Sunday, June 21, 2009

Launch Control to Villagers

Ok, no, this is not a blog article about a new David Bowie knock off of “Ground Control to Major Tom”. It is about the process of putting the rubber to the road of starting our new faith community. We’re, all of you along for the ride, in the process of starting our community. This is called Launch in church planting circles. That is the launching of our worship service.

In these church planting circles, the analogy of launching a rocket is the way this process is explained. As a lifelong space exploration nut, I have to tell you could not have been happier to hear this analogy being used. I was born 17 months before Apollo 11, and swear I can remember it. I grew up watching Apollo, Skylab, and the Shuttle as closely as many follow baseball. I could, before law school and parenthood took away the memory space, tell you the names of each of the Apollo ships (Apollo 11's Command Module was Columbia, and Lunar Module was Eagle), etc. And it is not just the space geek in me that loves this analogy. The analogy works.

In launching a rocket, you have to design the rocket, get the funding from Congress, build the parts, assemble it, prep the launch pad, transport it to the launch pad, fuel it with enough fuel (too little = boom), and launch the ship. That’s what we need to do with our new faith community.

The good ship Village was dreamed of and designed by our chief dreamer, Cheri with the Holy Spirit very much there beside her. Mind you, the Spirit and I need to have a few words about the middle of the nigh wake up calls for design meetings over the last few years. And, yes, the Village design process has been a lengthy process. I can tell you that indirectly this project (a church for progressives who have given up on traditional church, and want to change the world because of their faith) has been on the design table for a decade plus now.

The next step was getting Congress to fund this little ship. The Village is a little bit more like the International Space Station, in that it is not just the project of one nation. We are a plant of the United Methodist Church and the United Church of Christ. So, you may ask why? Because together, the two offer resources that one single denomination could not offer.

The parts assembly process has been over the last several years. People and skills needed for this project have been coming together for years. The assembly process for NASA happens in a really large building, one of the largest in the world, called creatively the Vehicle Assembly Building. It’s the large white one in the picture above. Well, there’s no building that size in Toledo, so we’ve had to use a bunch of smaller ones - Kurt & Cheri’s house, The Parklane Hotel, every coffee house in greater Toledo, The Church of St. Andrew UMC , Park Congregational Church, Panera on Glendale, the Main Branch Library, the Northwest Ohio Food Bank, etc.

Now we are ready to prep the pad, move the ship there, fuel it properly and launch. With NASA, that is handled by the launch team in Launch Control at the Kennedy Space Center. They handle the assembly process, the roll out to the launch pad, the fueling, and the launch. When the rocket clears the tower at the launch pad , their responsibility ends and Mission Control in Houston takes over. That’s why you hear them say on every lift off, “3, 2, 1 Lift Off, Lift Off and the Shuttle has cleared the tower”. It’s the end of the launch team’s job and the beginning of Mission Control’s job.

To pull of our launch , we need our own Launch team. We need people who are willing to give their time and talents to help us do this. To add to our paid servants (the staff of Cheri, Jessica and Joe) we need to add a group of unpaid servants (aka Volunteers). We need people to help us get our new facility (more about that when it is officially selected) prepped. We need to come up with a marketing plan and execute it. We need to get our children’s ministries fully staffed and running; our connection groups (small groups for study, etc), our service projects continuing and expanding, financial and administrative processes started, a plan to make new members feel welcome and brought into our church family and then WE LAUNCH WORSHIP, first for us in September and for the public in October.

If we do this right, well then an amazing adventure beings. If we do this wrong, well follow this link and watch some launches go wrong and see what happens Want to help launch the Village? You don’t need to commit to forever. When the Village has cleared the tower (begun weekly worship in October), some of us will go on to other projects. Others, like myself, will transfer over to Mission Control and keep this ship on it’s path.

Want to join in on the fun? Contact Cheri or I and we’ll be happy to talk to you some more and get you placed as a member of this team.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Radical Hospitality In Action

Those who write about the life of a church have coined a phrase I love called “Radical Hospitality”. It’s about a church reaching out to those who need a community and bringing them in with a radical welcome. It’s something Jesus and his followers did. Jesus, while he was creating his ministry reached out to people on the margins of his society, women, gentiles, outcasts, etc. Then his followers did it too. Imagine yourself as a person being oppressed and then having the courage to listen to a call from God to help a man, now blind, who has been killing and torturing your fellow followers of Jesus. A man did; and that oppressor Saul, became Paul. His story is one of the reasons you’re reading this blog today.

Yesterday, I got to see some of that radical hospitality in action with our fledgling faith community and I am still glowing about it. We reached out to the folks of the Old West End via the Old West End Festival. To advertise our efforts we put flyers up on telephone polls in the Neighborhood and it brought us two unlikely groups to show radical hospitality. First, in the morning, as we gathered to march in a parade, about 8 or so neighborhood kids showed up at our house. They had read the flyers and heard we were going to march in the parade and have other activities and they wanted to help. Without blinking, Jessica Lucero, our children’s leader, and the members of our community present, got these kids doughnuts and Village T-Shirts and we added to our 17 or so marchers another group of people.

