I was out the door this morning a little after 8 a.m. High Street looked like a good place to catch a bus headed South toward the worship space of The United Methodist Church For All People, Columbus, Ohio. Worship starts at 10 a.m. so I had plenty of time to be early. But the bus had already been there. And the next bus was an hour away. So I walked. With the sun peeking over the horizon it was a brisk and glorious walk. More about the neighborhood in a moment.
The doors were open and I followed a family of 4 into the church although it was only 9 a.m. when I arrived. Pastor John welcomed me at the door, “Breakfast is this way…” Before I had a chance to say, “No thanks” or “Thanks, but I’ve already eaten” I found myself in line with 20 other early risers. I sat down with my bowl of fruit next to that family of four and engaged in a pleasant conversation with a 7 year-old girl. “I really don’t like biscuits and gravy”, she said as she finished her second one, “but I REALLY like the watermelon.” I concurred.
After breakfast I slipped quietly into the meeting space (sanctuary) and enjoyed the praise band (guitar, bass, keyboard, drums, 4 vocalists) warming up to people beginning to gather. I felt at home. Lots of friendly chatter, children being hugged, much laughter and joy. Worship at 4allpeople is held in their main hall that transforms into a dining hall with round tables and chairs when not used for praise and celebration. (Actually, I suspect they do very little that is NOT praise and celebration.)
My favorites in worship this morning were three-fold. 1) Prayers of joys and concerns, 2) closing story of Pastor John’s message, and 3) a brief conversation with Elizabeth.
Prayers of joys and concerns was introduced by Pastor John with an invitation something like, “This is NOT the time to tell me about what you did this week. This is a time to lift a prayer and tell us all what GOD is doing this week.” Nuff said. Randy carried the microphone and for 20 minutes there was a depth of sharing that only those on the margins of life could lead. Twice during this time the person sharing (both were African Americans) broke into song after sharing a story. Both times the bass and guitar players scrambled to find the key and played along, with congregation clapping and singing. Passionate worship, indeed!
Pastor John closed his message with a story. He, as a representative of Church 4allpeople, was invited to attend a banquet put on by the Columbus Jewish Foundation. The Foundation has funded project after project of social justice and wanted to gather the recipients and thank them for changing the fabric of community by their efforts. Church 4allpeople is one of them.
“It is a tradition at Jewish weddings”, said the Foundation presenter, “that after the bride and groom have affirmed their deep abiding love for each other through their vows, they hold in their hands a beautiful crystal goblet. The groom then places the goblet on the floor in front of them… Then stomps on the goblet, crushing it to pieces. Interpretation of this ritual dates back thousands of years and varies wildly. My understanding,” says the Foundation presenter,” is that the broken crystal represents the brokenness of the world in which we live. After the great love between marriage partners is affirmed, the couple is sent out into the world together to share their love with the world and thus begin bringing healing to a broken world. You are here tonight, because you have shared your love with others in that way.”
I sat next to Elizabeth, who was sitting next to her 6 year-old grand-daughter. Almost a decade ago, Elizabeth had lost her job, experienced divorce, and her mother passed away. She spent about 6 months on the street. “People don’t become homeless so much because they run out of money, as much as they run out of connections”, according to my friend Paul Schroeder of JOIN. I had asked Elizabeth if she felt that were true. Elizabeth said she had first connected with 4allpeople’s free store. Then eventually became connected with the faith community. Now she’s hooked. She talked to me off and on through worship about her family and her life and asked about Parkrose and our ministry. I mentioned we were starting a community dinner, a food pantry, and had a developing community garden, and had lots to learn. She said the free store also provided her an opportunity to give – she once gave a sewing machine. She wondered out loud about all the good that sewing machine might be doing now wherever it is. After worship she leaned over to me and said she had to leave right away but she thought that Habitat for Humanity and Food Bank might be great connections for us. I was tickled by this heartfelt gesture of redemptive connection. Broken crystal?
Church 4allpeople is on the corner of Whittier and Parsons Ave. “It has to be here” says Pastor John. Most people living east of Parsons are African American. Most west of Parsons are white, and wealthy. West of Parsons is a quickly-gentrifying community called German Village. South of Whittier, people are pretty mixed, African American and white, with a growing gay community. Further south you find deep poverty and mostly white. Church 4allpeople is a bridge. It’s location is intentional.
We were 100+ in worship this morning and it would be hard to define us by race or class or any other defining characteristic for that matter. There were relationships that were first-time or just-visiting, of course. But it was impossible to find anyone who felt left out. If anything could define all of us this morning, it might be from the mouth of Jimi. He says we’re all “Christian in Recovery. Because,” he says, “if you have a hurt, a habit, or a hang-up, you’re in need of recovery.”
Amen – Bill