Elizabeth thought it was hilarious that the new Fresh Expressions book called her a “person of peace.” I replied, “You certainly are a pretty aggressive “person of peace” (Referring to a long history of her cussing me out).
Just like any specialization, fresh expressions of Church has its own lingo. Drawing from Luke 10, a “person of peace” is a person who is intricately connected to a population, who is willing to introduce the missionary to that population. I’ve also heard it called a “gate-keeper.” Both terms feel a little lame to me, but what can you do?
How We Met
When my senior pastor asked me to start a campus in the downtown area of Boone, I didn’t really know where to start. I began telling folks that I wanted to create some kind of Christian community downtown. The pastor of our contemporary service said, “You need to talk to Elizabeth. She knows everybody downtown.” Elizabeth had gone to his service a few times, giving him a hard time about church whenever she had the chance.
Not long after, Elizabeth and I met for coffee. In between the constant interruptions of her friends’ greetings, I shared with her my hopes about starting a Christian community downtown and she shared a similar vision that God had given her. We put our ideas together and started hosting a cookout that eventually became King Street Church’s first fresh expression of church. Elizabeth has been a vital leader of our crazy little church ever since.
The Boone Angel
As our fresh expression began to form, one of my favorite questions for new folks was, “How did you find out about King Street Church. Nine times out of ten it was a story about Elizabeth. One young woman replied, “I’ve been sleeping in my car. This morning Elizabeth knocked on my window and gave me a cup of coffee. Eventually, she invited me to this.”
I’ve heard dozens of these stories of Elizabeth reaching out to love those in our community. A barista in town told my wife that Elizabeth had taken her to her mother’s funeral several hours away. How did they meet? Elizabeth buys coffee from her.
A few young ladies told me that they call Elizabeth the “Boone Angel” because she always seems to be everywhere. This is what it means to be a person of peace: be a constant presence in a particular community, always available, always listening.
So how does one become a person of peace? A few years back, Greg Ogden’s book, Transforming Discipleship, introduced me to the term “purposeful proximity,” a term he uses to describe the way in which Christ intentionally planted his Church through long-term, focused time with people. The Church was not built by moving speeches to crowds, but by long hours of being present with small groups of people and individuals.
Somewhere down the line, Elizabeth began to catch onto to this well-kept secret; the kingdom of God is not built by emotionally moving speeches, but by the arduous, sacrificial work of being present in the lives of our neighbors. Her ministry is not one of fancy words and a perfect shiny public life, but one of constant presence, even when it costs her greatly. Elizabeth owns her own small business, and business owners know that when you’re not working, you’re not making money. To sit with people and listen costs her greatly, but her impact on the kingdom is not hard to see.
Proximity is the only way I’ve found to effectively build the kingdom in the 21st century where Western society grows continually weary of the marketing ploys of churches. The ingrained proximity of a person of peace like Elizabeth is essential for a pioneer of fresh expressions. It takes years, not months, for a community to trust a pioneer, but with a person of peace walking alongside you, the process can work much quicker.
When I asked Elizabeth what she hoped that I would share about her story, she replied, “The key is not to expect results. Pour into others with no hope of returns.”
As you embark on pioneering fresh expressions of church, may you find a person who drives their barista to a funeral, who works until the small hours of the night because they’ve sat with a hurting friend all day, a person like Elizabeth.
Luke Edwards is the Associate Director of Church Development for the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church and a trainer for Fresh Expressions US. He was the founding pastor of King Street Church, a network of fresh expressions in Boone, NC. Participating in local, regional, and national levels of the Fresh Expressions movement has given Luke a unique perspective into the future of the mainline church in a post-Christian society. You can follow him on twitter at @lukesedwards or check out his blog Faithful Community at www.faithfulcommunity.com