Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Future Church

Over at Patheos where I have contributed a few blogs, the mainline Protestants are all discussing the future of the Church. As part of that they asked me what a vibrant mainline church "would" look like... with an eye to the future, i think... but I choose to remain in the present. My answer is a church that is very much already in existence.

On the amazing HEART roadtrip with the Presbyterian Hunger Program last month, we visited Common Ground Church Community in North Lima OH (near Youngstown). The story, in a nutshell, is that they were a NCD (new church development) meeting as a "house church," owning no house nor land, and wanted to remain that way, but through a turn of events they ended up buying property. The property they bought, however, used to be a seedling nursery and mail-order seed company, so with their main building they also got greenhouses, fields, acres of forest, and a tractor. They turned all these into local mission projects, and learned to work the land. They now feed hungry people, train the uneducated in agricultural skills, wonder at creation, and call for a large-scale relocation from industrial agriculture to local and sustainable food systems. They get covered positively on local news too.
I fell rapidly in love with this church... and not just because of their hospitality. They welcomed us (weary travelers) enthusiastically, fed us well, provided a campfire and singalong for entertainment, and let us take over their sermon time in worship the next morning. They shared their story, walked us around their gardens, let us ramble in their woods (cross-country crutching, my new Special Olympics sport), shared their passion for the creative permaculture methods with which they are experimenting.
I like the way this story happened. They didn't get interested in local agriculture, make a strategic plan, and then achieve their dreams. They didn't do this. God did it to them, inflicted greenhouses upon them, dumped a challenge in their laps. They said the all-important "yes," of course, and with enthusiasm... but it seems they got caught up in God's dreams for the agricultural land so rapidly being abandoned in so many places. They took up the orphaned land and learned to be a blessing on and with and through it.

I came to realize, over the course of our roadtrip, that my interests in local, sustainable, and community-oriented agriculture are not necessarily going to be a burden that I would have to convince a congregation to take on. In fact this passion is part of a movement, and it even seems we might be bold enough to say it is part of the future of the church. I know my future in church needs to be mission, local mission, and I am thrilled to discover that it may not be horribly hard work, but in fact a blessing and a natural joy. I might not have to fight for it -- it might just grow.
I drew that picture on the last day of the roadtrip in reflection upon my dreams for the future. I believe that the Church of the future will increasingly look like Common Ground: the withdrawing to an alternative lifestyle, the healing and giving, and the engagement outward with the powers that be.


  1. Hi Talitha:

    I find it way cool your travels brought you to Youngstown, OH. I grew up near Youngstown and its good to hear there is new church development in an area that is economically depressed and has had issues with drugs, organized crime, and other problems in the past few decades. This gives me hope that there will be life in that area again.

    I also like your view on the future of the church. I sometimes get discouraged when I hear people say that mainline protestantism will not survive the 21st century. And it hurts me that the values that define Mainline protestantism seem to be disappearing. I think we are at a pivotal point in history right now that we as future leaders in mainline protestant churches (esp. Presbyterianism) need to find alternative ways to spread the message through healing, renewal, and finding common ground rather than the 'one way or the highway' message that is common in a lot of churches. By focusing on these key points, we will not only find a way to appeal to others who have been hurt by 'the church' in the past, but will also bring all of God's children together in unity no matter if our views differ. I also think environmentalism needs to play an important role as well since its on the forefront of importance in today's world. We as the future leaders of the church need to bring God's message of love, hope, unity, and peace to others so we can do as what Rus Kosits told me once, “to make disciples of Jesus Christ' rather than just 'convert people.'

    Wonderful essay Talitha!

    - Chris Schilling

  2. "near Youngstown, OH" I should have said, LOL.

  3. aw thanks Chris! thanks for your thoughtful comment. We're in agreement. let's do this. =)
    and some more stuff going on in Youngstown itself was reported in my previous post: http://presbybug.blogspot.com/2010/06/urban-agriculture.html if you want to read more =)

  4. I read "Youngstown" and I thought to myself, "Isn't that the place that Chris and Ian are always telling people to stay away from?

    And then, I read his post, LOL.