Real church

real church
 
I stood outside the basement fellowship room of New Hope Church in Lansing, Illinois, talking to Pastor Ildefonso Torres. He was telling me stories of people finding new life at New Hope. Stories that even he, after a lifetime of ministry service, could do little more than shake his head and smile at.

The feeling I got was, “This is really church.”

For example, Pastor Torres told me about a financially destitute couple attending Bible studies at churches all over town—not just at New Hope, but at Living Word, and First Reformed, and one or two other churches in Lansing. “This lady is so hungry for the Word,” he said, “we don’t have enough for her. She has to go all over!”

He mentioned a woman who came to New Hope after moving to the neighborhood (from Benin, Africa!). The house she and her family moved into was one she had seen in a dream. She didn’t know at the time that this house was in the ministry area of New Hope Church, but she received three invitations on her doorknob, left by members of New Hope’s “Walkers Ministry.” The third one she accepted, and she attended church for the first time on Easter Sunday last year. Today she’s a member. When she professed her new faith in front of the congregation, she told them, “Finally, I have found my home.”

According to Pastor Torres, each of these stories is “just the beginning of a long journey. I could write 10 pages with all the blessings, opportunities, and challenges that these families bring to our church. God is teaching us some things about reaching out to our community. Blessings through the shaking of our comfortable lives. Sometimes it gets very messy.”

New Hope states their mission this way: “To bring a diverse community into a growing relationship with God and one another.” Diversity. Community. Growth. Messiness. Now that’s real church!

 

Related post: When Christians and nonChristians Collide

 

What we’ve learned about “race”
so far

Living Springs hosted a video/discussion series, “Race: The Power of An Illusion,” in three parts—January, February, and March 2010.

Last month the Building Bridges ministry of my church hosted a video/discussion event, using Episode 2 of Race: The Power of An Illusion. Participants were invited to take a survey about the experience. Some of their comments were revealing:

In response to some of the factual information shared, some of my tablemates stated, “Wow, I didn’t know that!” I think that statement is an excellent case in point of why information/ discussions such as these should happen and be shared among different “people groups.”

It’s true—you don’t know what you don’t know, until you put yourself in a situation where you can learn. I appreciate people’s willingness to keep learning.

Nothing can be solved with secular social institutions. Apart from Jesus Christ we are hopeless. Our only hope for unity is in the body of Christ. Therefore, it is the church that needs to step up and get involved. Only God’s truth can bring clear thinking, right wrongs and bring forgiveness.

I’ve heard other people voice similar opinions, that all the “sensitivity training” and “diversity training” they’ve gone through at school or in the workplace has accomplished nothing, that programs won’t work unless there’s a spiritual element. What do you think? It sounds a little closed-minded, but could it be true?

I believe that this is the way to reconciling—one-on-one discussions and developing relationships.

I think the above comment says it all. Whoever wrote that is right on the mark.

Below is one of my favorite comments from the surveys. Especially in light of my recent experience at Classis!

I want you all to know that I appreciate the effort by Living Springs to face head-on the issue of being multi-cultural. I have had contact with Reformed churches that want to be multi-cultural but are not willing to be changed in any way. I pray I’m not offending with this next statement: I would have never known Living Springs was a Reformed church until I read some of your literature! Jesus is what I saw and felt. Being Reformed is important to you, but personal relationships and being Jesus-minded were what was pressed forward.

Amen! 

 

Random observations about Classis Illiana

Keep out
Last week I attended the March 11 meeting of the Illiana Classis as one of the Elder delegates from Living Springs church. This was only the second time I’ve been at a classis meeting, so I don’t have much of a frame of reference. I post these impressions here recognizing that my perspective may be completely off the mark. This is just how things looked to me, a relative outsider, based on what I heard and saw from other delegates.

1. We are more passionate about keeping people out of the Reformed Church than about welcoming them in.

  • We voted to “suspend our relationship” with churches who allow practicing homosexuals to serve as pastors.
  • We voted against adopting a confession that addresses unity, reconciliation, and justice.
  • We did manage to vote Yes to allow under-represented groups (women, ethnic minorities, and people under 30) to attend General Synod and vote on issues presented there, although the motion passed by only one vote.

