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Christian Groups Try New Ways of Doing and Being the Church

6/30/2019

Dear Teacher,
In these times of increasing secularization of society, many Christians of all denominations are concerned about the future of their churches and what it means to be in ministry to people who don't frequent the church. That's why we were interested this week to find news stories about two churches that have found ways to minister to the unchurched. Their stories and situations are quite different from each other, but they both are trying fresh approaches to what it means to do and be the church. So for this installment of The Wired Word, we'll look at these two churches as models of possibilities for outreach ministries.

If you'd prefer a different topic, look at our second lesson, which begins with news that the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing June 19 to consider establishing a commission to study the issue of reparations for descendants of African slaves. We take the opportunity to explore what the Bible teaches about healing individuals, families and communities who have been injured by injustice.

You are welcome to email the student version of either lesson to your class members, depending on which lesson you prefer to use for your class time. To do so, click here.

May God bless you as you teach the scriptures this week.

The Editorial Team of The Wired Word

Christian Groups Try New Ways of Doing and Being the Church
The Wired Word for the Week of June 30, 2019

In the News

So here's a question: If a church has no members, is not open on Sundays -- not even on Easter -- and doesn't try to evangelize, can it still be a functioning, active church?

It can, if it has an intentional ministry on the other days of the week. 

At least, that's the answer you'll get from supporters of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Center City Philadelphia, which operates midday services Monday through Thursday and focuses on being present for the community and practicing an open-door policy that makes it a place of support for anyone in need.

And here's another question: What's a good way to bring the gospel and fellowship to isolated community pockets that are overlooked by typical Sunday church worship structures?

How about a "Church Anywhere" program that empowers church members to launch micro-campuses, supported by an established church?

Church Anywhere is an initiative of nondenominational First Capital Christian Church in Corydon, Indiana, where church volunteers situate micro-campuses of the mother church in places like prisons, rehab centers, public schools and even private homes. The intention is to make church more accessible and less daunting for those who may be unlikely or unable to attend worship in a traditional building on Sunday morning.

Both of these churches have found ways to do and be the church in nontraditional circumstances and connect with people who are outside the churches' usual spheres of influence.

St. Stephen's is a castle-like Gothic Revival building in an active downtown Philadelphia neighborhood near Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. Established in 1823, the church once had a large congregation. The building was designated a historical landmark by the Philadelphia Historical Commission in 1957 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. But in recent years, though surrounded by diverse groupings of people, St. Stephen's attendance had dwindled, leading the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania to close the church in 2016.

But then a new bishop for Pennsylvania, Daniel G.P. Gutierrez, called for the church to be reopened. 

"It's at the center of the (sixth) largest city in the United States. It's next to a major hospital. It's a beautiful space in itself, a sacred space," Gutierrez told Religion News Service. "How many thousands of people walk through those doors? If it's offering different things and reopening it and re-envisioning what it could be to meet the needs of those people," the bishop added, "that's what we have to do."

The Rev. Peter Kountz was appointed to oversee a new version of St. Stephen's, which includes leading midday services Monday through Thursday. But more than the services, St. Stephen's started a neighborhood outreach program, opening the sanctuary to everyone from the homeless to patients from the nearby hospital and tourists. The church advertised its hospitality online, welcoming visitors of any faith to use the sanctuary to pray and meditate, or simply to sit down.

"We decided this is our home, we're going to make it available to you. We've got a set of basic rules, but that's all it is," said Kountz. "We can give you safety, we can give you heat. We can give you coffee and fruit and cookies. We can give you conversation. We can give you quiet if that's what you want. We can give you a place to plug in your phone. That's it."

St. Stephen's also invites artists to its sanctuary and operates arts programs and an annual musical performance series. 

On a typical weekday, about 70 or so people come to take advantage of St. Stephen's hospitality services -- coffee and snacks and conversation -- while others meditate or even nap in the sanctuary. Most don't come expressly for the services, but Kountz leads the daily worship for anyone who cares to participate. "The most some people will do is sit in the back and listen to the remarks I make about the gospel," said Kountz.

"Some of the people say, 'You mean you don't try to evangelize?' No, we don't try to evangelize," said Kountz. "What we do is we practice a ministry of engagement and welcoming." 

