On Monday I returned to Canada, travelling from Seattle to Vancouver. As has been the pattern for my sabbatical my planned visit with two communities turned into visits with three communities, lunch with a colleague and drinks with your clergy and students anxious to be church in new ways.
My first stop was to First United Community Ministry. It's a going concern. The sanctuary was converted into drop-in space, the balcony made into shelter space for men and the former Sunday School reconfigured into the women's shelter. Like Broad Street Ministry, FUCMS offers meals, a postal address, toiletry supplies, and storage for personal items. A couple of doors down they run a thrift shop and connect to social housing down the street. It's an amazing place, effectively the Bissell Centre working with a much larger population. Having become a street ministry, in recent years they have committed to being a church again. Now by this they don't mean to gather on Sunday, but rather to be clear that Jesus is in the centre of what they do. And so they now have a community minister who facilitates worship during the week, offers pastoral support to guests and staff alike, keeps Christian values at the centre of their work.
Also located in the area is a Salvation Army college which also facilitates a Boiler Room, an intentional prayer ministry intended to spiritually hold the needs of the community before G-d. Part of the 24/7 movement, the 614 Boiler Room were at one point praying around the clock for the Downtown Eastside. They've since scaled back abit but students and staff and others in the community set aside time to pray (no particular type of prayer required) and beyond that make outreach and justice work in the community a constant concern. Many live in the neighbourhood and share accommodations with folks on the edge. When I suggested that what they are doing feels a bit like the prayer ministry of medieval nuns and monks, Melina and Nicole readily agreed. They were praying for and with the community but more than that were offering hospitality and love in a very broken neighbourhood. Inspiring work.
Across the inlet in North Vancouver, Mount Seymour United Church runs a thrift shop, has an open "cafe space" and recently started a spirituality centre where people gather during the week to explore different spiritual practices. Near the Kitsilano neighbourhood a congregation is running a justice-seeking, queer inclusive, loco-vegan cafe. Intentionally partnering with neighbourhood groups they are creating an everyday community space for people of all faiths. Both congregations understand that "being" church is more than "doing" Sunday worship.
This is something that we all know in our guts but sometimes struggle to make happen. And yet there is a younger cohort of ministers and theology students who hunger for church to be more than traditional Sunday worship. One colleague has created a Christian yoga practice called Yoga Chapel, combining the biblical narrative with the physicality of yoga. Another is part of a group who worship outside as they explore what it means to be more just in our relationship with the environment. Another wants to establish an intentional community of young adults committed to seeking transformation in their neighbourhood.
There seems to be a growing desire to go beyond Sunday. For me that yearning is a sign of hope for the church. We are remembering that Jesus' core purpose wasn't to form a church. He galvanized a movement committed to living into his message of G-d's saving justice and love. The communities which formed spent time in worship on a Sunday as a way to be nourished in their day to day living of the kingdom. Our future will only be as bright as our holding onto that memory.