Thursday, October 26, 2006

Introducing "Soul Soup"

Beginning, Sunday November 5th, Community of Grace will start "Soul Soup." We will have our usual worship service and then have soup made by our Cantor and Co-Pastor, Dan Adolphson. Drinks will be provided. The meal is free, but there is a suggested donation of $2 is asked to help defray the costs. Anyone is invited and you don't have to be a part of Community of Grace to join.

This is going to be a new tradition at CoG every first Sunday at least during the winter months. It will be a great way to fellowship with people and foster community, something that is an important value to our group.

This first "Soul Soup" will take place at Lake Harriet Christian Church instead of our usual location at Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer due to scheduling conflict. After that, it will be held at LCCR.

So, if you live in the Twin Cities area and would like a free or incredibly cheap meal, stop on by. If you'd like more information about "Soul Soup," please contact Dan Adolphson at

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Sunday Sermon-October 22, 2006

It was a small night at church...just three people, myself, Dan, the Cantor and Daniel, my partner and accompanist. Oh well, where two or three are gathered...

Anyway, this is the sermon I shared with them. It's on my thoughts concerning the missional church. Enjoy.

“To Serve Man”
Mark 10:35-45
October 22, 2006
Community of Grace Christian Church
Minneapolis, MN

Most of you know that I love science fiction. I'm not that bad of sci-fi geek as to own a pair of Vulcan ears and head down to the nearest trekkie convention (though I have been to one), but I do love science fiction. What I love best is how this genre can take a current issue and set in another time or place. Star Trek has done that fairly well. The original series dealt with issues such as war and race relations, while the more current versions dealt with issues like rape and war crimes.

Another series that did this well was the Twilight Zone. Hosted by Rod Serling, this series tackled this issues of its time in the late 50s and early 60s. The stories still hold up to this day. One episode that I remember (and you probably do as well) is one where Earth is visited by Aliens who seem to come in peace. The offer to help the planet and they do. In exchange, people from earth end up making reciprocal visits to the alien planet. When the aliens first arrive, a book is left behind and a few people from the government try to translate it. They are able to get as far as the title, which is: To Serve Man. As time goes on, one of the translators is getting ready to visit the alien planet. As he approaches the spaceship, his assistant runs to the ship warning the translator to not board the ship. As she is prevented from reaching her comrade by an alien, she screams “IT'S A COOKBOOK!”

We learn that being served has more than one meaning.

Well, this week was not an easy week for me. Being a new church pastor means dealing with a roller coaster of emotions, and this week it seemed like everything was going downhill. In some conversations with Dan, we both wondered if this congregation could survive. We were tired, frustrated and feeling emotionally and in some cases, physically spent. There were a lot of questions about what we were doing and if it was of any value. Maybe it was time to give up.

It was at that time that I did some thinking and I started to wonder what would happen if we thought about this church differently. What if we decided to really, and I mean really, not focus on how many people are in the seats, but focused on the church that we are? What if we focused on being a community, a missional community, one that's very nature is to try to be like Jesus and serve the world (but not for dinner)?

You see, I think part of our problem is that we have been trying to create something that brings people into the pews. So we have moved to certain locations, tried innovative worship services, shouted to the rooftops that we are welcoming of gays and lesbians and even have thought about trying to meet at different times in order to get people interested, and people aren't interested and we get upset and frustrated-or I should say- I get upset and frustrated.

I'm beginning to think that I was on the wrong track. What we have been trying to do is create a church that I think would cater to the prevailing culture, I don't want to call it “American” because it's more than our native culture, but I will call it a culture that tends to view things as commodities or consumers. In a way, we have been marketing ourselves to the wider culture and they have passed us by. Now there are some churches that do well in marketing to the wider culture and they pack them in. But I tend to think that their worship services are more productions that one could find at the Ordway Theatre.

Is the purpose of the church to be another consumer item that is made attractive in order to buy? Now, I have no problems with being a consumer or with capitalism or anything, but I don't think that as follower of Christ we are called to be another shiny item to be bought and sold like a Lexus.

