Community of Faith

I pastor an urban congregation in the heart of St. Louis city. The church is located on a main street that is both residential and business. The community around the church is racially and economically mixed, with about 40% African-American, 40% European-American, and 20% Asian and African. This church has been in this community for 113 years and in that time has lived a ministry of God’s reconciling, healing, justice-seeking love. The congregation shared space in a Jewish synogogue for seventeen years leading up to the mid-1950s. Then when located in this building, began an ecumenical community ministry which has continued and grown through changes over the last 35 years. This ministry is still located in our building and now includes a Hunger program, Health Program, Clothing Room, Employment program, Community Youth Program, and Anti-Racism emphasis. The congregation is small, averaging 42 in worship, and is amazingly strong and vital. We are an intentionally Open and Affirming congregation, which means that we welcome and encourage gay and lesbian Christians in all aspects of church life, mission, and ministry. A “mainline” or now perhaps “oldline” denominational church, we find ourselves a church of those who are pilgrims — seeking to live in a community of faith, seeking God and daring to ask questions as we strive to live into the Realm of God on the streets of this city. As the “evangelical church empire” comes to power, in place of the “mainline church empire”, we find ourselves with an opportunity to listen for and respond to God’s call as a pilgrim people seeking to live into a ministry of Christ’s hospitality in the world.
Being a church of progessive theology is not easy in the current climate of our society. But the integrity and strength of faith I see in these people is truly a gift. There is nothing fake, no abuse of power, no false piety — just people who are honestly and daily working to live the compassion, love, and grace of God — as they see it embodied the Jesus, God’s Christ.
Each Friday morning a small group of us meet at 6:30 AM (not my easiest hour!) to serve hot coffee and hot chocolate (or cold water in the summer) out on the street. As people drive by, they wave, honk and a few stop for coffee. Those walking or waiting at the bus-stop get something to drink, talk a little bit, and go on their way to work or school. We call it simply “Happy Friday” and hold up “Happy Friday” signs to greet passersby. They honk and wave. Some have stopped to tell us how important our presence is for their day. Sometimes people share something of their lives with us, and ask us to pray for them. We do. Occasionally, people come seeking some particular kind of help and, if necessary, we refer them to other sources. In the nearly 3 years that we have been on the street on Friday mornings, we have built relationships with the community that would never have been. It is an amazing gift to be a part of the community in this way. I don’t know what will come next in this community of faith, but I pray that we will remain open to God’s presence on the edges of life in the city.