(The picture above does NOT look like Circle of Hope — although the art would be nice — but it might be what you expect of “church”)
I know at least a couple of people will wander into this website and read this. You are wondering what it would be like to “go to church.” You have never done it. You know there are Christians everywhere and a lot of church buildings, but you have never been to a meeting at one of them – except for ceremonies, which were interesting, but weird. Sometimes you even skip the wedding ceremony, if it is in a church building, and just go to the reception, which feels more normal.
Let me tell you, many Christians are so insular they think everyone has gone to church and you aren’t there because you just don’t want to do it anymore. They think they are normal. But you and I know that it is a very divided-up world. Many people think loving futbol is normal, but tons of people don’t even know where the Union’s stadium is (or that there is one) and many more have never even been to Chester, since they would never go there. Somehow it has become acceptable to tolerate people by never getting to know them or even thinking of them, just leaving them alone. This has left millions of people totally isolated, because they can’t even find a group to be in, and it has left many groups totally ignoring other groups. I honestly think powerful forces use this ignorance against us so they are the only ones who have an overall outlook and the power to manipulate the markets.
So in case you are interested, let me tell you a bit about what Christians are doing on Sundays, or whenever they decide to have a group meeting. There are similarities and differences among the various groups of Jesus followers, and Circle of Hope is relatively unique. Catholics and Episcopalians are centered on the “Eucharist” – the ceremony that re-enacts the death of Jesus on the cross to forgive the sins of the world. Presbyterians are centered on the speech when their (usually male) pastor teaches people the word of God. Pentecostals are centered on the experience of the Holy Spirit in the meeting. Baptists are centered on telling people the good news about Jesus so they can be saved. Many of the new churches in town are centered on their “show” so they can attract people to their program of personal and spiritual development. Most churches have an historical thing they do and they keep perfecting it until most people at the meeting can predict what is going to happen. After participants have done the regular thing for a while they can “mail it in” or not even go to the meeting that often — but nobody thinks not showing up is authentic.
To be honest, if you came to most of these meetings, most of the people there would probably assume you know what is happening, even if you had never been to a church meeting. They might not even explain what they are doing because they don’t really expect a person like you to be there and are not prepared to tell you. They are mostly there for the people they already know. That’s not really a reflection of their convictions, but it is their habit — the same kind of habits that keep you in your present rut.
Again, to be honest, even though Circle of Hope is not designed like these other groups, we have our ways, too, and some people do “mail it in.” Some people have been members of all the other groups I mentioned and brought their habits with them to our new church — some good, some not so good. We’re a mix. In theory, we are an intentional mix. We are not just doing a program, we are inventing the meeting all the time.We don’t do what we do on Sundays to be something, we are something, so we do what we do. We are not “Circle of Hope-ites,” we are Jesus followers who organize to do what we think we should do. That is a big difference. Our meetings are designed to be an expression of who we are as a body. They are not super professional, because we all do the meetings, not just the professionals. The times we share are often dialogical, since we want to participate. They are often experimental, since we are trying new things and various things from all the streams of Christian thought and practice. They often feel quite intimate, since we are a community, are inclusive and we keep the meetings small. So all these things mean Circle of Hope’s meetings can seem deep and challenging, since you can’t really just mail them in. you have to do them and be a part. We are not a very good show to watch, even when we try to keep things impersonal enough to give people some space to find their way into the group at their own rate.
Last night, our new congregation in the Northwest (their cells are all over but their meeting is presently in Roxborough) began to figure out how they would express who they are as Circle of Hope, a new expression of the body of Christ in Northwest Philly. I can tell you, it is quite a process! They do not want to spend all their time just becoming a new grouping, even though that is important. They don’t want to have a lot of arguments over how to follow their new leaders and how to put together something that represents their interests, even though that is inevitable. They really want to figure out how they can relate to you, the person who has never been to any church meeting, including ours, and who might never even consider doing it, it would be so weird. If, for some reason, you got this far in this blog post, maybe you could go help them out. You don’t need to be a Christian or even understand what that means before you get there. You’ll be fine. Maybe you are just a nice neighbor and you’d like to encourage some people who are doing what they love and hoping to be a valuable part of the community, like a lot of other people you know.