So what should Community of Grace strive for? If trying to have nice worship services and if I do say so myself, nice website, is not what church is all about, then what is it?

I think the answer lies in today's gospel. Two of Jesus' disciples came up to Jesus and asked for the best seats next to Jesus. Jesus basically tells them that following Jesus means that you probably won't be getting the best places in society. When the rest of the apostles hear about this, they are furious at James and John. Jesus then tells them that unlike the Gentiles who tend to fight for being number one, anyone who follows him must be a servant to his brothers and sisters.

That, my friends, is what we should strive for: to be a community of faith where mission to the world, service, is not just a nice thing, but who we are. It is about following Jesus gracefully, and trying to live like Jesus. Community of Grace needs to be a missional church.

So, what does that entail? I'm still sorting this out, but a few things:

First, we have to be a community. That means that we have to be a place where we are known to each other. So much of our modern culture is so atomized, where we live lives anonymously, disconected from each other. There are many people who attend churches, come in for worship and leave without meeting another soul. That is not what church should be about. Church should be a place where we are known and where relationships are made as we seek to serve Christ and our brothers and sisters.

Second, we have to be a praying community. I am thankful to see our sisters at Lake Harriet Christian who meeting weekly for prayer. If we are engaged in mission, then we need to be more willing to “get online” with the one who sustains us. Praying isn't magic, but it will keep us grounded in God. I am proposing we consider meeting for prayer every other week or at least monthly. Prayer is a good way of sharing each other's burdens and the burdens of the world.

Third, we need to be a missional community. Mission means being Christ to the outside world. When Christ ended his earthly ministry, he told his followers to go into all the world preaching and teaching to obey Jesus' teachings. We need to be about inviting people, not just to church, but to journey with us and find out about what it means to follow Jesus. We need to go and do mission projects, not because they are nice, but because we are called to feed the hungry and care for the widow and the orphan. I have to believe there are many people who long to hear the liberating message of Jesus. We need to be willing to share that word and then back it up by living a Christ-like life.

Fourth, we need to be a horizontal community. You know, when we started the every week worship services, we did with an emphasis on not wearing the ministers out. But what we have done, is really de-emphasize the minister and preaching. And that's a good thing. In most churches the highlight of the service is what I'm doing now-the sermon. That is the staple of Protestant worship. I still think it has a role, but we worship God in so many ways beyond what I say. We worship when have our contemplative services and when Dan leads us in his music based services. The other thing that churches do is look at people like me, ministers, as the spiritual experts. It creates a top down structure, where the pastor is the holy person who does all that holy stuff for us. But I think that in a missional church, the pastor is more of a facilitator than some kind of expert. Yes, he or she should be trained, but not as an expert, but a guide.

On a related note, I am very thankful for Dan and Daniel. When we started, I decided to call Dan a Cantor instead of Music Director. I thought it was a cool old church word and nice than Music Director. But in doing some research, Dan realized that a Cantor is a minister in their own right. What we were doing is emphasizing that music is an equal in worship, not just a nice side note before the pastor speaks. A missional community sees every one as an intregal part of the community and no one is more important than others.

Finally, we need to be a disagreeing yet united community. Let me explain. One of the wonderful thing about being a Disciple is that we are a very broad community. Because we are non creedal, and because we believe everyone must study the Scriptures for themselves, we have diverse opinions. Some of us are Trinitarians, some of us are more Unitarian. We don't see things the same way on a host of issues. And you know what? That's okay! We are united in Christ and that's more enough. To be a community doesn't mean we agree on everything. We might read the same Bible and have different views on war or tax policy, but that's okay.

There's a lot more to talk about, but we can get to that later. Community of Grace is sticking around and I think it will grow. But it will grow because of God's work, not ours. Our job is to try to follow Christ teachings and be Christ to the world.

To serve man and God. That's what it's all about. And not with fava beans and nice bottle of Cianti.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Church Plants and Gays, Part One

Community of Grace started from the get go as an open and affirming church, meaning we openly welcome gays and lesbians. Well, you'd think that would have made some people take notice, but it didn't.

