Faithful Presence

I wanted to go to a conference in Colorado Springs whose main speakers were the authors of a couple of books that I thought were at the least empowering, at the most, life changing.  The books are The New Parish and Staying is the New Going.

I have friends in the Denver area who have been living the missional life since before it ever became a word. Actually, missional isn’t a word yet according to my spell checker, but it will soon be. That is besides the point.  I sent the information to my friends in Denver and suggested they go. I was a little surprised they took my advice, but I was so glad they did.  It sounds like they were glad too.

So, this is my introduction to the following list of notes my friend, Jim, took during the event.  I am placing them here with his permission. They are actually quite good so take a look, ok?

How the Church Can be a Life-giving Presence in the 21st Century

First, let me say there is no way to transmit the excitement in the room and the excitement and inspiration we were feeling at this meeting. I will do my best to transpose my notes, but suffice it to say we were greatly encouraged.

Yemi (didn’t catch his last name). Names and positions were spoken quickly and not displayed anywhere, so I wrote them phonetically, as best I could.

Good things are happening in Colorado Springs, and Christians are at the forefront.

  1. Christians are being invited to the table. He mentioned a book called “The Changing Face of Christianity” and talked about the Wild Goose Meeting House, which is a coffee shop/bar/restaurant on the north side of Colorado Springs. Not sure is he just works there or help found it.
  2. Christians are coming out of the woodwork and reclaiming their identity. The mayor calls it a renaissance, and Christians are at the forefront.

A couple of quotes. “The local church is the hope of the world.”

Someone you haven’t met wonders what it would be like to know someone like you.” I found this to be a profound statement.

Al Ingler from Seattle shared about the Navigators training that had been going on for the past few days (I think). They call it Nav Neighbors.

John 1:14 (The Message): “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” (I had never seen this paraphrase, but I love it.)

Also relevant, though not quoted but illustrated through the evening is the latter half of the verse, i.e. “Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.”

As the evening developed and they talked about us being the incarnation (small i?) in our neighborhoods, this is obviously what we need to be.

Next storyteller was Alan Briggs, author of “Staying is the New Going.” He started with, “What did your neighbors think when you moved into the neighborhood?” The first thing the lady across the street (Susan) said was, “Good luck trying to live up to the reputation of the people who lived here before you.” Sheesh. This led to a discussion of misconceptions. “What lies are you believing about those in proximity to you?” “What could God do in our neighborhood? We are missionaries. What lies do we believe about those in proximity?” Close does not equal “close.” He told a great story about Susan. Everyone in the neighborhood told him, “Susan doesn’t like children.” He had four children. They considered her cold-hearted and unfriendly. Turns out she loves children. She works nights as a medical professional dealing with emergency calls for children. She had to sleep during the day. When Alan mentioned wanting to do “Free Coffee Fridays” at the edge of her property, to connect with passersby, her first words were, “I’ll bring cinnamon rolls.”

My thoughts: How many people in our neighborhoods are just waiting for someone to acknowledge them? Not preach to them, not “evangelize” them—just acknowledge them, okay, yes, love them, but first comes acknowledgement, and then acceptance, and relationship, and commitment. Right? Have I missed any steps?

Alan made the statement that we have one “silver bullet” in our arsenal. That silver bullet is “Incarnation.” “Proximity can turn into incarnation.” We must now be the incarnation of God’s love in our neighborhoods.

Matt and Amber talked about strengthening mission and discipleship toward an under-resourced people group in southeast Colorado Springs. “We create community.” They are implementing the ancient idea of parish. One of the things many of the speakers mentioned is that none of this is new. It’s just that the church has to be reminded of it. They spoke of Jean Vanier, who started out just trying to do the right thing in his neighborhood, and now there are 140 large communities in 35 countries around the world serving people with intellectual disabilities.

They mentioned shared economy and Dream Centers, which I think were places that homeless moms and kids could find shelter, among other things. A quote from their web site: “We provide health and hope for people in Colorado Springs who are working to rebuild their dreams.”

They want to shop locally, so they are shopping at the carniceria and trying to sharpen their Spanish skills and learning about Hispanic culture.

The final speakers were Paul Sparks and Tim Soerens, authors of “The New Parish.” Paul went first. He talked about weaving people together to be church. Said we need to be rooted and linked. Place matters. Context matters. Paul said that from his background, knowing neighbors was foreign to him. His family moved around a lot.

He talked about the main version and the subversion (!). We are taught about success in the main version, but another way is possible. He spoke of a gift economy, one of faith and love. He called it Kingdom Civic Life. “By faith, I believe another way is possible.”

My favorite story of the evening was of a Mexican man who grew up in extreme poverty, was abandoned by his parents, found his way to the U.S. with no papers whatsoever, no birth certificate, didn’t even know his birth date. He worked at whatever he could find. Eventually he found his way to a community (I think in Tacoma) where he was accepted, loved, nourished, and became an honored and respected elder in the community. When he passed away, he was surrounded by friends who loved him. He contrasted this with people “successful in the main version,” who died alone in old folks homes, abandoned by the world.

Tim spoke of the invisible church all around us, and by this he meant that we all go into our separate churches and don’t unite to realize the power of the church. He spoke of the splintering of the church into 40,000 denominations. He said if you were able to count the people who love the Lord in any community, you would probably find thousands, and if God were able to harness that love toward the community, what could happen?

He put forth this hypothesis on how movements happen. Before the movement starts, there is an aching, a longing, hopes on the part of people from all over the place. They have a common ache, and they are experimenting with similar ideas. They do not know what they are doing, but they are doing. Then these people, who thought they were alone, find they are not. “It’s hard to see until it goes down.”

These guys are saying this thing is happening all over the place, here and around the world. Paul was recently in Australia and is going back in May, where we hope to get him together with Goodlife Community Centre in Buderim, the Smiths’ and Gileses’ church.

Are there signposts? Guiding ideas? He spoke of chasing the wild goose, following the Holy Spirit, which I now understand, having googled it.

I am sure you know this, Kevin, but I am including it for others who may read this. This is a short summary of the book “Chasing the Wild Goose” on Amazon.

The history of the Iona Community, including St Colomba’s founding of an influential Celtic Christian community on the Hebridean island of Iona in the sixth century, the work of George MacLeod whose inspiration placed Iona firmly on the Christian map once again in the 20th century and the current broad span of the Community, touching the map of human experience – spirituality, politics, peace and justice – guided by the wild goose, Celtic symbol of the Holy Spirit.”

He finished up with these five principles (and noted again that this is nothing new).

  1. Following the Way of Jesus, the teachings of Jesus.
  2. Inhabiting the space, the place, the parish; be characters there; be known
  3. Gathering as church, because as we get into the messy stories of “the place,” the neighborhood, we will all the more need to gather together
  4. Collaborating for parish renewal. 21st century grass roots movement of renewal in the church. It’s happening all over the place.
  5. Linking across parishes. Tell our stories. There is nothing that the church cannot take on.

And I think that is a good place to leave it, as Tim did.

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