So we believe God has called us to plant a new congregation in Gloucester City!
The number one question I get from family, friends and neighbors when they find out is ‘oh which building are you going to get / when will you get a building?’ The question is fairly obvious and innocent really. I’m learning our town has a few nicknames, I suppose like most towns. I won’t share with you some of the more unflattering ones, but one of them that goes a long way back is ‘the holy city.’
See Gloucester is full of unused and underused little church buildings that once were full and thriving, just as it once had over thirty bars down to about seven. If only this was just a shift in behaviors, and ways people find community, that would be one thing. But I think this is actually a much deeper symptom of a real family, spiritual and economic breakdown. Like many communities in America, even the sight of our intact family, with all three of our kids coming out of our marriage is something a bit exotic. I get it though, alcoholism and abuse broke up my family, but my mom found a way mostly by herself to get is through the best she could.
But I’m praying that what I’ve experienced in my life, could be passed on again and again in this town. I’ve learned two things from God’s grace.
The first is that it’s not how you start, but it’s how you finish.
Our families may be bruised up, and our life may have baggage, but that doesn’t mean we need to redefine our destination, we might just have to redefine the journey. Things like love, loyalty, integrity, aren’t old school things that don’t work for us anymore, they are the destination. This is the message of Jesus, that he came to give us all a new start. A new start to live out the ancient way we are deeply wired to live.
The second thing I’ve learned about God’s grace, is that it’s all about creating a new family.
It’s not just about my fresh start, my forgiveness, and my new source of love and power to live right. I’m adopted into a new family! I have had the privilege to serve in the ministry in Philadelphia and for years as a missionary in Africa, and now serve as the Community Life Pastor in Camden. I’m not scared about the way this town is changing, because I’ve seen again and again, God stepping into the toughest situations, and bring about change in peoples lives in a matter of hours that would take us years and years on our own strength.
I’ve seen unlikely people coming together, becoming brother and sister. I saw it in Rwanda of all places, a place that had one of the most horrifying ethnic clashes in all human history. So just like the New Testament days, where the Apostles (Just the greek word for missionary) preached, and people gathered in each others homes. Just as they ate and drank together. The same way they called each other to be generous, to break down generational, ethnic and cultural gaps, and to become one new family.
The same way people were cut in the heart about their past lives, trusted in the death Jesus died for them to wipe their slate clean, and trusted in the resurrection of Jesus that showed He was more than a man but Lord and Savior. We believe God is and will continue His work here in Gloucester City. We will patiently but persistently gather people, and share our story, as He brings together a people in His timing.
Buildings came much later for the early Church. In the Bible we see some folks meeting by a river, others at the synagogue, and many in large homes. From history we know they even met underground in catacombs because they were persecuted by the Romans. For us we may get a building some day. Probably not one of the old church buildings but something like an old bar. The problem with some of the Church buildings is that we would be on the hook to keep them up financially with limited resources that would better go into building community and blessing the poor, rather than being tied up instead into fixing roofs and repairing boilers for heat. The other advantage is we could get some rental income from this kind of the property that has some living spaces with them.
We’d also love to have one of those living spaces be a spot for a young couple who are preparing for ministry and attending one of the area bible colleges or seminaries who can serve along with us.
We would get a building not because the building is the Church, the people are the Church. We’d get a building one day to be a focal point and a tool to serve Gloucester City seven days a week in all manner of ways. We’ll also get a building to just take down one more barrier to folks from experiencing God’s grace in a fresh start and a family.
Do you want to learn more? Don’t hesitate to reach out, I’d love to share more with you.
The next big question folks always ask is… “What kind of Church will it be?”
Another good question. In the future I’ll write more about that too.
The kind of Church full of people who don’t necessarily see themselves as Church people. The kind of Church where it’s okay to belong while you are in a process if figuring out what you believe. The kind of Church that’s grounded in the scriptures, and unashamed of being a part of the protestant reformed movement, which emphasizes God’s grace in Jesus over any of our efforts and yet is always looking to remove barriers and labels that simply don’t matter. Ultimately the kind of Church made up of residents new and old that are learning to love like Jesus, and specifically want to celebrate every good thing already happening and fight for more in Gloucester City and the surrounding towns.