] which is what pressures people toward the self-destructive path [*2]. Much of what this church is talking about is almost Economic Development; that seems very counter to give-till-it-hurts. They rehabilitated houses – that can be a contribution of time, not money, and an opportunity for networking as well as acquiring skills. Participation can create opportunity [much more than giving can].

      [*1] To be completely fair – there are really very few “rural” communities in the 48 states. Many places claiming the title of “rural” are doing so based primarily on historical precedent. It is impossible in the 48 states, anywhere, to be more than 28 miles from a paved maintained road. Most of “rural” American is in truth exurban; for better or worse.
      [*2] Of course there is the risk of a culture of competitive-giving. But that exists in every human sub-culture group of any kind.

      • “Much of what this church is talking about is almost Economic Development; that seems very counter to give-till-it-hurts. They rehabilitated houses – that can be a contribution of time, not money, and an opportunity for networking as well as acquiring skills. Participation can create opportunity [much more than giving can].”

        You’re right Adam. One thing I didn’t mention from the book is that ECC has been very creative in finding ways to fund things apart from the offering plate. This frees people to “give” in a variety of other ways. The post and these chapters are about being generous and overflowing in more ways than financial giving alone.

      • Rick Ro. says:

        Adam, I like your “giving” vs. “participation” distinction.

  2. The temptation is always there to repristinate the church.

    To believe that earlier Christians, or Christians at ‘church X’ are somehow different, or better.

    We are all basically the same. Sinners, who are very mixed bags.

    • Radagast says:

      Agreed….

    • Rick Ro. says:

      Yes. It’s pretty much noted that the early church went off the rails rather quickly.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        That is the rub, isn’t it? Protestants in general, and Evangelicals in particular, subscribe to the notion that the early church is the ideal upon which the modern church should be modeled. Hence the interminable discussions of 1st century church structure, with the participants in the discussion invariably concluding that, mirabile dictu, said structure matches that of their own church, though not yours or mine.

        This is why people invariably get upset and go into full-blown rationalization mode when I point out that the very early church practiced communism. They assume I am arguing that their church should–must!–therefore be communist (which they also think means Marxist-Leninism, with gulags and collective farms and the like). This inference is dead wrong. I think the very early church communist structure probably lasted about a week and a half. Get past the first few chapters of Acts and there is no sign of it.

        The correct inference is that the early church experimented, and adapted to meet their particular needs. This has huge implications, and not merely for recondite discussions of deacons and elders and the like. Once you recognize that the New Testament isn’t a user manual for the one true way to run a church, but rather describes a bunch of sinners muddling through trying to do their best (just like today, on our good days) then you no longer get to use it as a tool to promote your particular hobby horse. Women keeping silent in church is a terrific example. I have no idea what circumstances led to that advice in 1 Timothy, but it is obvious from all those other women in leadership roles Paul kept mentioning favorably that this isn’t a general rule. People can only get away with using it that way by using the short-attention-span principle of proof texts (my proof texts can fit on a bumper sticker, while your argument requires longer to make, and involves nuance: hence I win. Yipee!) combined with the assumption that their proof texts can only represent universal truths.

        • Great point! Can I quote it for my Friday post?

          • Richard Hershberger says:

            [checks spelling and grammar of previous post: it could use a bit of editing, but is good enough for a blog comment] Sure! Happy to be of help. I expect a percentage of the royalties, of course…

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > Hence the interminable discussions of 1st century church structure,

          +1

        • “Protestants in general, and Evangelicals in particular, subscribe to the notion that the early church is the ideal upon which the modern church should be modeled.”

          I do not subscribe to this notion, but I do interpret the Book of Acts to say that there is a (very) general template of the church in its pristine, ideal state, and it is captured in the “summary” statements in places like Acts 2:42ff and Acts 4, which I quoted today.

          That does not mean they were sinless or perfect, or even that they were “doing it right.” It is just that at that moment grace was poured out at a new beginning point in redemptive history, revealing a new manifestation of God’s saving presence and and the character of the kingdom at that moment in time. Therefore, though we may seek to imitate aspects of the early apostolic church, we will never duplicate those days, nor should we think that is our task. We are to bear the “family image” revealed in this portrait of Spirit-filled congregational life, but it doesn’t mean there is a set of guidelines or a way to make this happen by organization or strategy.