The night before, a team of four of us had put those flyers up in the neighborhood. Two days later my thumb still hurts from operating the high power stapler to put those up. But, it took a group of young girls only minutes yesterday afternoon to take out about a third of those flyers. They went up and down the parade route and took down over 50 of the flyers and brought it to our location as if it was funny. Despite my wanting to do something to them, not of the Christian variety, they were shown hospitality that you can not imagine. They were welcomed to our location, given free water and a re-useable water bottle, toys, and shown a little bit of Christian love.

Throughout the day, we exceeded the welcome expected by our visitors. Thanks to the generosity of our supporters and friends, the Village ran the Village Free Store during the festival. For those who have not come, the Old West End Festival has hundreds of garage sales going on. You have to experience it to understand the depth and the breadth of things that are for sale. But offering something for free, well you get strange reactions. That’s what we did.
We gave away hundreds of things.

Sure enough, the reactions were unreal. A woman drove up, as we were still setting up and asked what the Barbie Princess table cost. She cried when she heard she could just have it for her step daughter. “My husband doesn’t like it when I spend money on these kids, but I want to make their lives so special” she said. A group of tired and thirsty kids came up and could not understand why anyone would give them a bottle of free water when others were selling it down the street. Still others would not accept things for free and would insist on giving some token amount for things the rest us could not use. Another man who talked to me was almost angry we were giving things away. “In times like these, how can you give this stuff away”. I responded how could we not give away things we didn’t need in times like these. He walked off confused, and carrying two books he liked. My favorite thing we did was with the kids.

A friend of ours owns a business making funny political and social activism buttons. He loves puns and his business, Top Pun.Com, is filled with very “puny” social justice buttons. He rented us his button maker and created these small, blank, circular pieces of paper, ringed with our community’s name and website address. The kids then were able to draw, color, write or do what ever to the white space on them. For free, we then made those into buttons, a present for them, advertising for us. Dozens of kids made these things and walked off with the only thing they could afford at Festival. Some asked to make several for Mom or others and beamed with pride, even the cynical pre-teens, with their new creation for Mom, Auntie or Gram.

At 5 PM, we tore down the Free Store, cleaned out of toys and having given away hundreds, but not enough books, and turned our attention to providing some additional hospitality at the end of a long day. Joe Woods, our music leader had recruited a band and were to provide a free concert. Music is everywhere in festival. Bands of all kinds played in the parade from the Glassmen Marching Band to a rock band on a trailer behind us in the parade. People have bands set up in their back yards, front yards and we had our band on our porch. Joe and company played for two plus hours and as I sat in my chair in my living room, exhausted, I loved Joe’s reaction, “I loved that crowd. When I play in bars, they just sit there or go about their business. This crowd clapped, they danced, they sang along”. I know he’s right about that. I was exhausted at that point but found myself up and dancing despite shin splints, etc. I can’t wait to do that in worship this fall.

Before the band played, we were at it again. Thanks to the efforts of our staff and a gaggle of volunteers, we served somewhere near, and this is a very rough count, 120 people, a meal of hot dogs, chips, and pop. Again, all for free, and again causing quite a stir. People were skeptical beyond all measure. They still could not believe anyone would do anything remotely like this.

Now, will we get members out of this? Who knows. I think we will. I know we will strengthen our members commitment to our community by it, as a member of our launch team came to almost tears talking about this being what she has always dreamed church would be like. I know I awake, having worked for 15 hours (for my day job and the Village Friday) and about 14 hours for the Village Saturday, and find myself not spent, but ready to go again. And finally, I know that a couple of hundred other people’s lives got brighter for one day for our efforts. That’s what radical hospitality is all about.

Wanna come be part of this kind of fun? Our next month or so bits of radical hospitality are June 20th , July 4th and July 26th. On Saturday June 20th, we will be helping the Food for Thought folks hand out food to the homeless at the Main Branch Library. Meet us at 10 AM at the corner of Adams & Michigan. It takes about an hour or so to feed several hundred folks in need.

On July 4th, right out the front door of where our offices are currently hosted (graciously by Park UCC), the Walbridge Park Board hosts a two hour festival for kids in the area. Kids ride in a bike parade, are then given prizes for playing games, and are generally shown some love and attention. Afterwards, we and our hosts Park Church, will be having a picnic together to say thanks for their radical hospitality for the last year in hosting our offices and small groups. Then on July 26th, we will be joining St Mark’s Episcopal Church serving a meal people in need from the Old West End. This is our first outing with them, but I am sure, given the folks at St Mark’s and their leadership, we’ll have a blast.

We would love to see you at any of these events. Or if you can’t make it, join our email lists, Facebook group, etc and find out what fun it is to, show the world the radical love of Jesus.