Bishop Gutierrez commented, "We can look at goals, or we can look at the impact in the community. I'm of the belief that when you form a community based in Jesus and the love of Christ, then you will get resources, and then things will multiply. It's called faith -- that it will grow, that people will come in, that they will become members.

"But that's not the end goal," Gutierrez said. "It's to be a presence in the community."

In contrast, the Church Anywhere initiative of First Capital Christian Church is more evangelistic in its goals, but like the St. Stephen's effort, the intention is to be in ministry with people who might not come to a traditional Sunday service and are thus underserved by the church.

Since First Capital launched its Church Anywhere program three years ago, the congregation has launched micro-campuses in prisons, foster-care centers, rehabilitation facilities, elementary schools and homeless shelters. Some church members have launched their own micro-campus inside their homes after noticing that their neighbors were not leaving their homes on Sunday morning.

"We are passionate about empowering our people to go out and be the church, which is why we call it 'Church Anywhere,'" First Capital engagement pastor Tyler Sansom told The Christian Post. "It's empowered our volunteers basically to bring the church to whatever they're passionate about."

Most of the services consist of the two worship songs and a 15-minute sermon, followed by 30 minutes of small-group discussion time.

While the micro-campus services are run by volunteers from First Capital, those leaders are led and trained by volunteer campus pastors from the church who have more experience. 

"They go through training with us when they open their campus," said Sansom. "And then they also go through a shadowing process where they shadow two or three of the other locations to see how they do it," he continued. "So we don't want to just throw someone into the fire without making sure they're ready."

First Capital now has 16 micro-campuses, including an online campus. The church is open to partnering with anyone who has a desire to bring a micro-campus into a community they are passionate about. 

"The sky's the limit," Sansom said. "I have no idea what the next stage is going to be."

More on this story can be found at these links:

Philadelphia Episcopalians Explore What Happens When Church Is Separated From Sunday. Religion News Service
'Church Anywhere': Congregation Brings Worship Services to Schools, Rehab Centers and Prisons. Christian Post
St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
First Capital Christian Church

The Big Questions

1. What does it mean to be the church? What does it mean to do church?

2. Should outreach be aimed at increasing the number of people involved in your church or the number of people helped by your church? Or both? Or something else (specify)? Why?

3. What new kinds of outreach ministries might be feasible for your congregation given its current active membership and resources?

4. In our present society, does holding on to Sunday as the primary day of worship make sense? Why or why not?

5. Are "finding news ways to do church" acts of joy to share the Word or acts of desperation for congregation survival? As long as the outreach happens and people are helped and receive Christ, does our motivation matter? 

Confronting the News With Scripture and Hope
Here are some Bible verses to guide your discussion:

Acts 13:14-15
[Paul and his companions] came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. After the reading of the law and the prophets, the officials of the synagogue sent them a message, saying, "Brothers, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, give it." (For context, read 13:13-18.)
Acts 20:7
On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul was holding a discussion with them; since he intended to leave the next day, he continued speaking until midnight. (No context needed.)

In the book of Acts, Paul often attended the synagogue in whatever town he was on the Sabbath, the seventh day (Saturday). The Acts 13 text above is but one example, but see also Acts 14:1; 17:1-2; 17:17; 18:19; 19:8. (The first converts also "spent much time together in the temple" on a day-by-day basis, as Acts 2:46 shows.)

But gradually, there's movement both by Paul and by the early church to meeting on "the first day of the week" (Sunday), as the Acts 20 reference above shows (and is also seen in 1 Corinthians 16:2). This was likely in observance of Jesus' resurrection on a Sunday.

The point here is, however, that worship of God need not be limited to one day of the week.

Questions: What makes a day holy? What midweek events have helped you grow in faith?

At one time Wednesday evening was considered a night for midweek church and youth activities. No school events such as sports took place. In many places, that is no longer the case. What holy time or day has been eliminated in your community? In your life?

Colossians 4:15
Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters in Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. (No context needed.)

There are several references in the New Testament to churches meeting in the house of individual followers of Christ. This seems to be the usual location for Christian worship in the New Testament era, although meeting in secret places, such as catacombs, eventually became necessary after persecution arose. Church buildings only came into being after Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in A.D. 313.

Questions: Might the many house churches throughout the Roman Empire be thought of as "micro-campuses" of the mother church in Jerusalem? Why or why not?

Matthew 18:20
For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them. (No context needed.)

