The Choice to Love: A Visit to the Church For All People
- Nov 21st, 2011
A few weeks ago, along with pastors and laity from across the country, I made a pilgrimage to Church for All People, to learn about their ministry in the South Side neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio. It’s a trip that I’d recommend to anyone who’s interested in finding out what authentic ministry with those who are poor is all about.
It’s hard not to be impressed with the array of services that Church for All People offers - health clinics, free meals, evening open-mics, job training, a free pharmacy, and an affordable housing program that moved over two million dollars of housing last year, reclaiming entire blocks of blighted neighborhoods. It’s hard not to respect the intelligence, passion, and wisdom of its leaders, who birthed a powerful church through the ministry of a free store where “everyone can touch grace”. It’s hard not to be amazed by the incredible network of partners and they have built in the city - from local neighborhood associations to Nationwide Children’s Hospital to the highest levels of local government.
And while I was deeply inspired by way their programs, their staff, and their partnerships deeply impact the city, these are not what I primarily remember from my weekend with them in late October.
Rather, I have carried with me, like snapshots in my mind, pictures of startling beauty.
I carry with me a picture of Aretha: greeting us as we walked through the double doors of the building on Saturday night, a Doctor Seuss hat on her head, not letting a single one of us get past until we had given her a hug.
I carry with me a picture of worship: people packed into the sanctuary like sardines in a can, sitting on stackable chairs upon a stained carpet. Truly diverse people: of all ethnicities, young and old, rough living and easy living, ex-cons and scrubbed middle class do-gooders. Truly worshipping God: singing African American spirituals and traditional 19th century hymns back to back without a hint of self-consciousness, sharing prayer concerns with the community (for a longer time than the sermon), proclaiming that “beyond differences that divide, no matter who we are or what we have done, we are all beloved children of God!”
I carry with me a picture of a Monday evening community coffeehouse, which felt much more like a dance party. I saw the Christ’s body united: clergy and laity from churches across the country pulled from their seats, dancing the electric slide in sync with individuals who definitely did not look like “good church people”.
For me, the Church for All People is not a powerful place because of their programs or their staff. It is not a powerful place because of their thick web of community connections. It is not a powerful place because of their wisdom or their hard won experience. It is a powerful place because of their decision to love - to love one another, to love the people who God has sent to them, and most importantly, to love the city where they have been planted. And, I believe, it is out of that simple love, that all these so-impressive ministries have blossomed.
My visit gives me hope that a beautiful future - for the churches where I serve, and for all our churches is possible, and that maybe the answer is closer than we think.
Maybe it’s not about the next greatest program or church growth model.
Maybe it’s not about finding the perfect outreach event that will get people so excited that theyjust can’t help but come to your church.
Maybe it’s not about great sermons, great music, or great video.
But maybe - it’s simply about making the choice to love.
This gives me hope. I know that in the churches I serve, the idea of building two million dollars of affordable housing, starting a free health clinic, or founding a free store next year seems hopelessly out of reach. However, the decision to love - to love God, to love each other, and most importantly, to love the community where God has placed us, is certainly not.
And this leads me to believe that even as our denomination seems caught in irreversible decline, even as our members age, and even as our buildings fall slowly into disrepair, that hope is still a viable option - if we all simply choose to love - and let God take care of the rest.
About This Blog
Read and comment on a range of personal reflections and perspectives about poverty and Ministry with the Poor. Our goal is to attract diverse voices and points of view from United Methodists and friends, including people and communities living in conditions of poverty, other experts, religious leaders, community organizers, advocates, policy makers, volunteers, and all engaged in Ministry with the Poor.
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