It hasn't been a total failing. We have one person who is a vital part of the church that came because CoG was a welcoming place. But as for others, it is hard to get them to come to church. I'm beginning to think that bad publicity is much more effective than good publicity. Many gays and lesbians have had bad experiences in church and therefore see all churches as somehow suspect.

A lot of the people that Dan and I know just don't seem interested. However, they will attend "showtunes" at a local gay bar in Minneapolis. I've been there myself after service a few times and it is fun. A friend of mine looks for video clips from movies and television and you see a crowd of gay men singing a long. There is a gang of people that always attends and finds some sense of community there.

Of course, for a population that has been beaten down like gay men, it's easy to find solace in old movies and broadway tunes. I can totally understand the popularity of this event.

My partner in crime, Dan, thinks we should hold service earlier to allow those who want to go to showtunes a chance to worship and then go. I hesitate, because we could do that and not have anyone showing up. I tend to think this issue is deeper than just the time frame and it will take a lot more than offering an easier time to entice people to church.

There is an old saying that Christ has no hand and feet but ours. Well, if you see those hands and feet, not to mention mouths, saying that you aren't welcomed at church because of your sexuality and even says you are going to hell because of it, well, you have basically said Christ thinks the same way.

Only, Jesus doesn't. The hard part is convincing my friends.

My friend Jim is a part of this church because it welcomes him. My guess is that he doesn't have as much baggage about the church and saw more about God than what he viewed from the pulpit. I wonder if there are others like Jim out there and even moreso, how do you persuade those whose hearts are more hardened towards the church.

More on this later...

Friday, October 20, 2006

Making a Difference

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!’

-Matthew 13:1-9

For some reason, I felt the need to watch the ending of "It's a Wonderful Life," and lo and behold, it was on You Tube.

At some level, regarding Community of Grace, I'd love that the ending of that movie would happen to us. Just when things seem bleak, people would rush in and save the day. I would love if that happened, but in some way, that's only a part of the story.

As we all know, this story is about George Bates, a man with a good heart that kept getting slammed by the world. At some point he wishes he wasn't born and an angel gives him his wish: he gets to see a world where he never existed and what a bleak world it was.

The moral of the story: that even if we think we are insignificant, we are the thread that can determine the fate of others.

At some level, I tend to think that the congregation has been a failure and I've also wondered about my own talents and abilities. But I also tend to think about the impact we have made. We made a difference to Jim, the guy who has been a faithful attender. He was estranged from the church because of his sexuality and now he has a place. And then I think of the fact that Dan and I were able to minister to many of our friends after the suicide of someone we knew.

I think we have made a difference, whether we prosper in the next year or so, remains to be seen.

For some reason, (actually I know the reason) I am mindful of the parable of the sower. The Sower spreads the seeds among differing soils and the seed is affected by the ground. I think it fell on good soil with Jim. I just hope there are others who have a similar soil.

Even if the church closes, at least I can say I made some difference.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Church Planting and Mainline Church

I sometimes wonder if mainline Protestant churches really have a passion for new churches. I won't go into the nitty gritty of the situation with Community of Grace ,but I get this sense that for many people, a new church is not high on the priority list.

Case in point. I was having a conversation a few months ago with a friend of mine. He is also a pastor and recently came out as a gay man after three decades of marriage. He's coming to terms with being gay and with how society and the church deal with his sexuality. The whole "gay debates" have not hit the Disciples with the same ferocity that it has other denominations, but we do have some issues. He railed about the homophobia in the church. It was obvious he was angry and mad, about the injustice and rightly so. At some point though, I tried to talk about working for change and why Community of Grace exists; to be a place where everyone is welcome regardless of who they are (including sexual orientation). His retort was that I had to go and start a church to be a pastor; no other church would hire me because of my sexual orientation.

I was a little hurt. Yes, there might be some churches that might not call me because I'm gay. But, there might be some churches that don't care, either. But what really bothered me was the assertion that since Community of Grace kind of started without the Region's permission, it was not real. I had to start a church to be a pastor because no one would want me.