Although in its setting in Matthew, Jesus made this statement in connection with his comments about reproving a fellow church member who sins, we have indicated "No context needed" because this statement applies more broadly to the church. In fact, it essentially is a definition of the church: a few people gathered in Jesus' name, and Jesus' presence with them.

Questions: In what sense does this "definition" apply to the ministry of presence? In what sense does it apply to micro-campuses?

1 Corinthians 9:20-22
To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. (For context, read 9:19-23.)
Mark 4:33-34
With many such parables [Jesus] spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples. (No context needed.)

The comments from 1 Corinthians 9 might be described as the apostle Paul's missionary philosophy and strategy. In short, he eschews a life of separateness from society and instead embraces the idea of "meeting people where they are" (as you may have heard it expressed in a modern idiom), walking with them not to join their way of life but to "save some."

The Mark verses suggest that Jesus too met people where they were, knowing that some would not be able to grasp his teachings when presented in straightforward statements, and so he taught using parables because "they were able to hear it." He saved the straightforward explanations for his disciples, when there was the time and the privacy for them to ask questions.

Questions: Would you be willing to worship with Jews on Saturday or Muslims on Friday to "meet them where the are"? Is that even appropriate in this day and age when respect for the religious beliefs of others is a watchword of our society? What changes might be justified in your church practices to enable unchurched people to hear the Word?

For Further Discussion

1. Respond to this for a "thinking outside of the box" approach to doing church: TWW team member Mary Sells tells us that her church has a new innovative outreach to the next generation. Parents can enroll their child in catechism class for home schooling by their parent(s), who is (are) considered the primary catechist(s). The child receives a textbook and is responsible, under parental supervision, to complete assignments and take online quizzes. After each unit is complete, the child takes a test at the parish administered by the director of religion education (DRE). The primary parent is required to attend a workshop at the parish once per month led by the DRE.
    Mary says this new way to participate in education empowers busy parents and helps them engage with their children in faith formation. The program "was announced two days ago," says Mary, "and there's nothing yet on the parish website about it, and they already have three registered to participate."

2. Discuss the suggestions in this article: Five Ways Some Senior Adult Churches Became Younger.

3. A little over four years ago, the congregation of TWW team member Bill Tammeus created an alternative worship experience as part of the "1001 New Worshiping Communities" initiative by the Presbyterian Church (USA). It's called The Open Table and is one of many new "dinner churches" now being tried. The Open Table, which meets two Sunday evenings a month, started with about 20 regular attendees and now has about 90. The dinner church idea seeks to return to the pattern of worship gatherings in the first-century church. Do you know of others following this pattern or something similar? How are they working out?

4. Acts 16:11-15 tells of Paul and his fellow missionaries coming to Philippi, and on the Sabbath, since there doesn't seem to be a synagogue, they go down to the river to pray, and discover women who have gathered for a  prayer meeting. This leads to the founding of a congregation that meets at Lydia's house.
    In what unlikely place have you worshiped because there was no conventional church or no church of your denomination available when you were traveling? What was the most interesting, startling or surprising thing you encountered while doing so?

5. Between the two ministries described in the "In the News" section above (ministry of presence and micro-campuses), which appeals to you more? Why? 

6. First Corinthians 3:6 says that no matter who does the planting or watering, God will grow the seed of the gospel. So does it matter how the seed is planted? 

Responding to the News

Now is a good time to do some "out of the box" thinking about additional ways of doing and being the church that your congregation might employ. 

Prayer

O Lord, help us who follow Jesus to "think outside of the box" and find ways to do and be the church in outreach in our location. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Other News This Week

House Judiciary Committee Weighs Forming Commission to Study Reparations

In the News

Last week a House Judiciary subcommittee held a hearing on bill H.R. 40, which calls for "a commission to study and consider a national apology and proposal for reparations for the institution of slavery, its subsequent de jure [sanctioned by the state] and de facto [existing as a reality without official government sanction] racial and economic discrimination against African-Americans, and the impact of these forces on living African-Americans, to make recommendations to the Congress on appropriate remedies, and for other purposes."

Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas introduced the reparations bill, which has 57 co-sponsors. 

Among those testifying before the committee were actor-activist Danny Glover, writers Ta-Nehisi Coates, Coleman Hughes and Burgess Owens, Sen. Corey Booker, documentarian Katrina Browne, Episcopal Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton, economist Julianne Malveaux, and Loyola Law School professor Eric Miller. You can find witness testimony and watch a video of the hearing here.

