At the outset I wish to pour out extravagant praise for my wonderful host Meredith Gould. Her sacrifice of time, spirit and knowledge was above and beyond generous and I cannot thank her enough. Meredith you are a blessing to so many; an angel with a Doctorate; the Queen of Twitter and the fairy godmother of #chsocm (and you’re not scary at all IRL).
Enough of that – this is what happened when I went to meet the wizard…
After #BreakingBread broke up I awaited my host. It was like standing in line at a big concert – waiting for your heroes to take the stage – I felt like a little kid waiting for a chance to meet Santa – I was about to meet the great Meredith Gould. I’d got to Oz and the wizard was coming!!
Every car that went past, was it her? Every helicopter that went over, was that her? Eventually the moment came, a fleet of cars with flashing blue lights pulled up and in a crowd of groupies and hangers on I glimpsed her; the security detail arrived; my ID was checked; I was about to meet….
Actually it didn’t happen like that – a little car pulled up and out jumped Meredith with a huge, welcoming smile on her face. I didn’t know what I expected, but just like Harry Potter’s exam results, Meredith exceeds expectations. Bright, warm, vibrant and amazingly down to earth (for a guru) she is brilliant!!!
That evening and the whole of the next day passed in a storm of talk, laughter, fun and learning (well for me it did – for Meredith it must have been a tirade of inane questions, daft comments, and patient teaching). We went through everything church media related- the website, the blog, the Facebook and Twitter pages, Instagram and Pinterest – content, design, layout, colours. Meredith’s expertise and knowledge were as freely given as her smiles and humour.
I’ve been into the inner sanctum, I’ve even touched her computer, I’ve walked the yellow brick road and I’ve seen behind the wizard’s curtain and it is more magical and amazing than Oz could ever be – but it’s not the set up that makes it so great, as with everything on this trip, it’s the person.
All joking and hyperbole aside – all I can say is thank you Meredith, I hope I can do justice to all you taught me.
Before I left for this trip I was asked the question “Is being online and active in Social Media a real part of the ministry of the church?”
I didn’t answer it then, but I think I can now: “In this digital age it is practically impossible to have a church ministry without being online.” Online ministry through social media is not, and I don’t think it ever will be, the whole work of the church but it will now never not be an important part. And thanks to David and Meredith and members of the fantastic #chsocm (church and social media) community I now feel better equipped to keep venturing out into the modern digital world with the Gospel message that is as relevant now as it was 2,000 years ago.
Baltimore – where the “Star Spangled Banner” was written is a nice place. That’s about as effusive I wish to be about this small but strangely charming city.
Again though, like Denver and certain parts of Houston, it’s the people that make the place special and I mean extra special.
Wandering the centre city of Baltimore took me a few minutes and after talking to a very nice police man (in a fast pursuit vehicle, all the criminals must be overweight) I made my way towards the meet up point for my lift to #BreakingBread. Thank you Julie, I would never have found it on my own!
So three ministers walked into a church, a Lutheran, a Presbyterian and an Episcopalian. And that’s not a joke – Jenn, Sara and Jason run Breaking Bread. I don’t know the history or who did what with whom but Breaking Bread is another one of those simple church ideas that are just outstandingly wonderful. It’s not rocket science to do this sort if thing but wow it is very powerful, and those of us who haven’t thought of it before go, “I wish I’d thought of that!”
All it is (and I don’t mean to sound like I’m putting it down, I’m not I’m raising it as high as I can and jumping up and down shouting “WE ALL SHOULD DO THIS…”) all it is, in essence, is a simple service, a simple meal and and a simple Bible study. #BreakingBread’s brilliance comes from two things – the atmosphere and the people.
I may not have the order of the next bit quite right but you’ll get the general idea.
The night I went Rev Jason wasn’t there and Rev Jenn was leading and Rev Sara was in charge of the food. You kind of just walk in and do stuff. I was ordered (nicely) to help lay the tables – cutlery and candles were what I did, and they look great.
Being the summer holidays they weren’t expecting a full house only about 20 (I’d love a Bible Study of about 20). Four tables were set up, some food was prepared (mainly asparagus, THE vegetable of Breaking Bread) and things began. It started with a simple service of singing and prayers and a very simple (but amazingly profound) Communion service in which we all stood and served each other the bread. It was a very moving experience and God was there, in the eyes of the homeless guy across the circle from me, in the smile of the person handing me the bread. It was another Holy experience in a borrowed church hall.
