Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Welcomed Friends!

Well, now that I have got a couple months under my belt at this whole, starting a new congregation thing. I am starting to feel like I kinda’ know what I am doing. I had planned on using this blog to try an record some of the things I have learned, and am learning, as I go through this process so that others can benefit from my wisdom, or as more likely the case... my ignorance and naivete’ ( I have always wanted to use naivete’ in a sentence)

The four areas that the launch team at Via Nova and I are focusing on, as we make this journey together, are: “Gathering people” = Getting groups of people together to have conversations about faith and “what church could be...” “Celebrating/Worshiping with people”= Gathering people to worship God and celebrate our relationship with God and each other. “Serve people” = If you don’t get that one...well, i guess ...buy a dictionary... and “Discipleing people” = Helping people form friendship and a community as they make this journey of faith together and grow spiritually.

Our first “Gathering people” event was two weekends ago, It went so well that we decided to do it again last weekend. It’s cool when doing a “church thing” is actually fun and you like doing it!

So anyway, I want to debrief a little about what I learned from the event:

Here in Vancouver we have a very good farmers market downtown. One of the members of our launch team came up with a great idea of having a booth at the Farmers Market to tell people about Via Nova (You Rock Kimmy!) So I went down to the Farmers Market one Saturday morning and find the information booth. I met a very nice gentleman at the booth and we started a conversation. Things were going well, he laughed at my jokes, I laughed at his... Then I make my first ignorant step... I say “ Well, I’m Pastor of a new church in town, and we were wondering about setting up a face painting booth at the market...” The nice gentleman’s posture changed, his facial expression changed, and he stopped laughing... His reply was “Well, the market is supposed to be non-political and non-religious.” Now I want you to know that I, in no way fault the nice info booth guy. That’s his job! I was just surprised at the change in his sub atomic structure, when I said I was from a church. But since Via Nova was wanting to just paint kids faces and have fun, we were in a weird grey area; not being there as a church, but there as face painters, so he wanted more info. “Are you gonna ask people for money?” he asked. “Nope, just paint faces, meet people and have fun” I replied .... “Are you going to confront people as they walk through the market?”... “Nope, just paint faces, meet people and have fun...” We talked a little bit longer and he started to warm up to the idea that maybe I wasn’t so bad, and we might be an ok group to be at the market...maybe... He gave me some other possibilities, but I could tell it was going to be a lot of work to get a booth. So I thanked him for his time, shook his hand, wished him a great afternoon and went home.

Here is the first couple of things I have learned from this exchange with Mr. Info Booth Guy. First of all, the “church” is not seen as a “welcomed friend” to an awful lot of people. I say that because at the core of what we are trying to do, and be, at Via Nova is to be involved in our city as welcomed friends in the community. That is not as easy as it sounds. In this part of the country “church” is not a welcoming word. In fact for the people with whom I have an affinity, there is still a bit of mistrust because I am a pastor and connected to the church. If we can’t live lives that contradict that mistrust and image, we will not get very far in forming this community God has called us to.

The second thing that sticks out for me as I think about Mr. Info Booth Guy, is that the first two things he thought of when I said “church” was “Are you gonna ask for money” and “Are you gonna confront people?” Of all the things that I pray we will be known for, as we form this community, confronting people and asking for money aren’t two of them. (Having said that, I do pray that we will the type of community that does call people on their crap, and stand for justice, mercy, life and hope as disciples of Jesus, and I do believe that you can tell pretty quickly what is important to someone if you look at their Visa Statement for about 15 seconds) In fact that part of the conversation with Mr. Info Booth Guy didn’t make me mad, or just point out a public relations problem the church has... It really just made me sad. Not “oh thats too bad” sad, but a “quiet, kinda cuss a little to yourself, cause something is wrong” sad.

Ok ready for the good part?... I am! We decided that the nearby park with the huge play structure is probably a better place to set up a shelter and hand out balloons, paint kid’s faces and have conversations anyway. So after a call to the Parks Dept. and a thumbs up from them, we set up a shelter and started handing out balloons, painting faces, handing milk bones to people’s dogs and having fun with people, while we talked about forming a group of friends who wanted to see the world be a better place as an act of faith. (Notice no use of the “C” word) We had fun! People said “thank you” to us, and things like “right on, that is great!” Even people from my motorcycle group came out and told us what a great thing we were doing. People sat under the tent and talked and laughed and smiled.

There was another “religious group” at the park that day as well. (They wore white shirts and black ties and had little name tags... the group name rhymed with “granola spitless”) People interacted with us in a very different way then they did with our tie wearing friends. People walked quickly past their tent and and avoided eye contact, or did that zombie stare right through them, thing. At about lunch time I noticed the difference. There were people people waiting in line to get faces painted, kids were playing with dogs by the tent people were smiling and having conversations with the launch team. I leaned over and said to one of my launch team folks “See all the people just hanging out with us?... Now look at the tent across the park and see how people avoid it? That’s what I mean by “welcomed friends” in the community. If we can get a grip on that we are on our way!”

Sooner or later we will find ourselves in the place where we realize what Jesus meant when he told us to love God and love everyone else. I’m glad that Via Nova is a community that is moving there!

I’ll post up some other reflections/learnings from this first Gathering people event.

Have a great week friends!