The hearing was held on June 19, a significant date in American history. On that date in 1865, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, accompanied by 1,800 Union soldiers, including colored troops, relayed to the people of Texas that all slaves had been declared free, by virtue of the Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Lincoln two and a half years earlier. It was the first time most of the state's 250,000 slaves had heard the news. Jubilation ensued. A year later, the newly freed people celebrated their emancipation in what came to be known as Juneteenth -- a merging of the words June and nineteenth.

H.R. 40 states that about 4 million Africans and their descendants were enslaved and deprived of "life, liberty, African citizenship rights, and cultural heritage, and … the fruits of their own labor" in American colonies and states from 1619 to 1865. 

The proposed legislation adds that governments at every level "continued to perpetuate, condone and often profit from practices that continued to brutalize and disadvantage African-Americans, including sharecropping, convict leasing, Jim Crow [laws], redlining [marking neighborhoods with high concentration of people of color, and then denying services such as mortgages to residents within the red lines], unequal education, and disproportionate treatment at the hands of the criminal justice system."

Some ways the bill says African-Americans are impacted by "persistent systemic structures of discrimination" include the high incarceration rate of blacks (nearly 1 million); high unemployment at a rate more than twice that of whites; and an average of less than one-sixteenth of the wealth of white families.

The legislation also calls for a review of school curriculum to ensure that the American public is adequately educated about the institution of slavery and discrimination experienced by African-Americans throughout the history of our nation until today.

If the commission is established, it would 

  • seek to comport with "international standards of remedy for wrongs and injuries caused by the State, that include full reparations"; 
  • consider how the government might formally apologize to African slaves and their descendants for crimes committed against them; 
  • evaluate what current federal laws and policies still "disproportionately and negatively affect African-Americans" with the goal of eliminating such laws and policies; 
  • seek how injuries might be reversed and how injured parties or their descendants might be rehabilitated, compensated, or provided with restitution. The Commission would consider how to calculate any form of compensation, "what form of compensation should be awarded, through what instrumentalities and who should be eligible for such compensation."

More on this story can be found at these links:

Slavery Reparations Hearing Ignites Fiery Debate in Congress. BBC
Eugene Taylor Sutton Discusses Reparations With Tucker Carlson. FOX News
Bishop Sutton to Offer Testimony on Capitol Hill Wednesday During Hearing for H.R. 40. Maryland Episcopalian
H.R.40 - Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act. Congress.gov
The Case for Reparations. The Atlantic

Applying the News Story 

Bishop Eugene Sutton, who testified at the House Judiciary Committee meeting this month, wrote, "The subject of reparations is mired in emotion; it is often mischaracterized and certainly largely misunderstood. It is a complex issue that involves economic, political and sociological dimensions that are difficult to grasp without a willingness to engage more deeply than having a quick emotional response to the word. The issue highlights the racial divide among us, creates varying levels of resentment and suspicion, and accentuates a pain that has long plagued our country since its founding." 

In his May 2019 letter to the Maryland Episcopal Diocese, Bishop Sutton defined reparations as repairing that which has been broken. 

"It is not just about monetary compensation," Sutton wrote. "An act of reparation is the attempt to make whole again, and/or to restore; to offer atonement; to make amends; to reconcile for a wrong or injury. … We need to repair the broken places and wounds that we have all inherited from centuries of the degrading treatment of our fellow human beings."

This lesson explores how reparatory justice may connect to the core mission of the church.

The Big Questions

1. What is your first emotion when you hear the word "reparations"? Where do you think that emotion originates?

2. What do you know about the similarities and differences between slavery or indentured servitude as described in the Hebrew scriptures and the practice of slavery in American history? 

3. How do you think Jesus would address the subject of reparations in our moment in time and history?

4. What organizations, programs or ministries can you identify that help repair the brokenness and inequities that exist as a legacy of slavery? Would you want to participate in and support work of this kind? Why or why not? 

5. What new ministries might the church develop to help heal wounds that still linger in many communities as a result of our history of slavery and subsequent practices such as poll taxes, redlining and Jim Crow laws?

