Thursday, November 18, 2010

The church as the heart of a community

In a seminary course on the history of the Anglican church in America, I became fascinated by the 19th century model of the urban church as a community center.

In Jesus' metaphors from the gospels, the church operated in the cities--especially in the presence of poverty, hunger, illness, lack of education--as: "salt," "light," "leaven"--functioning as an agent of transformation.

The church is the most important agent of transformation in society, I believe, because the church, our members united to Christ and to one another in baptism, carries on Christ's transformational work.

Transformation is healing, rescuing, redeeming, saving--making people and institutions whole again.

Last night, I saw that transformational work happening at Christ Episcopal Church.

We held our annual Thanksgiving Dinner for the community. Donya Ross, our Youth Minister, and her team of youth, parents, and others from the parish organized a huge and hearty meal and invited people from the neighborhoods around the church to the feast.

I don't know the final count of people we served, but it had to be upwards of 150. We would have had many more guests, were it not for cold, driving rain.

Even so, the parish hall was packed with single people, families, and lots of children. Most of our guests were living at or below the poverty level; some of them were homeless, arriving in the parish hall with their backpacks and bedrolls.

We also served some Missouri State University students who were natives of Dubai. They had responded to our invitations to the foreign students at MSU and Drury University. I sat at the table with them, making sure that they knew they were welcome in our church and to America.

I'm proud of our church members--young and old. They welcomed our guests, served their meals, sat and ate with them, cleared away the tables afterwards, and did the mammoth job of clean up afterwards.

Last night, I witnessed the Body of Christ in action.

And I saw our parish hall become a community center, where our needy neighbors knew they were welcome and where they found Christian hospitality, a healthy, substantial meal, and the abundant love of Jesus.

May it always be so.