Today [and tomorrow], I’m attending the Inhabit Conference [#inhabitconf] at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology [formerly MHGS]. Inhabit’s big idea is to explore what it means and looks like as the church in North America returns to the practice of being locally rooted and how we can be present in the particular places where we are called to live and serve.
I’ll be posting some reflections from this time of teaching, learning and conversation. For tonight, here’s what I’ve got. How are you re-imagining community where you live and serve?
How do you grow roots across oceans?
Now this idea of being rooted is quite foreign to me. Being the daughter of a United Methodist Pastor, living somewhere for a ‘long time’ meant being in the same spot for more than 3 years. I didn’t grow up with the same kids; didn’t have long-term friendships with classmates with whom I had experienced life from elementary through high school. And being transnational with family in the Philippines, Guam and the U.S., I have struggled with what it might look like to have roots in any one geographic locale. Yet here I am in Seattle, having lived here for all of my adult life [15 years] with still no sense of a community I can call home.
Home, cultural consistence and claiming our ecclesiastical niche.
Home, as Bruce Reyes-Chow reminded us, is complex. It’s liberating, it’s excruciating, it’s a paradox. The same community that sometimes drives you nuts is the same community to which you turn when you need something. How are our churches homes where we root ourselves and our families? Are they places where we look and dress and ‘be’ a certain way for 1-2 hours a week, only to return to our other lives once we about face after Sunday morning?
In sharing with us the culture of Mission Bay Community Church, a few descriptions got me thinking about the cultures of the places where I’ve worshiped or served.
First is their claimed ecclesiastical niche. In other words, they know who they are, who they aren’t and who their community is. We can’t all be a church of and who serves 20/30 year olds, but that’s who they are and that’s what they live out.
Second, they are reconstructing church. They’ve re-imagined what it is to be the church in their time and place. For the first couple of years they didn’t do any programming. They listed and spent time meeting in their community so they could see and here what the needs were. I can only imagine what some of our mainline churches would do if they were told they should just spend time in the community before deciding what programs and ministries would make sense. I don’t know if we [United Methodists] would even know how to be in community without hiding behind our ministries, committees and outreach programming.
Third, they have institutional fluidity. They’re a part of a mainline denomination, they follow form and liturgy but they don’t let that stifle the spirt’s moving, nor are they strictly bound to their institutional boundaries. I think about John Wesley when he said,
I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.
The MBCC community is culturally consistent. The craziness of their personal lives is also lived out as a worshiping community. For better or worse, they are who they are in church and outside of. That’s the least we should allow ourselves to be with any community, right?