Thursday, February 26, 2009

No church at that address...

Two months after my last post, I'm going to try my best to dig this thing out of the annals of inactive blogs...

Wow, so much has happened -- I can't possibly reflect on all that's happened -- but suffice it to say that this is an exciting season. We are closing in on the final pieces of the renovations to the new facility we purchased last fall. As of this coming Sunday, March 1st, we'll be celebrating worship in our new space at 185 High Street -- a space we've named Hope.Gate.Way.

It's a little 2,800 square foot facility which we've renovated so there's a good-sized room for worship and other larger gatherings, an office, a small open gathering space, two kids' rooms, a kitchen, and two bathrooms. As one of the units on the ground level of a parking garage, surrounded by an architect's office, some Maine Medical Center patient billing offices, and a recording studio, it looks nothing like a traditional church -- which we think may well be more an asset than a deficit. It has four large banks of windows overlooking High Street -- a street with lots of foot and car traffic -- giving it high visibility. And it's adjacent to Parkside neighborhood, the most densely populated square mile in Northern New England -- a neighborhood with many, many opportunities to be in mission and ministry. We are so excited about this new facility... excited about the renovations that are nearly complete, which are transforming the facility into a beautiful, inviting space... excited about partnerships we've begun to develop with neighboring churches and community organizations, which are already bearing fruit... excited about the vision for ministry that's emerging as we prepare to move into the neighborhood.

So today I got a call on the church cell phone -- an out-of-state number I didn't recognize. "Um, hello?" the voice on the other end began, tentatively. "What city are you in?"

"Portland, Maine," I said.

"Okay... [long pause] ... Uhh, I have a driver trying to deliver a dishwasher, and I've got you listed for 185 High Street, but my driver says he just drove by that location and there's no church at that address."

No church at that address. Wrong.

I wanted to launch into, "The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people..."

But I didn't. Instead I said something more like, "Okay, well tell your driver to go back, because while it definitely does not look like a traditional church, that is our space, and that is our dishwasher."

It's amazing to me how deeply held are these ideas about what a church might look like -- so deeply held that this driver, pulling up at 185 High Street (which does, by the way, have a very large sign in the window announcing, 'Coming soon: Chestnut United Methodist Church & New Light..."), wouldn't even get out of his delivery truck, open the door, and check to see if he had the right address. Nope, one quick glance and he drew the conclusion: no church at that address.

Makes me wonder: Where is the church, anyway, and what qualifies? I've visited lots of imposing church facilities with the requisite stained glass windows and a steeple visible for miles around, and after spending time within those doors, I'd be inclined to make the assessment, "No church at that address." And I've spent the last 18 months serving a church that meets every Sunday morning in borrowed space -- an aging synagogue, badly in need of a facelift, hard to find, without so much as a sign to mark its presence -- and another community of faith meeting around dining room tables and in living rooms in homes around the city -- and in both cases, I'm more than ready to make the assessment, "However odd the address, this is church."

It's clear to me: the Body of Christ cannot be contained within four walls, and defining the church has nothing to do with bricks and mortar, or stained glass, or steeples... but rather, everything to do with the Spirit at work among its people.

I can't wait to see all the ways "church" will manifest itself as we begin this new journey. My message to those who will gather on Sunday morning and Sunday evening: "Welcome to our new home for worship and ministry. Let’s make ourselves at home, but let’s not get too comfortable: this is a launching pad to send us out as disciples in mission and ministry to our city and the world."

Now that's church.


JLEwingJr said...

Thanks Allen for these thoughts on "church". Very good and very thought provoking, especially the part about tall steeples not being "church". What you are about is definitely what the world needs. I have heard it said that the UMC spends $5 billion a year. I have wondered what percentage of that goes to maintain the "steeples".

Anonymous said...

Amen and Amen. I really appreciate your perspective and reminder here. Congratulations on the new space and I pray that it will be a launching point into the community.

Andrew Conard

Anonymous said...

I think I am seeing a workshop at "Koinonia" this fall. What a great reflection. Thank you very much!