A few years ago, I got a call from someone who wanted to visit Community of Grace, the church start that I did a few years ago. The person wanted to know about the church and it seemed they were interested in benig part of a church with a big choir and all that. Well, we didn't have all that. At best, we were a bunch of folks who came together to worship God. The person didn't sound pleased, and hung up right away.
Part of being a pastor is trying to create relationships that hopefully will bring people into the doors of a church or gathered community. I've been fascinated to see how Steve and Rebecca Haney who are leading a new Disciples church plant in Rochester, Minnesota are growing their community. Steve has told me about how he has gone to various community meetings to strike up conversations that then lead at some point to faith.
I look on all that with envy, because it's not something I can do. I've said this time and time again, but being autistic makes the kind of social engagement that Steve does very hard for me. I don't want to give the impression that I'm blaming Asperger's for everything, I'm just stating what I know. But I don't think it's impossible for someone with Aspergers to be able to talk about their faith: it's just harder.
But this all means trying to learn the artform of talking and sharing that seems so foreign to me. What I'm good at is sharing information, which is what I do for a living. But sharing information and sharing your life with someone are two different things. I think I'm learning to share my life with others, but it's still an uphill climb.
First Christian in Minneapolis. Again, I'm not good at the art of persuasion, just sharing information. But I think I can use my information, my observations to paint a story on why this church is special, so here goes.
First Christian is not a big church. We are a small church of about 100-120 members. We were a big church a long time ago, but people left and the church has grown smaller. So, we aren't the big, downtown church. We are the small, urban church.
If you come to our present building on a Sunday morning you will see about 80 people gathered in a sanctuary that seats about 800. That might seem rather pathetic and I know it saddens a lot of the long time members.
But I think that this church still rocks and I think you should come to this church. And it's not because it has two, slammin' pastors. ;)
First are the kids. We don't have a lot of kids, but these kids are special to us. They are the "little theologians" who teach us how to be followers of Jesus. They aren't just trotted out during a service to show off how cute they are, but they are becoming a part of our worship and formational life. In their simple words of faith, they can run circles around those of us with advanced degrees in church stuff.
Second, is the mission. This church likes to think it is not engaged in mission- not like the big churches down the street. No, we don't do mission that way. But I've never seen a more engaged bunch of folks willing to "get dirty for Jesus." When I ask people to pack food for hungry kids around the world, people show up. When I ask them to spend a day at food pantry or donate items for former homeless persons, they are present and accounted for. When asked to help a ministry half-way around the world, they do so. This church has people involved in refugee resettlement, prayer shawl ministry and other works of compassion. They tend to "punch above their weight" in how many people in the church participate in acts of mercy and justice.
Third, is the committment to inclusivity. A lot of churches talk about being inclusive, especially to gay and lesbian folk, but this church really practices it. There aren't a lot of churches that would accept having an openly gay person as one of their pastors and yet this church has. But it's not just me- this is the kind of church where a kid who grew up in the congregation can feel safe enough come out at the Christmas Eve service. True story. This is the kind of church where a straight woman who loves kids decides to start a ministry for gay youth and the church allows her to follow where she feels God is leading. And they even throw some money at her to help.
This isn't a "program" church. First was a program kind of congregation years ago, but it at its present size, it's far more pastoral than program. So if you come to visit, don't expect a youth program or outreach program. Instead, you will find a woman who is excitied to teach one or two teens or the young adults coming together to make cookies for persons with HIV/AIDS and the like.
First Christian isn't going to be a church for everyone. If you want a church with programs and lot of people your age, then we aren't going to be your church. If you want a church that's packed with people, then we aren't your church. There are lots of other churches in the Twin Cities to fulfill those purposes.
But, if you want a church where people will welcome you not just to be nice, but because they really want to know you, this can be a church for you. If you want to get active in ministies of justice and have ideas, this might be your church. If you want a community that cares for each other and welcomes those outside its small circle, then this is your place. If you are a gay person that hasn't felt loved by a church before, this can be your church. If you are autistic and wonder if a church could accept your "oddities," then this is the place for you. You get the point?
As a pastor, I'm probably not supposed to brag about the church I serve, but I do think it is pretty awesome how God has used this little church in Minneapolis. I may not be the best "salesperson" but I hope you will come and visit sometime. You'll be glad you did.