The wine was shared around our tables and the act of moving from one place to another between the elements was great. It made me feel like what we were doing was communal (all in the circle together) and yet also individual as we drank from our own cups in our places by the table. Again very simple ideas brilliantly done.
After the service (which was maybe 10 minutes) we went for the food like ravenous beasts, sharing talk and laughs at the various tables. This wasn’t rushed and there was a feeling of community there – hard to describe but there was a ‘freeness’ to the proceedings that can only come from everyone wanting the same outcome. I’m sure that doesn’t do it justice but it’s hard to describe.
After seconds Jenn (the Presbyterian (yay for John Calvin)) led us in a Bible study that I will not describe here as I intend to use the idea at our church (she’ll never know!!). Once again the way it was done was simple yet the content was very thought provoking and the discussions at our table was deep and serious.
It was a wonderful night (everyone helped with the clearing up as well) in which a stranger from a long way away was made to feel very much part of a worshipping community. He was offered food and spiritual comfort, companionship and conversation, teaching and love. It was all very New Testament, early church, true Christian Community in action stuff and I loved it. I’d go every week if I didn’t live 8,500 miles away.
Thank you to the Breaking Bread team, you are the real presence of God at work!!
(with the sound suppressed, semi-automatic pistol of the Spirit. Yours for under $2,000)
I will draw my Texas blog to a close – in its own way Texas was as brilliant as Denver. Where Denver was hands on, feet dirty, get in there and do it Texas was very different. And I expected it to be.
I went there to learn social media stuff and wow did I have a brilliant teacher – Pastor David Hansen (as well as being an amazing pastoral minister (you should see the way the people in the church love him), an amazing host (with his lovely wife Megan), a very handsome man (have you seen the pictures? he reminds me of a movie star or at least someone I know I’ve seen before) – on top of all that he is also a social media guru.
A lot of my Texas time was taken up sitting in front of computers doing ‘stuff’. Twitter and Facebook are no longer mysteries to me – podcasting, pfft I can do it in my sleep now – and twitter chats – I’ve seen how the best moderates them (from an armchair, with a beer!).
But being a geek wasn’t all I did. There are just one or two little experiences I want to share before I move on –
Lunch with Bishop Mike –
The ELCA (The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) has bishops. I had lunch with one and his family. I would just like to say thank you to Bishop Mike for taking time out of his sabbatical to come and eat TexMex with me. We had a great chat and to hear of the work and how the ELCA orders things makes our Gymanfa look very small. (I know it is but this reminded me of how small.) Bishop Mike has been quite outspoken on the situation in Gaza and we had a great discussion about balancing personal and professional social media posts. I learnt a lot (and not just how to load a taco). Thank you.
Another visit to a Christian book barn.
WOW – these places scare me – piousness and poison under the same roof. A man cannot serve two masters – its either God or money well in this place God was served a lot – every transaction was something about God but he was not the master there, this was a Christian money printing factory. I might be wrong but isn’t “Clean hands and a pure heart” hand sanitiser going a bit far?? What about “the spark plugs Jesus would use”?
Some of the books would be funny if they weren’t serious titles – “God and Guns” was probably my favourite but there were plenty of others.
Bad breath? Jesus mints will drive out the demons of halitosis.
God bless my gun cabinet.
A prayer to God for peace, for America and for the Marine Corps.
It was endless – I was glad when we left and went to the gun store!
I had heard a lot about the gun culture in the States – the right to bear arms (but not to arm bears – it would be fairer if they did). I was intrigued to see it for myself and where better than the local, family run, gun shoppe.
If the Christian book store was bad I don’t know what this was. It was a temple to gun metal, and it was a very scary temple.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time around firearms, I know what they can do and I think I can use one safely. This place wasn’t a gun store though, it was an arsenal. You can get pink shotguns for your little girl; semi-automatic rifles to go ‘hunting’ with; as much ammo as you could carry; shoulder holsters; ankle holsters; gun vests; cartridge making machines – everything the wanna be gun nut could want; but the worse thing (or the best thing, depending on your point of view) was the pistol with military grade suppressor (silencer).
