How to Be Here (and Not There)

The Crossroads Coffee House

“It is strange to be here,” John O’Donohue says in the opening line of his book, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom.  For O’Donohue, that meant attending to the mystery of the particular human life and acknowledging that each of is “the one and only threshold of an inner world.”

It is strange to be here…and anywhere.  The unique features of our lives and of the places we inhabit are threatened by the enticing, unrooted landscape of the virtual world.  What would it look like for churches to be here and not, for instance, there?

What would it look like for churches to be here and not, for instance, there?

“Will this work for East Dallas?”  That’s the question Andrew Forrest urged his church leaders to keep asking as he began a relaunched ministry at Munger Place United Methodist Church.  Munger Place has a long history in the neighborhood, but the struggling congregation needed to think of itself as a new church start.  They could have used a lot of models that were finding success in different locales, but they knew they needed to keep it local.

Munger Place UMC, photo by church

“We tried to avoid anything that would seem like the big-box retailer was coming in and taking over the beloved mom and pop establishment,” Forrest said in an interview in Faith and Leadership magazine.  “So we kept asking, ‘Will this work for East Dallas?’ And I think that question helped us connect with our neighborhood.”

I cut my teeth in ministry in East Dallas as a seminary intern and there are many ways that that dynamic and growing neighborhood is different from the Eastern Shore, where I live now, but the question is a good one for rural churches as well.  “Will this work here?”

To be clear, asking this question doesn’t relieve us of the responsibility of trying to innovate.  Because something worked here fifty years ago does not mean that it’s the thing that will connect us with the neighborhood we find ourselves in today.  Step one is to spend some time with people who don’t go to church.  You know – the majority of the population.  (Only about 20% of people on the Eastern Shore are regular attenders.)

The days I feel most vital are those where I am engaging with folks in diners and when I set up office at in the community college lounge.  As we build relationships and engage in real conversation with our neighbors we are building our capacity to offer the transforming gospel of Jesus in ways that speak to this place on God’s green earth.  Just as importantly, we will also be transformed when we meet the Jesus who is already present out there (around here?) in the lives of people with lived wisdom of their own.

“We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes people arrogant, but love builds people up.”

“We know that we all have knowledge,” Paul says in 1 Corinthians 8:1.  “Knowledge makes people arrogant, but love builds people up” (CEB).  So I aim to be a little less sure of what I know and instead to love the mystery that is within me and around me.

In other words, I aim to be here.  Not there.

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