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My past two blog posts have tried to recast the church’s ministry in terms of worldliness. On the one hand, there’s a kind of worldliness that ought to be eschewed—a kind marked by self-protectiveness, insulation, and an overemphasis on its own purity that frequently manifests in self-righteousness. On the other hand, there’s a kind of worldliness that the church must manifest—a kind grounded in its identification and solidarity with the world, a kind that sends its members into the grit and grime of human existence with a message of hope and acts of compassion. For that is where Christ is.
For me, this framing is one of many ways that enables us to check the spiritual pulse of our congregations, so to speak, and, of course, of our own lives. Which kind of worldliness do we manifest? Do we act on the basis of our discernment of Christ’s ministry of healing and reconciliation, which first and foremost is among “the least of these”? When we engage in public discourse (for example in the political arena) which kind of worldliness do we manifest?
Along these lines, I suggested two weeks ago that the kind of worldiness to be eschewed was writ large in those pushing the Arizona policy that would grant businesses the freedom to avoid serving gay customers (and others). This week I turn to a more inspirational story of a small congregation that has demonstrated creative and unexpected ways to be worldly in the best sense.
Lake Nokomis Presbyterian Church is a small congregation in Minneapolis, MN. Like many mainline Protestant city churches, its membership had declined steadily throughout the last decades of the twentieth century. So before calling their current pastor, the congregation boldly asked the questions, Is God done with us? Is the ministry of God through this particular body complete or is there more for us to do together? They answered affirmatively and moved ahead with calling a new pastor and then taking another significant chunk of time to discern the specific form of their vocation in the world. Clarity emerged about how God had been continuing to shape them as a people of worship, Sabbath, and hospitality, and then clarity emerged about their calling to live into these values more fully in their particular context.
Among the changes that the leadership pursued, with the congregation’s blessing and support, was a reorientation in their worship services. No longer would they worship exclusively on Sunday mornings using the tried and true Presbyterian format. Instead they would alternate worshipping on Sunday mornings and Saturday evenings. They would practice Sabbath in new ways as a result. And on the months that included a fifth Sunday they would take worship itself outside of their building.
Down the street they travelled to St. Joe’s Home for Children, a Catholic Charities program that provides shelter and treatment for adolescents with severe behavioral problems. For some of these kids, St. Joe’s is the last stop before juvenile hall. I know of no other church that has brought its own worship service to them. Again, this is not an extra service that a few members of the church offer for these kids and the staff who care for them daily. This is the church’s regular public worship service.
They worship God with their neighbors, kids whose lives are riddled with suffering, illness, and social stigma. They worship God in a different space, with different people, a different liturgy, and a very different sense of what it means to do things “decently and in order” (a hallmark of Presbyterian worship). They do so because they are compelled by the Spirit to live in solidarity with the world—and not the world in abstract but the world in the concrete. They belong to and with and for these kids, because they belong to and with and for Christ. And in this way they provide a witness of Christ-like worldliness for the rest of us as well.