I didn't decide to plant a church simply because I was not accepted by the larger church. That might have been a small part, but the larger part was a desire to plant a church, even though I didn't want to. I truly believe God wanted me to plant a church, a church that was welcoming of gay people and so I went about doing that.

But my friend's retort reminded me of how new churches are met by mainline Christians with a collective shrug at times. It's not that people or church authorities are trying to stifle new churches, but at times I sense people are not as passionate about new churches.

Ron Robinson talks about how mainline Christians tend to be so wrapped up in the next big thing or cause, that they tend to ignore the present context. He writes:

We are so busy investing ourselves in the next big thing, or the new and improved thing, the cause around the corner that we don't realize how this keeps us from being grounded where we are and to hear the calling of our context. Progressives love progression, I think, because it keeps us in the life of the mind--the future will come to us as an idea, we think. Not sure I want to blame this most recently on Whitehead, blessed be his name, and Process Thought, but there is something to how the Creator as Creativity comes to us Cultural Creatives, and becomes something like a mind-hit, an addiction to the next idea and the next, etc. (you will no doubt remind me to read my James Luther Adams and my F.H. Hedge and my George Huntston Williams on Hedge to know this is nothing new but of course the predictable failing; I am just wondering if we have forgotten it)...

...Maybe this is a reason why there is so little concern or conversation about church planting among us? We, progressives in many religious affiliations, are focused on getting our existing churches to catch up with us and our enlightenments, and spend much energy on transforming the old wineskins to handle the new wine of various causes. We stay attached to the "churches that are" in order to have a place for us to continually reinforce and act out our identity as progressives.

If we worried equally about how the ancient would be incarnated in the future, as we do about how the present can be transformed to better fit our current ideologies/theologies, then we would have church planting perpetually on our agenda. It would be one of our reasons for being. Ancient Christian faith has the Great Commandment and Great Commission at its core (two liberal commandments by the way) and so it compels us to be so committed. The committment to plant and relate to new people comes first--the particular kind of church planting, or relationship-creating, will come afterwards. Our progressive understanding of right relationships comes afterwards and answers the question of how we plant. The why and the must comes first.

For me, I've wanted to be about creating inclusive churches. Many of my fellow friends in the mainlne Protestant church are involved in "the church that are," as Ron calls them. They want them to share whatever view people have, be it being more inclusive of gays and lesbians or women in the church. It's an important task, but it blinds them to the ability to be evangelists, bringing God's liberating word to people who desparately need it.

This questions comes up when I talk to some of my Lutheran friends. Many are rightfully upset that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in American can still bar "practiciing" gays and lesbians from being ministers. Many of them have worked for inclusion and time and again, they come up short. I've heard people comment that these moves make gays and lesbians feel unwelcome in the church. That might be the case on one level, but then I look at the many inclusive Lutheran churches in the Twin Cities area. People who were once not going church because of their sexual orientation, are now part of a Christian community. Some of these churches have even went as far as to call gay ministers in defiance of the ban.

The fact is justice is proceeding even if the official church still has its head in the sand. And yet, many of my friends ignore what God is going despite the efforts to stifle the Spirit. They are so focused on what the national body will or won't do that they ignore what is going on at the local level.

In the Disciples, I remember being involved with a group at another church in the Twin Cities that wants to become Open and Affirming. Every few years they meet and try to get somewhere, but the effort is stymied by the some of the old guard. A few years back I finally asked about starting a church that is already open and affirming. The idea was poo-poohed. In fact, none of those involved have supported Community of Grace.

The funny thing is that Community of Grace is living out what they desire. We have gays in leadership, and we have helped bring people who were estranged from the church because of their sexual orientation, back into fellowship with other Christians and with God. Others are talking about change, butI feel CoG is doing something.

I think that it is the new churches that could lead the mainline church in the coming decades, taking us in new directions in being church. But that is only going to happen if mainline Christians give a damn about these new communities. Continually placing new wine in old wineskins while leaving those new wineskins unused isn't a sound strategy. It's way past time to use those news wineskins and let them grow into what God wants them to be.