Confronting the News With Scripture and Hope
Here are some Bible verses to guide your discussion:

Exodus 12:35-36
The Israelites had done as Moses told them; they had asked the Egyptians for jewelry of silver and gold, and for clothing, and the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. And so they plundered the Egyptians. (For context, read 12:33-42.)

The Israelites had lived for 430 years in Egypt, most of that time as cruelly oppressed, uncompensated slaves. Pharaoh stubbornly resisted the call to free them from bondage, but after ten plagues, including the deaths of all the firstborn in Egypt, he finally capitulated. 

The Egyptians were eager to see the Israelites depart, so they voluntarily turned over whatever resources their former slaves required. What they had been unwilling to give as fair wages in the past, they ultimately gave as reparations or restitution for four centuries of labor that benefited their whole society.

Questions: Compare and contrast the slavery of the Israelites with that of African slaves in our nation. Compare and contrast the way the Egyptians and our nation have dealt with reparations. 

Deuteronomy 15:12-15, 18
If a member of your community, whether a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and works for you six years, in the seventh year you shall set that person free. And when you send a male slave out from you a free person, you shall not send him out empty-handed. Provide liberally out of your flock, your threshing floor, and your wine press, thus giving to him some of the bounty with which the LORD your God has blessed you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; for this reason I lay this command upon you today. ... Do not consider it a hardship when you send them out from you free persons, because for six years they have given you services worth the wages of hired laborers; and the LORD your God will bless you in all that you do. (For context, read 15:12-18.)

Slavery or a kind of indentured servitude did exist among the Israelites, but they were given clear instructions on the proper treatment of slaves, based on their own harsh experience of slavery and on the way God delivered them from bondage. Slavery was not to be endless, nor was it to be without rewards. 

Questions: What does this passage suggest might motivate slaveowners to obey these commands? Why might some be disinclined to obey them? How closely would you say America has followed the guidelines contained in these verses? 

Luke 19:8-10
Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much." Then Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost." (For context, read 19:1-10.)

In Jericho, Jesus invited himself to stay at the home of Zacchaeus, a rich chief tax collector, to the chagrin of the crowd of bystanders, who considered the wealthy man too great a sinner to have the honor of hosting the itinerant rabbi. But Zacchaeus was so moved by Jesus' attitude that he committed to radically change the way he did business, to redistribute half of his possessions to the poor, and to give significant reparations to anyone he had defrauded.

Questions: In what sense had salvation come to Zacchaeus' house that day? 

Do you think it likely that Zacchaeus was just a lone "bad apple," one bad actor, or that he was part of a system that burdened the poor one paper cut at a time? What difference do you think his decision made to those he had defrauded in the past? What difference, if any, do you think his actions made to others in his profession? 

Should reparations for prior bad acts be left solely to individuals? What role, if any, should a government play in reparations?

2 Corinthians 8:13-15
I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written,
"The one who had much did not have too much,
    and the one who had little did not have too little."
(For context, read 8:1-15.)

In 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, Paul encouraged the Gentile believers to be generous in giving to support the believers of Jewish heritage who were living in poverty in Jerusalem. 

Carla Works, Associate New Testament Professor at Wesley Theological Seminary, wrote, "These Gentile churches are collecting money for believers in Jerusalem whom they have likely never met. Furthermore, based on the frustration Paul expresses in Galatians 2 over the exclusive dining practices of some of the Jerusalem leaders, it is not clear how well these Gentiles would have been welcomed by the Jerusalem saints. Yet, this offering binds the Jerusalem community to the Gentile believers who are now serving as benefactors. To use Paul's language, this collection shows the believers' indebtedness to one another and ultimately to the God who is working among them."

Perhaps Works was thinking of Romans 13:8, where Paul wrote: "Owe no one anything, except to love one another."

Paul stresses the importance of sharing generously, voluntarily, sacrificially, and joyfully, as the extremely poor churches in Macedonia did. They gave "according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints." They gave their hearts as well as their financial resources (2 Corinthians 8:1-6).

While Paul used the example of the generous Macedonians to challenge and encourage the Corinthians as they prepared to give their own gift, he lifted up "the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ" (v. 9) as the greatest motivator and model to emulate.