Why would you ever need one? I cannot think of a legal situation that would require a pistol with a silencer. I can sort of see why you would need a semi-automatic rifle with sub-sonic, hollow point bullets – if a huge bear was running at me, all teeth and claws and menace I’d probably be glad of one, (I still think they should arm the bears to make the fight fairer though) but a silenced semi-automatic pistol.
Not for personal protection – I’d want every criminal to know I had a gun so I wouldn’t silence it. Not for hunting – its useless as a hunting pistol and still makes enough noise to scare off any game. Not at the local gun club – you all wear ear protectors. I cannot for the life of me see why.
I fell in love with parts of America and with parts of the American church but there are certain things that make me glad I’m coming home to Oz – and military grade, noise suppressed, semi-automatic pistols for under $2,000 is one of them. Makes me shudder to think of it.
I was sad to leave the Lone Star State. I made good friends there, I saw how two wonderful churches (Spirit of Joy! (don’t leave out the exclamation mark) and Grace Lutheran) and how two truly wonderful pastors work, I met loads of wonderful people of God who are doing amazing work in his name, even a couple of decent presbyterians. But Texas really is another America though – a wild, weird and wonderful place full of strange people, spaceships, gun shops and Jeezus.
Onward to Baltimore…..
Well I’m still in Texas (I’m not but the blog is, so stick with me, I’ve only got one more after this blog from here), and I’m feeling like a big kid.
I’m on my way to NASA!
Anyone born in the late sixties or early seventies will have a special place in their heart for NASA.
A year before my birth men walked on the moon for the first time; As I was being born Apollo 13 was in trouble; I watched the first shuttle launch in school; I saw the first shuttle disaster on tele; I wanted to be an astronaut!!!!
So here I am on the way to the Mission Control in Houston. I’m not going to go into detail here – this is not a tourist blog but the tour was great, a real high point of my trip. There were some amazing things to see – a real NASA skip (with NASA written on the side); Mission Control but the biggest thrill, however, was the Saturn 5 rocket!!!
I made a model of one of these when I was a child, it had a little Neil Armstrong and everything. I knew the scale of a man to the machine but seeing it was MINDBLOWING!
Huge doesn’t do it justice – the jets of the rockets had a 40 ft diameter and there was 5 of them – this thing is unbelievably big; massively large; unfathomably vast. Even that doesn’t make it clear how big it is!
I mention it because I have been in awe of the this machine for years and as amazing as it is it was nothing to how I felt that evening. My hosts (Megan and David) took me from NASA to a suburb of Houston to the Grace Lutheran Church where we met the pastor Lura Groen.
Grace is a fantastic little place in a hip neighbourhood of Houston that does some utterly amazing stuff. The three things I want to mention are –
This is such a simple idea – local growers bring their produce to the church where a local co-op hires some space and sells good, local grown food for fair prices. Everyone wins – the church gets a working presence in the community, the community gets fresh local food and the growers get some money. WIN/WIN/WIN. Simple and brilliant.
2) The work they do with Homeless teens.
Lura gave us the grand tour and one of the big things the church does, in conjunction with the other organisations, is to have a ministry to the local homeless youth, many of whom are gay. On Thursday evenings there is a drop in session held at the church with a safe place to talk (the church board has made the best room in the building available to the homeless – that speaks volumes, it says ‘you are valuable AND you are welcome’, words these kids may not here from anywhere else. There is a clothing bank and a food bank where good (hip) clothes and healthy food are available. They also supply things that we take for granted but to the homeless are luxuries – toilet paper, sanitary products, batteries etc. It is an amazing work that is not only needed but also really well done – Simple and Brilliant!
3) Wednesday Night Worship
We arrived in time for the Wednesday Night Communion service. This is a small service held in a small side chapel. As with the House for All Sinners and Saints the liturgy was very traditional and yet was so fresh. It was a simple gathering where prayer, music and short sermon were shared and then we gathered around the table and shared the communion elements. It was made VERY clear that this was an open table and EVERYBODY is welcome. These weren’t just words spoken out of habit – this was a heartfelt invitation to all who wished to hear and come that this table was open to them!! It was formally informal or informally formal – in all the tradition and well known words there was an openness that was so wonderful to be a part of.
The service at Grace Lutheran struck me as living up to that verse that says we must accept the things of God as a child. It wasn’t childish but it was child-like – simple, profound and somehow very truthful. The service (indeed my whole experience was) simple and brilliant.
