The church has always been a part of my life and I truly love it. Even before my church-planting great grandparents started hanging out in a basement with some friends to start a church called Community Fellowship in 1943, my "greats" to the nth degree went to church. It's what our family has done and continues to do.
Jesus lover? Go to church.
Personally, church is something I have always enjoyed, something I felt gave me purpose, and has been a comforting routine--my touchstone. For the past two years though, my family and I have been on the search for a church to call our own and we have yet to be successful. When we first began to look the criteria went something like: an outward-focused congregation; thought-provoking message; seeker sensitive, yet plainly presents the gospel; David Crowder-esque worship music; within a 45-minute drive of our home. Coming from a church similar to this in California we didn't think it would be that difficult and even though we have found a couple places that have come close to the goal list, something hasn't felt right, not only for me but for my husband, Brian, and our kids too. It seems that God is changing our list and it doesn't include the aforementioned items or even a building, instead God is ironically bringing us back to the name of my great-grandfather's church...Community Fellowship.
Months ago, Brian and I began working with a ministry that wanted to reach out to individuals being trafficked. Living in a rural area, many don't think that something as horrific as human trafficking could exist here, instead believing that it's reserved for urban areas, but with major routes I-95 and Rte. 40 running through our corn fields and backyards it is more prevalent than we imagined. As we began to raise awareness of the issue I wanted to begin a hands-on ministry that would get us out on the streets to meet those involved and was given the go-ahead by ministry leadership. After multiple interactions and ride-alongs with law enforcement, a group of men and women from different local churches who were interested in doing contact work at night in a town known for prostitution and drugs was formed. We set out to meet the girls of the streets equipped with beautiful cosmetic bags filled with personal hygiene items, condoms and lubricant. In our naivety we imagined meeting the girls standing on the corner, we would talk, offer hope....blah, blah, blah.
First wake-up call, you can't walk up to a stranger and ask if they are a prostitute. Rude! Secondly, what do you with all the people you encounter on the way to the girl on the corner? So our team of seven tucked our bags away and went out with popsicles instead and talked with everyone we met. During these outings, which we are currently offering hot chocolate with whipped cream, we have kicked it with lots of different people on stoops and street corners; business owners, mamas, daddies, addicts, construction crews, homeless, and prostitutes. The ministry we are working with is still focusing on helping abused and trafficked ladies, but my heart has changed and broadened to just meeting people. All people.
Like, God created you?
Let's be friends!
As we have been out there Brian and I have seen firsthand how relationship deprived people are; to include ourselves. It seems that loneliness spans race, socioeconomic status, age, and issue. Our eyes have been open to see that consistency and friendship are a kingdom serving ministry in itself and it's a ministry that many churches are overlooking. It's not enough to just open your doors to everyone, your demographic and impact broadens when you go out and meet everyone. Twice a month we walk up and down the streets regardless of the weather and we are recognizing faces, able to follow up on stories, praying with folks Christian and non-alike. It's because of these relationships that are beginning to form that I hear a whisper in my heart saying, "you've found her, you've found church." There on the streets a bunch of Jesus-loving redeemed sinners (that's my friends and me) are able to encourage other believers, pray for moms with cancer, talk business with a restaurant owner, share chocolate with a group of strung-out addicts, and plan sporting events with a homeless guy. Take away the "what we do's" and the "what we've done'" labels and there is just a Community of God's creation in Fellowship with one another.
Yup, there it is, Community Fellowship. We are leaving the building behind; we've found church.
My friend Michele encouraged me to write about the journey of "church" our family is embarking on, because if God is stirring our hearts he is probably stirring others too and right now we feel alone. She thought it would help me sort through feelings, process thoughts, and find kindred spirits. So here it is, laying it out there looking for our tribe, hoping for input, insight, and encouragement from friends. In short a virtual Community Fellowship which will hopefully lead to a physical one.
We have no idea what this is going to look like or where it will take our family. It's a little bit scary. I am afraid of failing, of backlash, of feeling foolish, of rejection, but I am more afraid of what I will miss out on if I'm not obedient to what He calls us to do. The rest of our crew is more than a little uncomfortable too, but they are willing and ready. (Seriously, is there anything that could make a mama's heart happier than teens pushing through awkward people encounters for Jesus? I didn't think so either.)