Saturday, 24 October 2015

It's all about community

This past week I wrapped up the Ontario, NE USA portion of my grand pilgrimage, visiting with folks in three worshipping communities, one in Burlington, one in Toronto and one in South Bend, Indiana (barely still the NE, maybe just in the Midwest, but for the purposes of this post...). As I reflect on my experiences, I continue to be struck by the importance of community, a foundational value for what I experienced in London and Philadelphia as well. In each case, worship is important but only inasmuch as it facilitates community.

As I posted earlier, at Trinity in London, a critical part of the service is the naming of birthdays, anniversaries, bereavements, etc. It's not a long part of the service but one which is clearly owned by that community. They truly know and care for each other, and as an outsider, it was inviting.

At Broad Street in Philly, a key portion of their life together is the six day a week meal ministry. Because many of the people who come for a meal are vulnerable people, creating a sense of community is key to offering respect and dignity. People are welcomed as they would be to a restaurant and invited to wait until a seat is ready. The waiting area is arranged so that people can converse while they wait. This sense of connection is critical to folks otherwise invisible in their daily lives.

The Meeting House in Burlington is one of sixteen worshipping communities across Southwestern Ontario. They are mobile communities, coming together in movie theatres. The service is fairly typical of Evangelical communities. Except of course that the message is broadcast by video. This isn't about saving money. It's about community. By having one teaching pastor over sixteen sites, the regional pastors can focus on pastoring pastors. The focus of The Meeting House is house churches, groups of 10-12, further broken down into 3-4 member huddles. This is where church happens, in relationships of support and accountability. The regional pastors focus on empowering leaders and helping them offer care. Their focus is on becoming more Christ-like, so that as his followers we can bring healing to the world. 

The Jeremiah Community in Parkdale in Toronto is an Anglican intentional community. They don't live together but are in community nevertheless. While living separately, several families and singles enter year long covenants where they pledge to worship, pray and be present to each other and their neighbours. They form community with each other but not as an end itself but to be a gift to others. 

My final visit was in South Bend at Tree of Life. This was an add-on, a visit en route between Toronto and Minneapolis, but a gift. Heather and Justice are a couple who have planted a neighbourhood church almost by accident. They began by simply getting to know their neighbours. As time went on and relationships deepened, they began praying together and offering a kids club to neighbourhood children and youth. Nothing special except this is an exceptionally poor and underserved neighbourhood in South Bend, the chosen placement area for refugee families. It's a diverse neighbourhood of people from all over the world, and this church has become a significant vehicle for support and care, a place where different cultures, languages and life experiences are affirmed. This is lived out on a Sunday, especially as they form small clusters of three or four during the prayers of the people. As they pray for and with each other, they express what true community looks like.

These were very different groups from each other. Evangelical, Presbyterian, Anglican, United Church. Suburban, inner city, urban, small town. But different as they were, supportive and accountable community is foundational to each of them. They believe that being in community is the best way to live out the Christian message. Given that Jesus made circles of friends foundational to his ministry, I suspect they're all on to something.

1 comment:

  1. The Meeting House in Burlington seems to be a roadmap for what might work in our own community. Have 1 person / group produce a worship service, allowing others to concentrate on other mission & pastoral care. The worshipping groups need not be 10-12, but could be much larger, This media could open up worship opportunities to smaller groups at alternate times & days.