But what has that got to do with the SATURN 5 rocket – well this – as impressed and awe-struck as I was by the technology of the 1960’s that had 1,000,000 components and put men on the moon I was not as impressed or as awe-struck with that as I was with the wonderful work and the presence of God that I saw and felt at Grace. THAT was amazing in every sense of the word.
They welcome they extend goes as far as green, alien children – honestly, it was in their stained glass windows – look-
I couldn’t put this in anywhere but I must tell you y’all; I touched moon rock!!!!
Warm winds blowing,
Heating blue sky,
And a road that goes forever,
I’m going to Texas.
I left Denver reluctantly, (it really is a great place and I learnt so much and saw so much).
I began my trip to Texas. And I’ll be honest I had no idea what to expect.
Well, let me tell you EVERYTHING you read about Texas is true.
It IS big; it IS brash; it IS a place of extremes.
I was privileged to have been invited to stay with David and Megan (@rev_David and @megateer)
and I was met by David at the airport (one of three in Houston – told you they do it big!). David and I had chatted a bit on Twitter and had a Skype chat once but it would be a stretch to say we were aquatinted. So with some trepidation I climbed into a strange car, in a strange city with a strange man.
If only I knew then how strange he is!!
We circled Houston (it is a massive city) and headed towards where I was to stay. The trip would take about an hour or so. I settled in and we began to make conversation. What was I going to say? It would be all God talk about how wonderful our respective churches are and then would we try and out holy each other. I had imagined it, “My church has 2,000 members.” “That’s nice, we do our sermon in tongues we are so holy.” “Hey, that’s great – we crucify our elders weekly to show how much we love Jesus.” “Who is Jesus?” I was dreading it. (Slight exaggeration but it increases the tension.)
Well, within ten minutes we were done being fakely holy and were geeking it up, finishing each other’s sentences and laughing like old friends. David pointed out this and that (including the way to NASA!!!!!!) and then as we entered the burbs the signs started. Huge (and I mean HUGE) religious billboards for various mega churches and ‘Christian’ organisations. Think Queensland but like they really mean it and are not just pretending. My new friend and host told me of the proven correlation – the more big Christian signs there are the more sex shops and strip joints there are. Which is the response to which, I asked myself???
After passing the sex shops and gun stores and big signs etc etc we arrived at my guest house for the next few days. I then found my next nice surprise – Lucy the beagle/corgi cross, another new friend!!! (click the picture to see her)
Next surprise – a comic book store / coffee shop right round the corner. Geek nirvana! My final surprise was when Megan turned up – another geeky friend. This was going to be a good week!!
Unlike last week, most of this week was to be about computer stuff for online ministry. It wasn’t going to be a hands on, active service week like last week – or so I thought.
There was a lot of computer work – I watched (and took part) as David moderated the weekly online twitter chat #chsocm. I try to join in with that as often as I can and most of the people I was visiting are active in the Church and Social Media (CHSOCM) community.
Watching the magic of moderating happen was a lot of fun but not what I expected.
I expected this…..
I got this……
And this was superb – I learnt so much.
I also participated in a podcast for the Church of the Geek. This podcast was on Pilgrimage and will be available on Aug 15th (ish). I’ll link to it from here when it’s available. That was a lot of fun too and again, I learnt much. I had Facebook and Twitter lessons, fantastic stuff.
David was very generous with his time and talent and I will be implementing what he taught me when I get back and have time. I cannot thank him and Megan and Lucy (and the cats!) enough. But again I say, “Thank you!”
It wouldn’t make a good blog to read all about the two of us sitting in front of computers and geeking out over Facebook and Twitter.
What it did re-enforce in me was the fact that Church is EVERYWHERE. We did Church in the car, we did Church eating TexMex with a Bishop, we even did Church at NASA – see the next blog for that!!!
More and more as I travel around this vast country and meet people I realise that church (and by church I mean Christian living) is done very simply here. With the people I have met it is a part of everyday life and not just part of a busy Sunday. Its wonderful – church is part of the everyday lives of people, it is part of their community, it is their community….
church is EVERYWHERE!!!!
You might have guessed by now that I really liked Denver. The city is meh but the people are WOW! To finish the Denver part of this blog and this trip I want you to meet 2 more folks. Vivian and Lotti.
This is Vivian.