          • Richard Hershberger says:

            “I do not subscribe to this notion,…”

            Sure, but you notoriously have gone soft, what with converting to Lutheranism. But seriously, there has always been a range of what taking the early church as the model means. The Lutheran answer during the Reformation era was to reject those elements of Catholicism judged contrary to scripture, while retaining the rest. Very generally speaking, the Reformed answer was to reject all elements of Catholicism except those judged mandated by scripture.

            “That does not mean they were sinless or perfect, …”

            In my previous comment I described Christians on our good days as “a bunch of sinners muddling through trying to do [our] best.” Some years ago I made a similar comment on a different forum, and was accused of attacking Christians. I have read (and written) innumerable dumb things on the internet over the years. Most are long gone from my mind. This one is so weird that it has stuck. Had I found a member of an antinomian sect? Or just someone unclear on the concept?

  3. Radagast says:

    I am still trying to digest this. I believe the jist of this is community. Now I know some places where people live are very isolated, folks don’t know their own neighbors. Sometimes church can fill that void, in fact it did years ago and especially before the Reformation. Church was the center of everything. But now you have so many churches. If each has their own community you then have all these isolated separate communities, each with expectations (especially if you are evangelical).

    I do community a bit different. First we have our neighborhood community, from different churches, different walks of life, pulling together when there is tragedy, celebrating when there’s a new life, or a wedding, or a new face (I live in a suburb of Pittsburgh). Next we have the Church community, with its worship, education, groups and some outreach. Then we have the school district community which I am involved in since my kids are in multiple schools and the sporting communities that go with it. With these communities there is overlap which is a good thing, people knowing people, helping people and staying connected in a human way (as opposed to twitter, facebook etc).

    Spending so much time in any one community, specifically in a church doing, doing, doing, may not be the best thing and may limit us to what else is out there. In the extreme, some church communities may not encourage interfacing with others who are not part of their community (like a YWAM community my wife’s cousin belonged to in Colorado 15 years ago).

    One other thing – when we talk about Acts, and how Christian communities interacted, sharing everything owned with one another etc, we don’t have a written record on how long that went on or how it eventually turned out. We do have a written record about the Pilgrims who landed in Massachusetts and tried this very same thing… and within a couple of years were on to systems that worked a lot better.

    My thoughts….

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > I do community a bit different. First we have our neighborhood community,

      In most places in America neighborhood community is quite rare. I’ve got no real numbers; but I’d be willing to wager it declines as you move from the east. Older historical communities are fortunate that they may inherit such structures. The mid-west – highly mobile during the industrialization and then de-industrialization era – is a neighborhood desert.

      > Next we have the Church community, with its worship, education,
      > groups and some outreach.

      One of the issues addressed by Place & Slow movements in general is the silo-ization of community. it leaves these communities, frequently, in isolation; this works against an increase degree of intimacy, and thus relationship and compassion. It limits the kinds of discussions that can [or do] happen.

      > Then we have the school district community which I am
      > involved in since my kids are in multiple schools and
      > the sporting communities that go with it.

      Schools come up a lot in Place discussions. They certainly create a community – but a limited one, and an inherently transient one. What about the people who have no children? Or whose children have moved on/out? This structure of a community excludes many many people who end up with no specific fit. And the schools can certainly benefit from the greater community; both through institutional philanthropy and individuals skills [carpenters, engineers, etc…]. Sometimes people, like me [an IT professional] working with a FIRST robotics team, have an in-road to that community. But otherwise childless people participating in the school community are frequently looked at with a queer eye.

      The goal of Place, and to a related extent Slow, philosophy is to encourage people to think of thier community more holistically. This is often expressed as the concept of “neighborhood”, the geographic place, and the people it encompasses.

      > With these communities there is overlap which is a good
      > thing, people knowing people, helping people and staying
      > connected in a human way (as opposed to twitter, facebook etc).

      Agree.

      > Spending so much time in any one community, specifically
      > in a church doing, doing, doing, may not be the best thing
      > and may limit us to what else is out there.

      This expresses one of the problems with silo-communities.

      > In the extreme, some church communities may not
      > encourage interfacing with others who are not part
      > of their community

      But that would be entirely counter to the notion of Place and/or Slow.