Paul didn't suggest that the Corinthians should feel guilty if their gift was small due to their limited means (v. 11). If they gave eagerly and enthusiastically, that was what mattered (v. 12). Nor did Paul advocate inequity in the sharing of resources, so that the Corinthians would become impoverished in order that the Jerusalem church would be obscenely enriched. Rather, when the Corinthians had abundant resources (comparatively), their sharing would provide what the Jerusalem church lacked. The day might come when the shoe would be on the other foot, and the Jerusalem church might return the favor. 

Mt. Olivet Baptist Church, a predominantly African-American church, in Portland, Oregon, where TWW team member Joanna Loucky-Ramsey was once a member, had as a motto, "It's not equal giving but equal sacrifice!"

The final quote in the text refers to the way the Israelites collected manna in the wilderness (Exodus 16:18). If some gathered more than they could use, they would have something to give to those who couldn't gather due to infirmity or some other reason. 

Paul assured the Corinthians that God would reward their generosity by enriching them in every way, supplying bread for today and seed to sow for tomorrow's harvest (9:10-12).

Questions: Why do you think the Macedonian believers were so eager to give to support the Jewish believers, with whom they probably had little in common? Is it easier to give to people with whom you feel a kinship or connection? How can you develop a deeper sense of kinship or connection with persons with whom you don't normally associate, who have suffered many losses for generations?

Do you feel that you owe a debt of love to African-Americans, or to other injured persons who are not part of your "tribe"? Why or why not? What does our faith teach us?

Would you call yourself an eager, willing, joyful giver, a reluctant giver who gives under protest, or something in between? What factors shape your attitudes about giving? How do your attitudes about giving compare with your attitudes about reparations?

How might Christians who are inclined to favor the possibility of reparations apply Paul's illustration about collecting manna and his teaching about giving generously "so that there might be a fair balance"? 

For Further Discussion

1. You can find additional resources to further the discussion on the matter of reparations here. Scroll down and click on "Psychological Ramifications and the Future" for a helpful series of "Questions for Reflection" on the subject of "Power and Powerlessness." 

2. J.S. Park, grief counselor, wrote: "Honesty is the first step to healing. It's really difficult to confront your own ugliness inside. It's hard to confront your own selfishness; it's threatening to confess that you are wrong.
    "But it's only with a reckless self-confrontation that you can be liberated from the lies you have believed. You can see the lie for what it really is. It's only by stepping back from the momentum of darkness that has swallowed up your vision that you will begin to see once more. The light is staggering, blinding, painful, and even humiliating, but to see yourself as you really are is to begin the path to be set free.
    "Friendship is not all giggles and games. It means I want to see the best in you, and I hope you have the audacity to see the best in me. Real friends speak with tears in their eyes, voice shaking, heart breaking, a quiet courage to say, 'You're better than this.'"
    While Park wrote this about individuals, how might it apply to a country, business or church with a difficult past?

3. H.R. 40 is not the first attempt to create a plan for reparatory justice for freed slaves and their descendants. On January 16, 1865, with President Abraham Lincoln's approval, Union General William T. Sherman issued Special Field Order No. 15, authorizing the redistribution of 400,000 acres of land to newly freed persons.
    Each family of former slaves was to receive up to 40 acres of tillable ground, located along the southeastern coast of the nation, between Charleston, South Carolina, and the St. John's River in Florida. The new settlements were to be segregated, self-governed, and protected by federal military forces until such time as the residents were able to provide for their own security.
    Sherman got the idea for this kind of reparation from a meeting four days prior with Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and 20 black ministers (mostly Baptist and Methodist) in Savannah, Georgia. Stanton said of the historic gathering that "for the first time in the history of this nation, the representatives of the government had gone to these poor debased people to ask them what they wanted for themselves."
    By June, 40,000 freed persons had settled in the territory designated for that purpose in the Special Field Order. Sherman subsequently authorized the loan of mules to the new settlers; hence the phrase, "40 acres and a mule."
   
But that fall, Southern sympathizer Andrew Johnson, who became president after Lincoln was assassinated, reversed the Order and returned the acreage to the original owners, white former slaveholders.
    Ironically, when slavery was outlawed in Washington, D.C., before the Civil War, slaveholders received reparations of $300 per freed slave. The slaves themselves were not compensated in any way for their forced labor.
    How does the way reparations were handled in the past affect your view of the issue for our nation today?