I went back to City Park on Sunday morning to help with the Homeless Communion again. I arrived quite early, about 11, and just watched as the under privileged of Denver gathered for both spiritual and physical food. It was a warm day so instead of sitting in the sun they just laid their bags in a queue and went to sit in the shade. As I stood under a tree and watched a young woman came over to me and asked, “Do you want me to pray for you?”
This shocked me, and I didn’t reply, she said again, “Hi, I’m Vivian from one of the local churches, I’m not Jehovah’s Witness or anything weird, I’m just a Christian – would you like me to pray for you?”
“Yes please” I stammered.
“What shall I pray for? Do you need a roof or some food?” I must admit this made me re-think my ward-robe, to her I looked homeless! I thought it was a Denver Hipster look but apparently it was Denver Dropout – oh well, it could be worse, I could have looked like a tourist.
“No thank you” I said, Im travelling through.
“OK” and uncorking a bottle of oil she anointed my head and prayed a simple prayer for a traveler.
She said “God bless you” and walked on. I watched, she went up to every homeless person there (about 90 of them by the end) and asked each one of them. She got about a 70% positive response but not once did she get any abuse or bad reaction.
With those who wanted she anointed them and prayed with them, chatted for a couple of minutes and walked on. She never asked for anything, she never seemed harsh or angry. Just a young woman doing what little she could to help spread the love of God.
It was oddly lovely to watch. She will never read this blog, I doubt I’ll ever see her again but I pray that God blesses her in all she does. If you have a faith, please include Vivian the prayer girl in your prayers too.
Meet Lotti – my new friend Lotti.
After the Communion service in the park I need to head to the House for All Sinners and Saints. I put it into Google Maps (my new favourite app by a mile) and it told me to walk two blocks and catch a number 20 bus which was due in an hour.
Off I went and found the bus stop. Sitting on the bench was a guy so I sat down and said, “Hi.” People seem to do that here.
He looked straight at me – “Did you just say hi to a black fella?”
“Ummm, yes I did.”
“Well Lord bless me, today is a good day!” He said. “Not many folks would say hi to an old black fella like me, are you sure you want to?”
“Yes, I’m sure, Hi, I’m Siôn.”
“Well Sharn (that’s how they say it here), it sure is good to talk to you, I’m Lotti.”
We shook hands. Well, no thats not true, I extend my hand, and so did he and then we did some weird synchronised swimming kind of thing with our hands and fingers and thumbs.
“Did yer get that?’ He asked.
“Show me again” He did. And about 10 tries later he was satisfied that I could do it. “Well done boy. Dap me.”
I looked puzzled – “Put your fist out like this” – I did, so he punched me in the hand. “That’s dappin’. We do that when you get something right.”
I’m a total social native now.
Lotti and I sat and talked for the hour the bus took to come. He found out I was a minister – “You ain’t like no white preacher I ever seen – they don’t talk to the likes of me.”
“Thank you” I said and meant it.
He loved the fact I had come from Australia but, “There are better things to do in Denver than talk to Lotti.”
You know what? I don’t think there was. He was a Veteran of Vietnam, he used to drive trucks for a living. He laughed a deep booming laugh ever time he could, he shared wisdom and stories in equal measure. He talked of his family and obviously loved them to bits, and they him. He spoke of how he hadn’t been to church for 45 years because he’d been told God didn’t have time for him and that he wasn’t good enough for the Kingdom. I lost it at this (as those who know me you can imagine), “What rubbish! God’s got more time for you than some guy in a suit who would tell you that. Did you go to Sunday School?”
“Every week, in my best clothes” he said.
“Tell me the stories of Jesus that you remember,” I said. “Who did he spend the most time with?”
He thought about that for a minute, a far away look in his eyes.
“Well, let me see, I remember something about sinners and lepers and some little tax gatherer up a tree.”
“Do you remember the story about the good church people he sat with?”
“No, sir, I don’t recall that one.”
“Because it’s not really there – Jesus didn’t go to the folks who thought they were good enough, the suits and the preachers, he went to where people didn’t think they were good enough.”
“Yes, Lotti I am, take this.” I gave him the little Bible I carry in my backpack for when my iPad runs out of battery. “Read the New Testament, that starts here. Tell me what you think.”
“I will” he said.
The bus arrived, we got on. He went and sat down. “Can I sit with you?” I asked.
