Last night we gathered in Germantown with some folks who were new to Circle of Hope. We were casting the vision and inviting them into partnership in our work for God’s redemption project. Our goal is to create an environment where people can connect with God and act for redemption. This is unique. we cultivate our community to be the modus operandi. Our effective strategy is to be a sort of people, rather than say a certain thing, or do any number of right things. We are the message. That inherently includes saying and doing, but it is much more than that. We are not just teaching principles from the Bible or culling out moral lessons from Jesus. We are resisting the temptation to reduce our life in Christ to mental ascent. We are an environment–an environment that is transforming lives.
When we bring it all together like that it gets real quickly. Rachel Sensenig, our host for the evening and a pastor in our network, recently described her first meeting at Circle of Hope. “People were talking about their real problems from the front. It was raw and a little awkward and so…human, and that seemed ok…” She said something similar last night. Someone was even tearing up at that meeting…from the front! That environment existed then and it exists now. You can get into the circle as you are and because we our primary function is not behavior management or thought policing you can be yourself. We’re especially interested in being a safe place for those who haven’t figured it all out yet–folks who aren’t sure about their faith but know they are welcome. I encouraged those entering our community who were at the meeting to do what you can now, rather than what you should never.
So much of institutional Christianity, especially in 20th century America, has been about getting it right. Maybe it’s the Puritanical roots of the first European settlers, maybe it’s modernistic thinking, maybe it’s a post world war superiority complex–whatever it is it leaves us destitute. Our culture’s spiritual poverty is apparent enough with just a passing glance around Philadelphia. If we insist on getting it right ourselves we will be out in the cold forever. Circle of Hope is designed to be a place where anyone can get in and being in can receive from God what they need. Many folks who come know they need a circle- they long for a community; and they know they need hope- a universally desirous virtue; but many are poisoned to Jesus, or maybe a version of Jesus filtered beyond recognition of the real man.
I’m praying for those who manage to get in with us before they know explicitly what Jesus is doing and what Jesus did. Even those with tiny little baby faith are able to contribute to the project. Many of those who have been at it a long time still have tiny little baby faith. That was Jesus’ pet name for his disciples- oligopistos- tiny-faiths. The disciples, yes, the Bible ones, were tiny-faiths, and they were in with Jesus if anyone was. We are then “in” too because Jesus welcomes us and Circle of Hope is all about extending that welcome to the next person.