      > One other thing – when we talk about Acts, and how Christian
      > communities interacted, sharing everything owned with one
      > another etc, we don’t have a written record on how long that
      > went on

      Agree, but I think we do have a pretty good idea of “how long that went on”: not long. Personally I avoid reference to that passage as it tends to immediately get people’s political hackles up; and it is so vague and general that it doesn’t illustrate *much*. We don’t really know much at all about `early church` practices, procedures, etc… And it doesn’t much matter; now is not then, here is not there [yeah, yeah, people are always the same, sinners, blah blah woof woof, we know, still not helpful. Sorry, I’m really tired of that saw, dropped like a wise-bomb into conversations]. We do have the Scriptures, and each other.

      Note that CM cited the verse and immediately moved on.

      • Rick Ro. says:

        Radagast and Adam, I like what both of you have written here. To me, the sense of community gets at Adam’s earlier distinction between “giving” and “participation.” Participation results in a greater sense of community, perhaps, than just plain giving.

        I also like the silo-ization thoughts, as I see silo-ization as counter to participation. I’ve seen silo-ization occur in really weird ways. For example, when people become offended, they begin silo-ing and backing out of participation, or limit their participation to only those things they agree with 100%. One instance I’ve seen at our church is when there was a little tiff between participants (i.e. volunteers) in the way our Children’s Clothing Exchange was being managed. Next thing I know, the women who were doing the Tuesday shift backed out. So now we don’t run our Clothing Exchange on Tuesdays anymore. Community gets affected, participation gets affected, all because a ministry wasn’t being run exactly like a couple of people wanted it to be run.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      Radagast, some of what you’ve written reminds me of the recent iMonk discussion about “can we be too God-focused”. Like you say, spending too much time in one community (doing, doing, doing, all within a church’s walls) limits our interaction and usefulness elsewhere.

      • turnsalso says:

        The quote from Tito Colliander saying that a wheel suspended in midair cannot roll seems appropriate here.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      “One other thing – when we talk about Acts, and how Christian communities interacted, sharing everything owned with one another etc, we don’t have a written record on how long that went on or how it eventually turned out. We do have a written record about the Pilgrims who landed in Massachusetts and tried this very same thing… and within a couple of years were on to systems that worked a lot better.”

      As a point of information, the Hutterites have made it work for centuries, though not without stresses. So far as I know, they are the only group to succeed in this over the long haul, apart from self-selected celibate religious communities.

  4. The last place I served (lay capacity) was a church plant that died at age 18 years. We had many good qualities, including a desire to give back to the community and to be “missional.” We did many interesting, out-of-the-box be-good-neighbor things both locally and internationally with a sister church in the Dominican Republic. Now that our church has been dead for over a year, it is *these* things that former congregants *remember* about the character of the church and are grateful their time, sweat and money helped support.

    We died as a result of the usual kinds of self-inflicted wounds (some dysfunctional people in leadership), but we actually could have survived in a smaller setting and continued with the good things we were doing *except* for one thing. As an evangelical church plant from the 1990s, the pastor also had a mindset of growing into a large contemporary church. His eyes were bigger than his budget and we were saddled with a large rented space, a multiple-year lease and a rapacious landlord. When the congregation shrank somewhat, we could not make our enormous rent.

    This church tried to be both things—missional and a church-growth church. In our case the two things were incompatible. We were a *great* missional church and a lousy church-growth church. The scattered congregants predictably went in two directions—to missional churches or to the local big-box churches.

    I wonder whether there are churches that have managed both things. I wish we had just chosen missional. That’s what brought us life and purpose. The other was a false pipe dream.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      Thanks for sharing, Vera. I think a church “can” be both missional and chruch-growth, but I believe it takes a special kind of leader to pull it off, and some very wise leadership around him/her. And then, of course, there better be good systems in place for when the original pastor moves on…

      • I agree about the “special kind of leader.” Our pastor was a good planter but not good at senior pastoring when the church outgrew the planting phase. He couldn’t switch gears and had structured things so he stayed in control. There is always something to be said for planters who know they are planters and move on to do it again rather than try to stay the course as their church grows. Our pastor knew he didn’t have the preaching skills to provide a “good enough” Sunday experience in an evangelical church growth context, but rather than step down so the church could call someone who could preach, and move on to plant again, he just hung on. It was too bad.

