Destruction and Construction

Following my somewhat reflective, “isn’t it wonderful” piece on beginning the work toward accessibility …. We’re now 3 days into the process and — all the afore-said still holding — this is the truth of the moment: I’m sitting in my office and the ‘taking apart’ that comes before the ‘building’ is loud and violent sounding. There is a dust that is in everything and on everything and, at least it feels like, through everything! What was the nursery is filled with a pile of rubble and mangled steel. Old bathrooms and kitchenette have been ripped out — none too soon, if you’ve ever been in them, but nonetheless it is shocking to see.

On the east wall of the now rubbled nursery is a bright fun mural of the Noah’s Ark story. This wall will remain and will become the wall of one of the new restrooms and Noah and the animals will be covered over. (At least they’ll be near water!) For now, Noah, Ms. Noah, and the bright happy looking child-friendly beasts (a pair of each) are overseeing the destruction. It seems such a stark constrast, but, then again, that’s what the story is about in the first place: living through destruction with a promise on the other side. It will seem that the known world is ending. Relationships on the boat get tense, to say the least. And when land comes, what resources will they have to continue this new life? What will it be like? Who will join them? Is there anybody out there?! Ahhhh! The Rainbow! The Promise. I need to relax and keep on trusting…


Toward an Accessible Church

The demolition that precedes construction begins tomorrow at Compton Heights Christian Church!  After years of need and many months of dreaming, planning, revising, and revising again we are beginning.  After wondering if we could take on this project to become accessible (well, more accessible — this is a first step!), we took a step of faith.  We decided that God is in the ministry of this congregation in the city. We are called to be Christ’s Church proclaiming the gospel of reconciliation, peace, and justice in this community.

When we meet people on the street each Friday morning, lives are touched.  When we welcome those with special needs to worship and serve, lives are touched.  When we maintain our commitment to join with Christ in building a community of God’s people across the barriers of race, sexual orientation, and economic means, lives are touched.  When we refuse to allow numbers to define us, and invite God’s people to create a community of  ministry with us, lives are touched.  When this congregation cares for people who are sick, people experience God’s healing love.  We see God in each and every aspect of our life.  We are not perfectly church, but we are perfectly committed to Jesus Christ who calls us to become Church.  We love God and we love God’s people.  We struggle and we get tired along the way.  We are amazed at the gifts of God’s Spirit among us, and we are amazed at God’s ways of surprising us.  We step on each other’s toes at times, and we push each other’s buttons. Community is like that!

Parker Palmer once said that we do not get to choose who is in community with us.  The Church is the community of Christ.  As our recent readings in the Gospel of Luke remind us, the community of Christ includes those we would least expect to name as our brothers and sisters.  The community of Christ includes those who do not completely understand each other, but are brought together in the reconciling love of God.  The community of Christ also includes those who are so alike, that they drive each other crazy.  It is by the amazing grace of God that we are community.

So the demolition and construction begins.  A nursery has been moved to new space and made more welcoming for little ones.  New accessible restrooms will make the church a more welcoming place for all.  A new kitchenette will help us to break bread together on the main level of the church building.  The new  front of the church building will provide both a ramp and steps to an accessible entrance to the narthex and sanctuary.  And a new doorway will lead from the sanctuary to the hallway and restrooms.

We have not been concerned with having a fancy building.  Outreach and care of God’s people has always been more important. Remaining in the city and in this neighborhood has always been more important.  This congregation at one time spent  17 years living in the building of a nearby synagogue.  In recent years, we have shared our space with other congregations, including, for 9 years, the first Ethiopian Orthodox congregation in St. Louis.  We still share this space with two other congregations, our ecumenical urban outreach ministry, Isaiah 58 Ministries, and African Refugee and Immigrant Services, many of whom are Muslim.  Truly this is a  center for ministry in this community.

The work we are doing is only a beginning toward making the building accessible for all these ministries.  We pray that God will continue to lead us and guide us and unite us with others who share the faith and commitment to create an evergrowing and deepening community of faith in this place!

I also pray that, a stewards of all God has given us, we are able to continue to reach out in new ways to serve God and love God’s people, and to pay for the improvements needed.  We have been able to take this step of faith because so many have chosen to step out with us.  Thanks be to God!

In-Between Times

These are the in-between days. August 20 is still summer, but in the lives of those who teach and those who pastor churches fall is here. The hot, muggy days still call our bodies to rest, find a pool and take advantage of summer. The calendar, however, with the push of autumn church and school activities, brings an avalanche of work and to-do lists. I find it difficult to be in one place or the other; so I’m in-between. It seems, expecially now, that the work I do is in off-times and strange places. (Some would say that I always work in off-times and strange places!)

Today is Monday, the day I have taken as my “day off” for the entire 25 years of my ministry. Today, however, I have to get some work done. I cannot bring myself to go the church study, nor to dress like I’m working. I can’t even work in my home work-spot surrounded by my books and all the reminders of things to be done. So my laptop and I have taken off to a favorite neighborhood coffee shop. I seated myself so that I am facing a wall that is all window. I can watch the tall grasses, the black-eyed-susans, butterfly flower, and rose of sharon bending in the wind. It sounds as if I haven’t been working, but I do find that I think more creatively when I can watch the world around me. A young woman just walked by with her lab-mix-looking yellow dog. She had what looked to be a paper towel in her hand and it seemed to be spotted with blood. She and her dog both looked alright and did not seem to be in a hurry to get somewhere. Hmmm? Maybe they are in-between the hurt and the healing. Some hurts just require a little check-up by a watchful eye and a loving dab. Children fall down and skin knees. A kiss and a Band-aid later they are on their way. Every good parent knows that sometimes the best response is just not to make too big a deal of the event. It can be best to kiss it and move on with life.

I ‘ve been thinking about differences and conflicts in the church. Not necessarily the huge things, but all the little offenses and irritations that come about in any community of people. Church and organizational management literature is filled with models for “conflict management” and “conflict resolution.” I, like many other pastors, have had classes in such. There is no argument that these have been helpful and are needed. But I’ve come to believe that most of our small offenses do not have to grow into full-blown conflictual situations, if we notice the injury, dab it with love, and keep a watchful-eye on it. I suppose it is that ongoing attentiveness that is required of us. And the truth is that it is not always easy. Some days and with some people, I guess I just don’t want to ‘dab’. Maybe that’s my growing edge in ministry right now. I’m in yet another in-between time.