Wanted: Those willing to bend the rules, live outside the walls, hack the canons and show the church a new way forward.
I stood outside in the vacant abandoned lot at the corner of Central Ave. and West Broad, where St. John’s, Franklinton, hosts Street Church. As worship was about to begin a congregant doubled over in pain and had trouble standing in the circle, even with her walker. At this time, two of our street church members walked across the lot to West Broad and tipped over a newspaper stand. Picking it up, they carried it back towards the circle. People started to mutter, wondering if they were stealing it, when they took it over to the congregant and set it behind her on its side, giving her a place to sit in this sea of asphalt. The perfect pew for street church.
I’m not sure if I’ve seen a more fitting picture of what’s needed in the church today. People willing to break the rules and imagine new possibilities to make room for someone that couldn’t otherwise participate in the community.
While meeting with Jonny Baker of the Church Mission Society in Oxford, he labeled these folks Path Finding Dissenters. Those willing to bend the rules, live outside the walls, hack the canons and show the church a new way forward.
We visited three Fresh Expressions of faith in the UK that were getting on with path finding, and creating new avenues for people to engage in Christian community. Moot, located in financial district of London literally turned the pews of St. Mary Aldermary Anglican Church around. A lot has changed in London in the 900 years since St. Mary Aldermary was built and Moot, an intentional community now guiding the church, wasn’t blind to the changes. Their location in the financial district means many people are present in the neighborhood from Monday through Friday, but no longer on Sunday. Moot opened its doors to the white-collar community by facing the pews at one another, creating a café style space where anyone could enter and share in community over a packed or purchased lunch or a cup of coffee from the café stand. Regular prayer, Taizé chants, mediation sessions and yoga litter the Monday to Friday schedule as the side chapel remains quiet and a place for reflection and refreshment in the middle of a busy workday. Moot has become the church the community needs, instead of forcing the parish to attend to its schedules, traditions and desires.
Kahaila Café began its Fresh Expression ministry as a café with a conscience. All profits from the café are poured into supporting local charities, which holds great appeal in the young hipster neighborhood of Brick Lane that longs for value in its purchases. The walls are open for local artists to display and sell their work. As community began to form in conversations in the café and partnerships emerged with local arts groups and charities, a church began to meet on Wednesday evenings in the café itself. The commitment to social good, the arts and the community created around coffee led to the formation of a worshipping group. The community that formed was able to name the further need for job training and employment opportunities for socially and economically disadvantaged women, and has started Luminary Bakery – which offers courses, work experience and employment as bakers, providing a new way forward in life for the women involved. The shared space of Kahaila Café has become both invitational and generative.
Don’t Forget Your Cornflakes! No really, don’t forget your cornflakes. This innovative family service is held at All Hallows in Lady Bay, Nottingham. It is the church’s second service and is designed as a Bring & Share service. Families are invited to bring and share their breakfast with one another during a playful and engaging worship service designed for the participation of the entire family. Simple prayers, interactive songs and sermons bring the Gospel to life and create accessibility for families to enter together into worship. The Rev. Mark and Barbara Rodel model participatory leadership beyond the liturgical form of the service. They and a team of five seminarians share in the leadership of the church. The seminarians and their families live in the parish while in the formation process. They have created an intentional community that meets together and walks the street, inviting young families that live in the neighborhood to visit All Hallows to experience the good news of Jesus in a new way.
I wonder how we can reimagine the use of our buildings, church planting, and our liturgy here in the Diocese of Southern Ohio to create avenues for those outside of our circle to discover our God of love? May we make room for the Path Finding Dissenters in our communities whose imagination might just be our saving grace.
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Jed Dearing is the director of the Confluence Year, and a member of the Franklinton community. He is gentle in manner, kindly in spirit, and ferociously competitive when it comes to games. He has a tremendous gift for relationship and is a person of great thoughtfulness and intelligence. He also likes bourbon. Contact Jed at email@example.com or follow his blog posts at praxiscommunities.org.