4. News broke this week that the Dutch national railway NS will offer sizable monetary reparations to survivors and families of an estimated 100,000 Dutch Jewish Holocaust victims who were transported on its trains to Nazi concentration camps during World War II.
    What other groups might have a legitimate claim on reparations? What factors should be considered when evaluating such claims, and who should ultimately determine their validity, and how they should be handled?  

5. Comment on this: Gov. Gavin Newsom of California made history this week by issuing a formal apology to Native Americans for the "war of extermination" declared by the state's first governor in 1851, that was characterized by one historian as a "state-sponsored killing machine."
    While the apology was welcomed by indigenous Californians, many called for redress of actions that have caused harm to their people for generations. Some of their concerns are protection of sacred land, water rights, reparation for stolen property, criminal justice reform, school curricula that do not accurately reflect the truth regarding how aboriginal people have been treated, and policies that separated children from their families, languages and culture.
    "We are landless Indians in our own territory," said Corrina Gould, a spokesperson for the Confederated Villages of Lisjan/Ohlone tribe.
    Some local governments and individuals occasionally return land to indigenous people.
    Dallas Goldtooth, who represents the Indigenous Environmental Network, said he hoped Newsom's apology would lead to a deeper national conversation about reparations for native Americans.  

Responding to the News

This might be a good time to investigate what theological statements and practical policies your own church and denomination have developed regarding race relations in general and reparations in particular. What do you think of where you are presently? What else, if anything, do you think your church should be doing in the area of systemic and institutionalized racism? 

Prayer

Enlighten us, Wonderful Counselor, in how we can bring healing to broken communities. Empower us, Almighty God, to break the mental, emotional, psychological, systemic and spiritual chains that enslave generations.
Fill us, God Who Is Love, with compassion for those who have suffered great losses, that we may be part of their journey to wholeness and wellness.
In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2019 Communication Resources

 

Student Lesson

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Your subscription will also provide you with a student version of the weekly lesson, which you can freely edit prior to sending it out to your class members. Here's a sample of what your students will get:

Dear Class Member,
In these times of increasing secularization of society, many Christians of all denominations are concerned about the future of their churches and what it means to be in ministry to people who don't frequent the church. That's why we were interested this week to find news stories about two churches that have found ways to minister to the unchurched. Their stories and situations are quite different from each other, but they both are trying fresh approaches to what it means to do and be the church. So for our next class, we'll look at these two churches as models of possibilities for outreach ministries.

If you wish to start thinking about our topic in advance, below is some introductory material.

Christian Groups Try New Ways of Doing and Being the Church
The Wired Word for the Week of June 30, 2019

In the News

So here's a question: If a church has no members, is not open on Sundays -- not even on Easter -- and doesn't try to evangelize, can it still be a functioning, active church?

It can, if it has an intentional ministry on the other days of the week. 

At least, that's the answer you'll get from supporters of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Center City Philadelphia, which operates midday services Monday through Thursday and focuses on being present for the community and practicing an open-door policy that makes it a place of support for anyone in need.

And here's another question: What's a good way to bring the gospel and fellowship to isolated community pockets that are overlooked by typical Sunday church worship structures?

How about a "Church Anywhere" program that empowers church members to launch micro-campuses, supported by an established church?

Church Anywhere is an initiative of nondenominational First Capital Christian Church in Corydon, Indiana, where church volunteers situate micro-campuses of the mother church in places like prisons, rehab centers, public schools and even private homes. The intention is to make church more accessible and less daunting for those who may be unlikely or unable to attend worship in a traditional building on Sunday morning.

Both of these churches have found ways to do and be the church in nontraditional circumstances and connect with people who are outside the churches' usual spheres of influence.

St. Stephen's is a castle-like Gothic Revival building in an active downtown Philadelphia neighborhood near Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. Established in 1823, the church once had a large congregation. The building was designated a historical landmark by the Philadelphia Historical Commission in 1957 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. But in recent years, though surrounded by diverse groupings of people, St. Stephen's attendance had dwindled, leading the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania to close the church in 2016.

But then a new bishop for Pennsylvania, Daniel G.P. Gutierrez, called for the church to be reopened. 

"It's at the center of the (sixth) largest city in the United States. It's next to a major hospital. It's a beautiful space in itself, a sacred space," Gutierrez told Religion News Service. "How many thousands of people walk through those doors? If it's offering different things and reopening it and re-envisioning what it could be to meet the needs of those people," the bishop added, "that's what we have to do."

