This is a third post in a series that explores one section of our mapping responses. We are being honest about our weaknesses and I think even more honest about our hopes in a difficult world.
Here is the main question I am tracking, again: Given what you think is going to happen in our society and in the world in the next five years, what do you think Jesus wants to do through his church, in general, not just us?
We received eighteen pages of responses to this question from our cells. One theme spotlighted the divisions that are so evident in our city and world which are so important to us. We are reconcilers. We want to transcend social boundaries.
There was a lot of thinking about just what crossing dividing lines might mean:
- We include even when people are divided.
- Let’s get over the labels of the past in every form – personal, theological, denominational, national.
- We want to be radical in welcoming the “stranger.”
- We are making more room for everyone
- We were reflecting on the upcoming election and the surrounding tension and polarization evident in our society. Circle of Hope needs to continue offering a safe place for people to dialogue with people from varying political, ideological, diverse viewpoints on many issues. Our culture at large hardly ever offers venues for people to actually have a meaningful discussion with people who differ from them. We want to bring people together to promote understanding, love, and discernment in the midst of a culture that promotes the opposite.
- We want our church to not align with the powers that be, and to instead offer a different way of living in the world that is guided by Jesus. We want to remain a place of hope for people.
- We discussed the polarized political climate and how we need creative ways to dismantle the echo chamber to be able to have healthy dialogue with people.
- We want less connection of Christianity and bigotry,
- Let’s address diversity and learn to be in relationship with people we feel we can’t relate to
I’ve collected the direction in this area under three headings. To do what Jesus wants to do, we think we need to transcend boundaries in three ways:
Cross dividing lines
I was not surprised that so many people in our cells noted that Jesus would like to have a diverse church. Me too. I am happy that Circle of Hope has always been diverse and antiracist, as well as anti-every form of oppression (that might be why we feel so free to talk about it).
We are one church that includes the work of our compassion and mission teams, including Circle Thrift and Circle Counseling (both which are very diverse in many ways). We should remember how they also connect us across the lines that divide. Our teen meetings and other meetings are even more diverse than our Sunday meetings. Here’s a rule of thumb for you: A church is considered multicultural when at least 20% of its members come from groups different from the congregation’s majority. Only 14% of the churches in the U.S. fit that description. Our Sunday meetings at our four sites, range from 7% to 25%, respectively, on average. But like I just noted, we are more than our Sunday meetings. If you look at we touch each week through all the means we relate, the percentages are much higher, but we don’t keep track.
I keep working on language that helps us work with diversity and the “rights” language associated. I think we are getting somewhere [link]. But if you are a “minority” group working hard to gain the power and prerogatives of the domination system, our insistence on self-giving love is probably not your priority, so we might be disappointing. I think most people who were talking about diversity in our cells are calling for conformity to the morality of human rights under the law as the justice we should seek. I think we need to be on the right side of that societal justice, unlike many Christians who are not. And I think we are on the right side, but maybe not for what many people think are the “right reasons.”
These are all verbatim responses from the cells about crossing dividing lines.
- More reconciliation between seemingly opposed groups — ethnically, racially, national boundaries
- Keep crossing boundaries to include everyone who wants to be included.
- Among generations: More teens leading the church that includes old people.
- Gender: More women’s voices in leadership.
- Race: More color in leadership.
- Sexuality: Healing place for LGBTQ community.
- Geography/culture: More native Philadelphians in the mix.
- Income: Break down income inequality. Income inequality is huge; poor folks are more religious but less likely to belong to a church. Can we make a church inclusive of poor folks, where poor people can lead without having to get enculturated into middle-classness?
- Religion: We think Jesus wants to move us out of our comfort zones with this and have interfaith discussions and to partner with other churches and organizations that are doing good works in our city.
- Art: Creativity and expressing art as we relate to the Artist makes a safe place for many who don’t fit in “regular” churches.
Deal with diversity/race/LGBTQ issues
One-sixth of the cells said something about relating to same-sex attracted people. Here is a summary:
- There seemed to be a lot of feelings of confusion around our relationship with the LGBT community. We want to be actively open and embracing.
- There seems to be a lack of open conversation about relating to LGBT people. We are very interested in having more concrete conversations that show our movement.
- Jesus welcomes people and without conditions. We need to reach out to the LGBTQ community which has been told lies of hate about God.
- We want to have a presence in the fight for rights, and think about the future of the church in relation to gay youth.
- Sexuality is getting fractured in the Western world; as sexual identity is seemingly more and more the chief identifier of a person, loving folks will require a lot of grace and flexibility.
There was less prevalence, but people were also concerned that we continue to seek to cross ethnic, social and cultural boundaries in the name of Jesus.
- We hope there will be an end to extremism- mutual understanding is important, we need other people/other religions. This includes our Muslim neighbors, who should be treated with compassion and respect.
- We also think Black lives matter.
Relate to neighbors
Our region is changing, especially Center City and nearby neighborhoods. We are struggling to find ways to relate to the neighbors.
- In the streets, people walk with their heads down and isolated. As the church we can relate more and be more conscious of our surroundings and the needs of those around us.
- Let’s have more outreach (feeding homeless/just talking to people/acknowledging them). One cell member mentioned during one of our cell homeless outreaches she talked to a homeless woman and one of the things that was hard for her was when people would just walk around and ignore her. Let’s get out there and meet people.
- Work closely together. Get to know our neighbors in new ways. Put down the technology and be with one another.
- Get out more in our community and get to know people not involved with Circle of Hope.
- Five years down the road we see potential issues that may come up to discern over: the ongoing gentrification, the growing value of the equity owned in Circle property, the changing environment around the community. There was an interesting story shared about a newcomer into the area speaking very derogatory about his neighbors who’ve been living there for years, and basically exuberant about the possibility of these people are moving out, people who have lived here for generations. All the while this newcomer was planning to move out of this “appalling area” as soon as they could — bashing the community from your newly built place while not even planning to invest in the area. This may be an isolated case, but emphasized to me the importance of intentionally encouraging newcomers to be invest in the area, not try change it to their ‘standards’ or the developers standards. Helping build a sense of community investment within new-comers is a great
- Utilizing the growth that’s begun to happen in the neighborhoods north of Lehigh (from members of our congregation buying homes, working in the area etc) – intentionally connecting with the neighbors that live there and creatively using our resources to connect
- Discussion about actually cashing in on the growing equity of the site and moving to a nearby site was brought up. Though it is a great location and church for the incoming population. It is harder to be genuine with all the development and with new people’s closedness.
- Let’s figuring out ways to be more accessible to people outside of our main demographic (and also new people that are moving into our neighborhood), How can we be more welcoming (make them feel comfortable/at home) and open to people from different backgrounds, neighborhoods etc consciously using our space to connect with those folks through events etc. Continuing to consciously join our community with other communities in neighborhood functions, block parties, vigils, gatherings etc.
In a divided up, labeled world, we have managed to be a diverse church who touch all sorts of people with our mission. We have even managed to grow diverse cells and Sunday Meetings in a country where most churches do not. But many of us are not satisfied, are even preoccupied with our failure to meet the ideal. There is something beautiful about that yearning, but also something dangerous. We don’t want to be divided up by fighting about divisions!