        The one example I can think of, of a pastor who is good at both the missional and the growth is Mike Slaughter at Ginghamsburg in Ohio, one of the few very large UMCs out there. He’s been at it for a long time.

        • Rick Ro. says:

          -> “…so he stayed in control.”

          That’s what I guessed without you stating it. Hence, it takes a special kind of leader (one willing to not always be in control), and then wise leadership around him/her (not just bobble-headed “do whatever you want, pastor” types).

    • …were you a member of my previous church? This story sounds very familiar!

      One of the ironic things is that in the LCMS, the “missionals” ARE the church growth crowd. I find it interesting that in Evangelicalism they are separate entities. Somehow, in our ranks, the two ideas got conflated, as the antithesis to us repristinating “confessionals” who emphasize more traditional ways of doing church (which, ironically, is far more faithful to the mission of the church, imo). But I’d agree that church growth, generally, these days, is a pipe dream. Seeking to make your church bigger is a waste of time. Let us help our churches grow healthy, deeper, and more faithful, and leave the “results” in God’s hands.

  5. David Cornwell says:

    As Chaplain Mike says above, this message is better “felt” than “tell’t.” I had the privilege of attending the Slow Church Conference for three days a few weeks ago. This is the first conference of any type I have bothered to attend for many years.

    One of the reasons that it is difficult to “tell,” is that the truth embodied here is incarnational. One has to experience it, even for just a few hours, to understand. And then the understanding is still shallow.

    Someone asked the pastor to explain the process of decision making the church uses. He hesitated, and then spoke with great care, basically saying that the process is simple, yet perhaps complex, and beyond explanation.

    My overall feeling about the church, at the end of these wonderful few days, is that here is an “organic” example of the work of God’s Kingdom right here in our midst. Thus, again, the word “incarnational.”

    To arrive at this point has not been easy, for the church and the community are made up of gritty human beings, down to earth, and with all the tragedy, weaknesses, and sin of our humanity.

  6. I think this is closely tied to “theology of place”. There was an interesting article in WSJ recently that highlighted the church my sister attends in New Orleans – the pastor basically chucked the suburban model for a church intended to serve its neighborhood. It mentioned that when someone visits from the other side of town, the pastor asks them if they have tried a church closer to home.

    I thing there has to be an overlap of place (the physical space in which we live and do church) and theology for this to work, and it definitely requires intentionality on the part of leaders.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > I think this is closely tied to “theology of place”.

      Agree.

      > the pastor basically chucked the suburban model for a
      > church intended to serve its neighborhood.

      I would suggest the terminology of “commuter model” over “suburban model”.

      It isn’t really about suburbs. Suburbanism played a big role in establishing placelessness in America, but they are here now, and they can become places [it may be hard – economically, due to low density – but many places have done it]. It would be beautiful if churches could play a role in that [participate] rather than their traditional role as bastions of NIMBYism. I know that would do a lot for the standing of churches in the eyes of many people; particularly a lot of Millenials.

      > It mentioned that when someone visits from the other
      > side of town, the pastor asks them if they have tried
      > a church closer to home.

      +1

      > I thing there has to be an overlap of place (the physical
      > space in which we live and do church) and theology for this
      > to work,

      Sharing lives is a whole lot easier when you don’t have to travel to do it. There is a lot of practicality to Place thinking.

      • Yes, commuter model. I used “suburban” because the church is in uptown NOLA, and the predominant model is to move the (large) churches out to the suburbs. This is largely a function of available space – if you want to be big, you have to move out.

      • cermak_rd says:

        +1 on the concept of suburbs being places. I live in a WWI era suburb (note that’s I as in Great War). It is really just like a city neighborhood (actually a couple of them). Also at 50000+ citizens and a population density of 14,527.4 per square mile (greater than the city of Chicago, in fact). Other suburbs like this in my area are Cicero, Oak Park, and Evanston (to the north). When people mention suburbs they always seem to be referencing the post-WWII era suburbs, which are much different from the earlier inner ring suburbs.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > I live in a WWI era suburb (note that’s I as in Great War).
          > It is really just like a city neighborhood

          Yep. I live in, what was in WWI, a suburb [in a house built in the very late 1800s]. But the neighborhood filled in after WWII and then the city rapidly pushed out. It is now an enclave of single-family housing units completely encircled by various other types of development; the area is a river valley, so the topography made the rings grow oddly. So it isn’t a suburb anymore. It is now an urban neighborhood that just happens to be the cities density donut-hole. It turns out to be an excellent place to live.