“You wanna sit with me?”
“Of course I do”
We sat and continued to talk. This was his area, people he knew got on. He introduced me to them all. We talked and laughed, we ‘shook’ hands in that strange way he taught me. There were lots of daps and smiles.
About 20 minutes later Lotti looked up and said, ‘I missed my stop, it was five back that way.”
He stood and pulled the bell chord for the next stop.
“Thank you Siôn, it’s been a real blessing, and I ain’t used that word properly in 40 years.”
We ‘shook”, we dapped and then he dragged me from my seat and hugged me. With tears in both our eyes he got off.
He thinks he was blessed – ha – I was Godsmacked again by the God of mysteries and surprises….
End note – Since I wrote this on Monday I got a phone call from Lotti yesterday – he went to his his local church on Monday and spoke to the pastor who backed up what I said and Lotti is going on Sunday to church for the first time in 45 years. He promised to call me next week and tell me how it went. Please pray for Lotti too.
P.S. I just re-read this – Please don’t think this is story about my Great American Evangelistic Crusade and my amazing powers to save the lost and wandering or how holy and wonderful I am- it is not that at all, if you think that please read it again. It is a blog about how God reaches into everyday life and does HIS thing. All I said was “Hi”, I’m pretty sure my input stopped there – the rest was God, not me (except the hand shakes, that was totally me, and I can still do it!!).
“If you can judge a wise man but the colour of his skin,
Then mister you’re a better man than I.”
Are you a casual racist?
I am. I don’t mean to be but I am.
I came across these pictures the other day and they made me think…. (click on them and read them) (I found them here.)
I’ve said some of these things…I didn’t mean to be racist but I’ve said them: I’m sorry.
The words of the sign (a reference from the Aerosmith song ‘Livin’ on the edge) have always made me think and I heard them in my head a few weeks ago.
Writing the blog I posted this morning (church IS people) I was reminded of another, very similar experience. I must say here, before you read any more, that I don’t go out of my way to talk to people, believe it or not I’m actually quite shy. Sometimes it just happens that I fall into conversations. I will talk to anybody. I’m not as good at it as Jim or Bubba but I can do it. It does make me sad that these two (almost identical) conversations happened in a few short months, on opposite sides of the world. What does that say about us as the human race?
I had been sitting talking to a guy for a few minutes about this and that, passing time as we just both happened to be on the same bench at the same time – when he said, “You’re the first white fella in a long time to just sit and talk to me. you know, like I’m human.”
That shocked me; I really felt for Marcus (that is his name); he’s an Indigenous man from outside Alice Springs who has a fantastic sense of humour and real wisdom but many people don’t see past the colour of his skin. The wise man underneath is lost to them. His colour blinds them to his mind.
Lucky for us Western Christians that Jesus was a white man then.
Are you kidding?
Jesus was a Jew from the Middle East who would have looked a lot more like this…
And it really shouldn’t matter what he looked like – because if you can judge a wise man but the colour of his skin, then mister you’re a better man than I.
Does it make any difference what colour Jesus was? Does being whiter mean being wiser? Of course not! With that logic if Jesus was white he have said even more wise things. (I’ve actually read that in a sermon from a church in the Southern United States.) What rubbish.
Why should it matter what colour our skin is or where we come from or what language we speak? We are all human beings – all children of God – all equally loved.
We may not understand other cultures and we may have trouble with other languages but I pray that we will see the person before the colour; see the child of God no matter where they come from or who they are.
So if I have ever hurt you by a casual racist comment please forgive me – just as the brown skinned saviour from Palestine does.
At the beginning of this blog I want to thank Jerry and Nadia for letting me take part in something so holy. Thank you.
Denver has a huge, not so hidden, problem. It has a lot of homeless people. In 2013 Denver was estimated to have a population just short of 650,000 and just over 11,000 of them were homeless. That’s nearly 6% of the population without anywhere to live.
Considering the work that Bubba has just started it was good to see some of the stuff that is happening to help this forgotten section of society.
As you walk down the main street of Downtown (the 16th Street Mall) you can see lots of the homeless just sitting around. I mentioned this to Nadia and she suggested that we go and hang out with her friend Jerry Herships as he did a homeless communion.
Jerry founded AfterHours Church (www.afterhoursdenver.org), go and read about it, it’s such a great work.