The Rev. Peter Kountz was appointed to oversee a new version of St. Stephen's, which includes leading midday services Monday through Thursday. But more than the services, St. Stephen's started a neighborhood outreach program, opening the sanctuary to everyone from the homeless to patients from the nearby hospital and tourists. The church advertised its hospitality online, welcoming visitors of any faith to use the sanctuary to pray and meditate, or simply to sit down.

"We decided this is our home, we're going to make it available to you. We've got a set of basic rules, but that's all it is," said Kountz. "We can give you safety, we can give you heat. We can give you coffee and fruit and cookies. We can give you conversation. We can give you quiet if that's what you want. We can give you a place to plug in your phone. That's it."

St. Stephen's also invites artists to its sanctuary and operates arts programs and an annual musical performance series. 

On a typical weekday, about 70 or so people come to take advantage of St. Stephen's hospitality services -- coffee and snacks and conversation -- while others meditate or even nap in the sanctuary. Most don't come expressly for the services, but Kountz leads the daily worship for anyone who cares to participate. "The most some people will do is sit in the back and listen to the remarks I make about the gospel," said Kountz.

"Some of the people say, 'You mean you don't try to evangelize?' No, we don't try to evangelize," said Kountz. "What we do is we practice a ministry of engagement and welcoming." 

Bishop Gutierrez commented, "We can look at goals, or we can look at the impact in the community. I'm of the belief that when you form a community based in Jesus and the love of Christ, then you will get resources, and then things will multiply. It's called faith -- that it will grow, that people will come in, that they will become members.

"But that's not the end goal," Gutierrez said. "It's to be a presence in the community."

In contrast, the Church Anywhere initiative of First Capital Christian Church is more evangelistic in its goals, but like the St. Stephen's effort, the intention is to be in ministry with people who might not come to a traditional Sunday service and are thus underserved by the church.

Since First Capital launched its Church Anywhere program three years ago, the congregation has launched micro-campuses in prisons, foster-care centers, rehabilitation facilities, elementary schools and homeless shelters. Some church members have launched their own micro-campus inside their homes after noticing that their neighbors were not leaving their homes on Sunday morning.

"We are passionate about empowering our people to go out and be the church, which is why we call it 'Church Anywhere,'" First Capital engagement pastor Tyler Sansom told The Christian Post. "It's empowered our volunteers basically to bring the church to whatever they're passionate about."

Most of the services consist of the two worship songs and a 15-minute sermon, followed by 30 minutes of small-group discussion time.

While the micro-campus services are run by volunteers from First Capital, those leaders are led and trained by volunteer campus pastors from the church who have more experience. 

"They go through training with us when they open their campus," said Sansom. "And then they also go through a shadowing process where they shadow two or three of the other locations to see how they do it," he continued. "So we don't want to just throw someone into the fire without making sure they're ready."

First Capital now has 16 micro-campuses, including an online campus. The church is open to partnering with anyone who has a desire to bring a micro-campus into a community they are passionate about. 

"The sky's the limit," Sansom said. "I have no idea what the next stage is going to be."

More on this story can be found at these links:

Philadelphia Episcopalians Explore What Happens When Church Is Separated From Sunday. Religion News Service
'Church Anywhere': Congregation Brings Worship Services to Schools, Rehab Centers and Prisons. Christian Post
St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
First Capital Christian Church

The Big Questions
Here are some of the questions we will discuss in class:

1. What does it mean to be the church? What does it mean to do church?

2. Should outreach be aimed at increasing the number of people involved in your church or the number of people helped by your church? Or both? Or something else (specify)? Why?

3. What new kinds of outreach ministries might be feasible for your congregation given its current active membership and resources?

4. In our present society, does holding on to Sunday as the primary day of worship make sense? Why or why not?

5. Are "finding news ways to do church" acts of joy to share the Word or acts of desperation for congregation survival? As long as the outreach happens and people are helped and receive Christ, does our motivation matter? 

Confronting the News With Scripture and Hope
We will look at selected verses from these Scripture texts. You may wish to read these in advance for background:

Acts 13:13-18; 20:7
Colossians 4:15
Matthew 18:20
1 Corinthians 9:19-23
Mark 4:33-34

In class, we will talk about these passages and look for some insight into the big questions, as well as talk about other questions you may have about this topic. Please join us.

Copyright 2019 Communication Resources