I’m not saying whether these decisions were right or wrong; I’m just saying the overall impression they lead me to is that classis and church are a club that we have to keep the wrong people out of.

2. We don’t even realize our own hypocrisy.

For one thing, these votes came after a presentation by the “Multiplication Team,” whose mission is to plant 20 new churches in Classis Illiana by 2020. For another, all the recommendations we voted on were made by a Supervision Committee made up of white men over the age of 50, and no one found it inappropriate—or even ironic—to accept their recommendations, even after hearing directly from the people whose hurts we claim we want to heal.

3. It doesn’t seem to matter how we vote.

More than 30 years ago the big issue for this classis was whether to welcome women into church offices (deacon, elder, pastor). Somehow, that motion was passed in 1972. Yet last week, 30 years later, I’m pretty sure I was the only female delegate in the room. And maybe I was imagining it, but I sensed a certain coolness to my participation. I don’t think it was intentional, but I didn’t quite feel like I belonged. And honestly, that’s fine; I’m inclined to agree. I’m guessing that the black people in the room feel the same way, and I’m guessing that this is why we don’t have more diversity in our classis or more growth in our churches. We just don’t know how to make people feel welcome when they show up.

4. Reconciliation is possible, in spite of ourselves.

When someone suggested that we follow our vote against the Belhar Confession with a circle of prayer, I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to “sweep it under the Blood” and hold hands and agree that, after all, we’re united on the really important things. But I swallowed the lump in my throat and took my place in the circle. Honestly, many of the prayers sounded like heartfelt hypocrisy to me, but not all of them. And hearing mercy and hope from people in the circle who have endured more hypocrisy and hurt than I have—this reminded me to forgive. I haven’t yet reached a place where I feel all “Kum ba yah” inside, but I agree that it will be more helpful if I work to get there than if I refuse to even try, which was my first inclination.

This particularly conservative classis is on a multi-cultural journey, just like the rest of us. They may be moving slowly, but they are moving. Progress has been made, and I’m grateful for that.

If any of you readers have examples to share that do show some of the progress we’ve made, it would be helpful to me if you’d post them in the comments. For example, someone told me that night, “Well, the vote was 36-25. A decade ago it wouldn’t have been that close.” I don’t know how encouraged that makes you feel, but can you share any other evidence of progress?

Other posts about diversity:

Other posts about church:

Are you tired of talking about racism?

The Building Bridges team, co-led by Jamieson Clay and myself, hosted a video/discussion series using "Race: The Power of an Illusion" (California Newsreel).

“I am so tired of talking about race,” said Pastor Jason Perry to the other 40 people gathered at Living Springs last Saturday morning, “but I am committed to keep talking—that’s the sacrifice I’m willing to make—because it is, essentially, the message of the Gospel. We have been given a ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:17–19), and if we as a church cannot demonstrate that reconciliation, how will the world ever know?”

Those comments from Pastor Jason came toward the end of an hour of discussion about a 45-minute video we had just watched together, Episode 2 of Race: The Power of an Illusion. (See last week’s blog for more details.) And, actually, Pastor Jason had spent eight hours the previous day at a denominational meeting about diversity in the church. As a black pastor in a predominantly white denomination, he has every reason to feel tired.

But I’ve heard the same sentiment from white people at Living Springs, though for different reasons. “Why do we have to keep on talking about this?,” they wonder. “We’re already diverse. We already get it.”

So I appreciated Pastor Jason’s reminder that diversity is not just a social justice issue or a political issue. It’s a Kingdom issue. We are never finished with it. The people who “get it” need to keep sharing with the people who don’t, because there are always people who don’t, and even the ones who think they do, often don’t.

Sure it’s a sacrifice. Sometimes the conversation is tiresome, and sometimes hope is thin, but that only underscores the importance of being in community with each other—for we all get tired at different points along the way. When one is discouraged, another may be getting a second wind! (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

In case you weren’t at the event, the video below shows a few glimpses of the fellowship we shared:

What about you? Are you tired of talking about racism? Or would you be willing to engage in conversation like this?