One of the many things Jerry does is manage a daily homeless feeding program with Communion if you want it. A lot of the churches of Denver now take turns in running it. At midday, everyday, many of the homeless of Denver (we gave out about 100 lunches the first day I was there) gather at Civic Park and form an orderly line waiting for their food. I went more than once to help and I watched them gather from about 11am, placing their bags in line and going to sit in the shade to chat or read or hang out. A few minutes before noon the team of workers would turn up. The first time I went it was Jerry who turned up, opened a battered picnic table with the words
Jesus was homeless.
the foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.
on the top. A loaf of bread, a cup of grape juice and a cross were laid out and the ‘service’ began.
It was super simple….
The people file past and are offered communion – most say yes – a little bit of bread is dipped in the cup and handed to them with the words, “A reminder that God loves you”. Some say Amen, some just bow their heads, others just smile and say thank you or God bless you. They move on and are handed a bag of food and a bottle of water (the second time I went there was even dog food). It is very dignified, each person is treated like an individual and loved for who they are.
I helped to hand out bottles of water and each person, without fail, had something nice to say to me. From a simple thank you or a God bless you, to the one that nearly made me cry – “We all appreciate what you guys are doing, not everyone will say it but thank you.”
Then Jerry called me over and asked if I wanted to give out Communion. Having watched I knew what to do but I did ask myself if I was ready for this.
I have lost count of the number of Communion services I have led – I have done services in churches and cathedrals, in homes and hospitals, by the side of the road and in hotels, to a thousand people and to just one but I don’t think I have ever got as close to what I think Communion really means as that lunch time in a park in Denver. It was a simple, beautiful act of sharing God’s love with those who may not get love from many other sources. The gratitude and dignity of the people was amazing. Even those who choose not to take the elements did so in a dignified and polite way.
As I stood there I saw Jesus looking back at me from every face that passed, I’m sure I got more of a blessing from them than they got from me, I was the one being ministered too. One man, when I asked him if he would like Communion, said, “I’m a Baptist”, I said I’m sure that didn’t matter and he replied, “Y’know, you’re probably right.” He took the elements and said amen and I was Godsmacked again.
That simple act of sharing bread and wine (grape juice actually, but let’s not split hairs) was so profound that I know I have been changed by it. I’m not sure how yet, but there was a clunk inside me of as I stood there as if God had turned a key and opened something inside me. As I said, I don’t know what yet but…..
“Oh ye of little feet…”
(That has no relevance to the blog – I just loved it!)
Well, that was Denver, CO. and it was BRILLIANT!!!!
If the rest of the trip and the people are half as nice, and I learn half as much it will be great. Everywhere else has a lot to live up to.
Denver isn’t mentioned in many ‘must do’ lists. It doesn’t have a big Statue (that was made in France) or a Mouse themed fun park (that now owns Star Wars) or even a house that was painted white to hide the smoke stains from when the Brits torched it.
But it does have AMAZING people!! (I think I’ve mentioned that before.)
And these people hanged out with me ( or is that hung out??? I’m still not 100% clear on what hanging out is, yet alone what tense to use). I have spent a considerable time trying to get a definition of what hanging out is. It is definitely being together in the same space and doing stuff – eating, talking, looking at things but there seems to be unwritten rules that I haven’t quite worked out yet. For instance – you can’t hang out AND be on your phone; that’s just not done – but you can hang out and not speak to the person you’re with for 10 minutes. As close as I can get to a Melbourne equivalent is – “You want to grab a coffee” but not necessarily with the coffee. It’s all very confusing – but back to the people.
Meet Angie – a graphic designing, military serving, deeply Christian woman, who (and she’ll hate me for saying this, but I must for its doesn’t happen very often) is shorter than me. We met at a breakfast meeting for the House for All Sinners and Saints. Kind of a drop in, share time together, meet the pastors, get to know you, social experience, kind of churchy but not really thing. I’m sure you get the picture.
She’s been going to the church for a while but it was her first time at the morning coffee thing and we just happened to sit at the same table and talked. We seemed to share common interests and a hold a very similar theology – we share the same view that God’s love is for EVERYONE and that’s always a good place to start. As the breakfast meeting thing drew to an end she asked if I wanted to “hang out”. Hoping it wasn’t some bizarre American ritual which involved stringing unweary tourists up by the neck I agreed. BEST decision of the week so far.