          > Also at 50000+ citizens and a population density of
          > 14,527.4 per square mile (greater than the city of
          > Chicago, in fact).

          A lot of people would argue that once you pass ~5,000 souls per square mile you aren’t a suburb; as you aren’t sub-urban. You can’t get to that density with primarily single-family housing units; the sacredness of single-family units and the desire to protect/isolate those units drove WWII and subsequent development.

          > When people mention suburbs they always seem to be
          > referencing the post-WWII era suburbs, which are
          > much different from the earlier inner ring suburbs.

          Yes, that is almost always what they mean, and they have a point. WWI vintage suburbs inherit much of the same infrastructural techniques [bones] of originally urban spaces; sometimes they get called “streetcar suburbs”; they have street grids, etc… WWII suburbs are radically different types of structures.

  7. David Cornwell says:

    Exactly!

    • David Cornwell says:

      This is in reply to Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist above, concerning “theology of place.”

  8. This is a tough one for me because I don’t do anything at all to help my community besides giving money. I used to be at it 8 days, make that 9, a week but after returning to church from a 14 year hiatus I looked for the back row with the most shadows. I feared being bowled over by the giant bowling ball of church service and the burnout that came with it before. I’m still in that space after 14 years returned and don’t know if it’s hesitance or sloth or both, but I continue to be very reticent. I am married this time around and do own a business which requires enormous amounts of time so I am not beating myself up for sitting around doing nothing but the subject always pokes at me as I know at some point I need to become engaged in some way. I tried to join the prison ministry at church a couple of years back and they never got back to me after a couple of calls and an email. Frankly, I was relieved.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      An observation that I find very helpful is straight from Paul: we each have our own gifts. A church needs the volunteers putting in the hours, but it needs other gifts as well. Yes, this includes money. I used to feel guilty if what I was doing doesn’t feel sufficiently toilsome. If the task matched too well with my aptitudes and interests and abilities, it didn’t seem like work. I sought out jobs I wasn’t good at, and that I hated. Then one day a member commented on how grateful he was that I was doing that job I liked, because he knew he would hate every minute of it. That’s when it dawned on me that this wasn’t a competition to see who could carry the heavier burden. Figure out what gifts you have, and give them cheerfully.

      That being said, there are jobs that need to be done and which no one really wants to do. If the church can’t afford a janitor, those bathrooms still need to be cleaned. Make it a party. When I was a kid, the men’s group at my Dad’s church met one Saturday a month and did a good cleaning, including the bathrooms. In retrospect I suspect that beer and pizza might have been involved as well.

      Now if someone can just figure out how to make council meetings fun…

      • Thank you for your very kind and funny thoughts. Much appreciated and inspiring.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        I believe a meme of Slow is that participation doesn’t have to be anything formal. To some degree just going for a walk is participatory, or going to the park. This seems an especially important form of participation if your live is otherwise harried or stressful. Something ‘important’ might come of that, it probably won’t, that’s ok.

  9. This is a tough one for me because I don’t do anything at all to help my community besides giving money. I used to be at it 8 days, make that 9, a week but after returning to church from a 14 year hiatus I looked for the back row with the most shadows. I feared being bowled over by the giant bowling ball of church service and the burnout that came with it before. I’m still in that space after 14 years returned and don’t know if it’s hesitance or sloth or both, but I continue to be very reticent. I am married this time around and do own a business which requires enormous amounts of time so I am not beating myself up for sitting around doing nothing but the subject always pokes at me as I know at some point I need to become engaged in some way. I tried to join the prison ministry at church a couple of years back and they never got back to me after a couple of calls and an email. Frankly, I was relieved…

  10. Danielle says:

    I don’t have any particularly developed thoughts to add. And I am not familiar with the literature relating to “Place.” However, I just want to say that the question resonates with me immediately and strikes me as important.

