What have you been doing?
A common question during my first month as Associate Pastor at St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship. Here is a look at what I’ve been up to:
Sept. 5-7 was our annual church retreat. The congregation packs up and moves to Cuivre River State Park for the weekend. We spent the three days with guest speaker Roland Kuhl, examining our church vision and direction. On Sunday, I was officially installed as Associate Pastor during our outdoor worship and communion service.
The following week, Sunday School started back up for the term. I’m teaching an incredibly energetic (and other chaotic) group of 3rd and 4th graders—mostly boys. Two weeks in, we are attempting to find and settle into our routine. We’ve managed to talk about Noah and the scariness of the ark and the 900-mile journey that Abram, Sarai, Lot, family, servants, and animals made. We had a bit of a disagreement over whether or not Pennsylvania is in the south, and repeated memory verses in high, squeaky voices; deep, low voices; and i n c r e d i b l y s l o w voices.
I led “Who are the Mennonites” with a student group from Greenville College. Greenville, a Free Methodist school, sends students on religious tours of St. Louis, where they get to meet and ask questions of various faith groups. They come to St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship and visit the fair trade store the church started, Plowsharing Crafts. It is always a fun time of sharing a little about Mennonite history and belief—and answering all sorts of questions about how we connect with the Amish, what “book” we use in worship, and what the whole peace thing means. It is fun to hear students ask questions that seem particularly near and dear to them—and me (what is the role of women in the church?), and see them make connections with a denomination that is not their own. We are planning to take the “Who are the Mennonites” idea to our community. We’ll be offering a similar event of our own, inviting our friends and neighbors to come and find out where we hide our horses and buggies in the middle of South City (disappointing spoiler alert: we all arrive to church in cars, on bike, or on foot. I don’t imagine many of us have any experience with horses or buggies).
This past Saturday was our annual Meet The Neighbors Yard Sale. We organized table after table of clothing and household goods and interacted with our neighbors as we sold merchandise at ridiculously low prices to benefit Isaiah 58, an amazing ministry and food pantry we participate with. Children were invited to play games, and all were able to enjoy free snacks and chat with the various church members scattered throughout. The unofficial count is that we heard 5 different languages during the day.
This coming Sunday, we will begin monthly prayer walks in our neighborhood. Following Sunday School, I will lead a brief devotion and we will go out in 3s and 4s to walk our neighborhood and begin to connect in new ways with our environment as we seek to encounter our neighbors as those made in the image of God. I imagine we will learn all sorts of unexpected things that will help shape the direction of our community ministry.
I’m also in the process of beginning a book study. In October a group of church and community members will begin discussing The New Jim Crow. In post-Ferguson St. Louis, I think many groups are trying to take a closer look at the ways we can recognize and eliminate racism in ourselves and in our communities. Addressing racism is one of the priorities that the congregation has been discussing through the church visioning process. Whether it ends up as one of the points in the final vision or not, it is certainly an important thing to discuss and examine from our Christian faith.
Today I have set up office in a local coffee shop (well, technically I suppose it is a gelato shop where most people sit around drinking coffee). I plan to be somewhere in the neighborhood at least once a week. While today will be mostly spent in sermon prep, future weeks will be spent getting to know local shop owners and inviting people into conversation.
Other activities have included meeting church members for breakfast, coffee, or afternoon snacks (my life these days tends to revolve around food); attending celebratory potlucks (we recently celebrated a 10 year anniversary of a release from prison); and trying to connect with speakers representing the 8 languages on our peace pole to come and talk about what peace means to them during our World Communion Service on Oct. 5. I am learning that we have an awful lot of cultural organizations right in our church’s neighborhood. Many are doing incredible things, but have been hidden from my radar. The things you learn.
Thank you all for your prayer and financial support! I deeply appreciate your prayers for my ministry, my church, and our community. At this point, I’m a little over halfway to my year’s salary goal. If you’d like to contribute, talk to me about how to mail your check OR give online now through my indiegogo fund!