Angie knew all the cool places, the off the track stuff that tourist like I would never get to see on my own. The highlight (or lowlight depending on how you look at it) was a visit to a Christian book store in the suburbs. Now when we think of a Christian book store we think of WORD or that other one that no one remembers the name of. Quite, small places crammed with stuff – well no this one was not like that! This place was warehouse sized and packed with all manner of terrible stuff – the pictures are just a sample of the merchandise and the mind set. (Click on them to see them properly)
There was a wall about as long as a football field of just Bibles – my favourite being the American Patriot Bible complete with Star Spangled Banner, a white Jesus with perfect teeth and the tag line – God’s word for HIS people! Nice to know I was among God’s people, I needed the reminder because it sure didn’t feel like it just then. Im pretty sure if I’d opened that Bible the verse about judge not lest ye be not judged would be missing.
As an example I must tell you this – there were posters and pictures and prints everywhere with Jesus on them. As a hunter, as a lawyer, as a dentist, as a truck driver etc, etc, etc. and in every single one of them, without exception, he was white. Not slightly tanned or even mildly Middle Eastern – he was white! I commented on this and my guide suggested I ask at the counter and the conversation went something like this…..
Lady behind the register, “Hello, God bless you. My name is Barbara, how can I help you today”
Me, “Hello, I’m a minister from Australia and I’d like to take a souvenir back home with me, do you have a picture of a black Jesus? I’ve got white Jesus posters, I’d like something more ethnically real”
Barbara, “Will you excuse me, my register doesn’t seem to be working?”
And she walked off:
Cue howls of laughter from behind me!!!! I learned that not everyone was welcome at that book store and I guess they didn’t have that Jesus poster either.
I also got to hang out with Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber – an amazing woman of faith. Now I get a lot of people telling me that I don’t look like a minister but I’m pretty sure she would hear that far more often than I do. Tattoos and attitude, both in abundance and both backed by a very real and vivid faith that shines out in everything she does.
Nadia is a Lutheran minister, the founder and one of the pastors at the House for All Sinners and Saints (www.houseforall.org). House is a wonderful place, a church that is truly for all sinners and saints. All are welcome and its obvious that those aren’t just words on the bulletin. Everyone is really and truly welcome. Much has been written about House, and I really can’t do it justice, go and google it and you’ll see what I mean.
All I’m going to do is to outline my thoughts; the things I observed in just a few days and two services. Firstly and fore-mostly the House for All Sinners and Saints (HFASS) is a living, growing church with the most amazing sense of community. All the Sunday stuff is important but, to an outsider, it seems that there is a lot that goes on during the week, some of which the pastors only here about later; the members make the place a vibrant community of God. It is a place to belong, a family of all manner of people, a fantastic place of welcome.
The way I read my New Testament makes me think that Jesus would go to House. I can’t give it higher praise than that. I think he would agree with what they do and how they do it. I’m sure House is not perfect, they only had two flavours of Paddle Pops (which you can eat during worship!!) but all the people I met do try and live the Gospel in all they do. They seem to understand those bits at the end of the parable of the Good Samaritan that say – “love your neighbour” and “go and do likewise”.
One of the things that I love about HFASS is that it doesn’t have its own building. It is a church in the original sense of the word – a meeting of the people of God. It doesn’t matter that they meet in a borrowed church hall; God’s people just meet and worship.
(picture from @Sarcasticluther)
The worship is awesome and nothing like I expected it to be. It was traditional in liturgy – singing the hymns that we know (in choral guild (choir practise) we sang Cwm Rhondda!); none of us at the Melbourne Welsh Church would feel out of place listening to the prayers and partaking in the Eucharist. The BIG difference is that HFASS has taken the meaning of liturgy literally (try saying that fast three times). From the original Greek scholars tell us that Liturgy means “People Worship” – at House this is true – The people lead the service. As you walk in you are handed a booklet and asked if you want to take part. From the opening prayers to the closing dismissal the people lead worship. The pastor (Nadia on the Sunday I was there) delivers the sermon and leads the Eucharist but the people help with everything else including the sharing of the elements. It is also made VERY clear that the Communion Table is an open table and anyone and everyone is welcome to partake of the elements or just receive a blessing.
It was real, gritty, down to earth, wonderfully beautiful worship and it was a privilege to take part.