"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
Tuesday, June 29, 2004 One of the things I find most remarkable about Christ the King Anglican Church in Mallam is something that everyone here finds most unremarkable ... how it began.
Christ the King began in James and Frieda's living room. They felt a need for an Anglican church in the area so they just called together some people and started Bible study and morning prayer in their living room. Eventually, as it grew, they contracted with Canon Oddo and Emmanuel Quartey at St. Luke's to come and provide Eucharist on a regular basis. Then a piece of property in a great location came available and the diocese helped them buy it. Then they raised the money to put the current structure of a roofed shelter with bricks up to about your waist most of the way around.
I was having another conversation with Bishop Akrofi about this today and mentioned how remarkable I thought this was and he looked at me like I was speaking esperanto. Of course they planted churches like this! Then I mentioned to him the history of church planting in our diocese -- which I believe is a good and healthy diocese -- in the past 10 years, and he absolutely thought I was joking. He was incredulous.
Every day, I'm struck by how much we have to learn from each other. If I recall correctly, our recent history with church planting is that in the past 20 years we have planted 1, maybe 2 churches (depending on when St. Francis, Wildwood and Transfiguration, Lake St. Louis, started) plus a false start in Columbia (plus the campus ministry at Wash. U. ... which technically doesn't have congregational standing but is a community of faith!). We have a big chunk of money from the capital campaign sitting in the bank waiting to be spent on church plants. We had a study we did (with assistance from the national church center desk on these things) that advised us that we should only plant a church when we had something like $400K in the bank and then only do it in an educated, white neighborhood.
Meanwhile, nondenominational churches are being planted in people's living rooms and at Starbucks by laypeople with full-time jobs. SOme of these ... maybe even many of them ... die out. But some of them don't.
Meanwhile, here in Accra -- where yes there is more of an overtly Christian culture (he says sitting across from the Blood of Christ hair salon) but there are also 9 bazillion churches to choose from -- lay people with the bishop's blessing are planting churches that are growing and becoming parishes.
I'm not saying we should completely discard the notions of church planting that have driven us so far. There is room for planting a church with Perept, $400K and a piece of property near the newest McDonalds. But it seems to me we have nothing to lose and everything to gain by trying this, too.
Emily Peach and I have gathered monthly with a group of mostly unchurched folks between ages 20-38 for more than a year now for conversation about faith and social justice and other things. It's not a traditional "church plant". FOr one, the people in it have no desire to be a traditional church, but we keep coming together, and the Spirit is present ... I can tell because of the content of what happens there and also because people keep inviting new people!
I've talked with Steve Scharre and Tina Grant ... two Wash. U. students who just graduated and are staying in St. Louis for the next couple of years ... about them getting together and starting a community for postgraduates (student and nonstudent). All I've told them so far is that they have complete creative control over what it looks like. It they want a prayer group, do it. If they want Bible study, do it. If they want Eucharist, do it. If they want to have movies and discussion, do it. Shoot pool and hang out and talk? Go for it. Form the community and see how the Spirit moves. See what people get brought to it, what their gifts and dreams are and let's run with it. It can't fail, because the worst that can happen is that we'll learn what didn't work!
Now that we've got this new congregational development arm to Episcopal School for Ministry, what would happen if we identified (or even put a call out for) a group of lay people that have the gifts for connecting with people and gathering community, that have innate gifts for welcoming the stranger and communicating Christ's radical hospitality. Then what if we helped them pray through and brainstorm different ways to try to start something and what it might be ... and then just turned them loose and see what happened. For their efforts, we could send them to the congregational development pieces of ESM tuition-free as a way of supporting them. We could find ways for them to connect with each other virtually and face-to-face for support.
Why not try it? What do we have to lose? More to the point, how much are we losing now NOT trying something like this?
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"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."