When your eyes are looking towards the horizon, and your spirit is wondering how God might be able to use you beyond the walls of your church building, it’s amazing what can happen. This month, a Fresh Expressions team of a local church in FL was listening to the community, and considering how to love and serve the world around them.
Listening to Your Context
These are the beginning steps of developing any contextual expression of church. As they prayed and dreamed together, they were convinced that in the wake of recent racial violence, they were supposed to do something to bring their divided community together.
Within a couple of weeks, community leaders and local pastors were joining to engage in a Prayer Walk for Racial Peace in Wildwood, FL. Hundreds of people showed up from 18 different churches of many races and diverse traditions, convinced that Jesus was inviting them to foster systemic Kingdom change.
The event began not with presentations, but with an invitation: find someone of a different race than you, meet them, hug them, and exchange your contact information to follow up with each other tomorrow. Suddenly, it was not an event, but a community. People hugged and wept and prayed together. Strangers became brothers and sisters. Community leaders shared their hope for the city. Those who were gathered laid hands on the police force and the community leaders and prayed for them.
They all prayer walked from city hall down MLK Boulevard. Hundreds of people marching together, singing, laughing, holding hands. The display of love and unity shut down the main road of the city. They stopped their procession at the community center, in the epicenter violence and drug activity. Then they repeated what had occurred on the other side of the tracks. But now, more and more people began to join in from the neighborhood!
To hear the heart of law enforcement and community alike, laying aside differences and praying for and with each other, was very significant. It was a tangible moment of healing and reconciliation. Drug dealers, praying over the officers they once saw as the enemy, officers embracing people they had probably arrested a time or two, that was the kingdom of heaven breaking into Wildwood.
“The day concluded with the brightest double rainbow any of us had ever seen, a sign of God’s covenantal promise of a new beginning. There was no violence. There was no protest. There was nothing controversial, except the controversial love that we shared,” reflects Michael Beck, one of the pastors of Wildwood UMC and the catalyst of the Fresh Expressions team.
How do you love and serve the community? You listen. And find out what the community needs, what it longs for, and what God would have you do about that. Then, in the power of the Holy Spirit, do it.
Shannon serves as Director of Training, leading our team of mission strategists and trainers in the development and implementation of the Mission Shaped Ministry course through Pioneer Learning Communities. She is also a pastor on staff with Riverside Church in Sterling, VA, a Church that worships in two languages and engages in several Fresh Expressions of Church. In the last several years, Shannon has been involved with the Presbyterian Church’s New Worshiping Communities initiative, and has directed the coaching network that supports pioneer leaders. Shannon lives in Springfield, VA with her husband Patrick and teenage daughters Catherine and Suzanne.