(The sign that sits at the corner of one of the churches I now serve)
I got the coolest message from my District Superintendent during my first week in my new appointment. To her it was probably just good, common sense; the duty of a supervisor, as well as that of a fellow Christ follower...but to me, it was validation. In part it said, “Glad you’re having fun, but BE CAREFUL.” Now I will get to reasons for those words soon enough, but I want to share some of the other things I’ve heard over the past week.
“You’re nuts.” (Guilty as charged and thanks for the affirmation) “You best be careful!” (I’ve heard this one and numerous variations over and over) “Couldn’t you have gone somewhere else?” (Technically? Probably. Spiritually, with my integrity intact? Nope.) “You are being wasted there! You need to be in front of crowds! (Ouch; I beg to differ and give me time…sheesh.) “I really hope you don’t get shot.” (Me too!) “Dear Braveheart, please use care. Psalm 91 be upon you in Christ Jesus.” (One of my personal favorites from one of my dearest sisters in Christ) “Are you sure you want to do this?” (Yes!)
Now, for some things that I’ve heard over the past several weeks/months.
Impossible. Dangerous. Huge risk. Difficult. Fraught with mines. Treacherous. I think it’s a mistake. More often than not just the simple question, "Why?"
My most recent appointment as a United Methodist pastor has taken me into a unique appointment in Louisville, Kentucky. Why is it unique? I’m not really at a point where I’m ready to discuss specifics (I’ll probably explain this more in a later post), but this appointment has placed me where I’m going to have three distinct roles in three different churches. The crux of my appointment, where my work will take place and where my blood, sweat, and tears will be invested are in two urban churches. These churches are located in failing neighborhoods (that’s probably the best way to describe it) and each presents their own unique set of challenges. Aside from pastoring, my other primary role will be to establish a missional community in South Louisville or in other words, to provide ground level, down in the blood, muck, mud, snot of life ministries and missions to an area that is facing progressively greater and more desperate need.
Did I mention this is in what most would consider a dangerous area? (lol) Hence the message from my DS and the fear/concern/queries about sanity expressed by friends. I spent the first week on the job just walking the neighborhood…all by myself (lol) and that seems to have made loved ones, friends, and colleagues very nervous. If I saw people out, I spoke. If given an opportunity (more times than not I was given that opportunity) I introduced myself and asked, “What does this neighborhood need? What can we do to help?” The responses? Without fail? 1) The kids have nothing to do, nowhere safe to go 2) Too many kids are hungry and in need of clothing (The school two blocks away is 95+% free lunch) 3) Drugs (There is a heroine house and a neighborhood market that sells bongs and glass pipes just across the street from the church in the “best” neighborhood) 4) Crime. I heard from three long term residents (rarities in and of themselves) that the neighborhood is rapidly transforming and not for the better; people are frightened.
I guess when I put it all like that, I do understand why the people that care about and are responsible for me are worried. It also explains why my sanity is being questioned, because I truly am having an absolute blast. I look around the neighborhoods, I hear the stories, and I see the pain in the faces of those I’ve spoken with and I know that I’m right where I’m supposed to be. I mean, isn’t this where the church is supposed to be? Is this not the type of situation and people that Jesus would have hang out with and would make Himself at home with? (Mark 2:15-17) To me, this is incredibly exciting, which is probably why my heart soars when I’m there and why I’m having so much “fun”. Don't get me wrong; there is nothing fun about human suffering and brokenness, and I’m certainly not Jesus, but I am absolutely giddy at the prospect of taking Him where others might not be so anxious.
As for the naysayers? Keep ‘em coming. I should clarify that no one (well, maybe a couple) have said these things with any sort of derision. I want to know the concerns and I want to hear every last ounce of them, I want to realize the full enormity of this situation. Why? Because I believe God is doing something; what exactly? Beats me. I’m just along for the ride. However, I find myself literally smiling (which is kind of creepy when you’re by yourself, in a big, empty, bullet ridden church) at the thought of what He could do with someone just crazy enough to run headlong into the darkness and with a small group of people who have dared to keep the candle burning. The thought of being front row for what God can do? Yeah, that’s why I smile. Stay tuned.