    My husband and I (plus toddler now) have spent the last several years living in cities. I’m not sure that we’ve ever thought to articulate exactly why we made that choice. But I think it boils down wanting a connection to a place with a history, one represents collective endeavor. We’d both grown up in towns of varying sizes; we conceptualized the city to represent community, on a much bigger scale, sustaining more institutions and more spaces. On a more practical level, we are quiet introverts who work too much and drift toward self-isolation in places where people have their space atomized into “a place to sleep,” “a place to work” and a vast assortment of activities, all in different places. In such an environment we’re apt to sleep and work, then be too tired to drive everywhere else. By comparison, city centers and neighborhoods contain a lot of shared space. Our neighborhood is made up mainly of rowhouses about 1200 square feet, and these house open up onto a stoop or very small front yard in which you are immediately visible to your neighbors and they to you. There is a culture of hanging out in this semi-public space, and the expectation is that if you are there, you should want to be friendly. (I spent last weekend bagging up lettuce, of which I had grown far too much, and handing it off people walking by; the simple reason for this was not profound: I had lettuce, and there were people 5 feet from me.) The neighborhood has a flourishing “main street” (this is good: it didn’t always), and is in turn near other city neighborhoods and terribly far from city center. Consequently, much of what we want to do requires going outside, and if we’re outside, we’re in public. So the result of these factors is that I am not one bit anonymous; people in the neighborhood cross over one another’s lives all the time, because we’re literally in the same space. I love this: to me, it covers over a multitude of sins, of which our city has many.

    Before we settled down here (for a long time, I hope), we lived in a small city that was less bustling, but we were similarly dependent on public space. I used to spend inordinate amounts of time in a coffee shop finishing up my dissertation, and as a result developed friendships with neighbors that also spent time there. Very little linked us in background or employment: the space threw us together.

    The above is not an apology for living in any particular location (just what certain locations mean to me), and I’m not quite on topic of church. But it is a long way of place can be an important space in which we “share lives” [to quote Adam] and that the church can do that by being in communal space. I like the angle taken in the article and some of the comments, where we clarify that we’re not simply talking narrowly about charity toward others or service (although those are important), but “participation,” saying “I am here.”

    • Rick Ro. says:

      Good stuff, Danielle. Space is very important. I’ve been in coffee shops a couple times a week for the past 7 years working on my novel. Amazing the friendships that have popped up through that. Several folks were able to rejoice with me when I printed out my first complete draft just a couple weeks back.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > I printed out my first complete draft just a couple weeks back

        Congratulations.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > I spent last weekend bagging up lettuce

      Free lettuce! I would happen to wander past your house quite a lot.

      Sadly all the urban farmer people are in the neighborhood on the other side of “concrete canyon” [local parlance for the big ditch which slices through everything, it has an interstate sitting on the bottom of it]. Happily one of the local short-line railroads has said they will put a pedestrian passage through on a bit of their right-of-way; me crosses-fingers.

    • David Cornwell says:

      Danielle, very interesting and informative. Quiet introvert is analytical! I might know you!

  11. Christiane says:

    “To practice gratitude (not just “give thanks”) by looking at the world through the eyes of God’s abundant grace and seeking to make the most of the gifts that are present and available all around us, though they may be disguised and we find it hard to recognize them.”

    for some reason (maybe because my puppy is sleeping next to me), this makes me think of the ritual of the Blessing of the Animals in October, in honor of the feast of St. Francis
    . . . always such an abundance of joy ! and yes, the Church overflows with it, with the animals, with the children, with the owners and the priests and the neighbors who come to watch and even bring their own loved pets to be blessed . . . it is all good . . . all so very good

    “In His Hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind ”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rdd7sCFCkkA

  12. Re: church structure in Acts…

    I believe there is a reason that the people shared everything they had (supposed socialism/communism). It was all about to be destroyed. Jesus prophesied (and you have to rid your mind of typical American eschatology here) that Jerusalem was going to be surrounded, the temple was going to be destroyed, and that they were to flee to the mountains without as much as going in to grab one’s coat. And it was all going to happen within that generation. No doubt the apostles repeated this many times in their teachings.

    If everything you own will suddenly become worthless in a short time, you will use it now to the fullest. You will give it away. You will party like there’s no tomorrow. Those people were simply doing what made the most sense given their circumstances.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      There could be some truth to this. After all, here comes Hale-Bopp! And Howard Camping says the world’s gonna end!

  13. Faulty O-Ring says:

    So this Brazilian church is 6 supporting missionaries. Presumably, they would be trying to convert Catholics. If so, doesn’t this clash with the whole “slow church” theme? Wouldn’t they be better served by shunning the evangelicals and staying Catholic?