Rise & Shine - April 30
New Church Draws Interest in the Windy City
In the News
It's not every day that a new church start-up is highlighted on a nationally televised broadcast, especially before it has even held its first official service. But that's exactly what happened when the Today Show featured Gilead Church Chicago in an Easter week segment.
Craig Melvin asked co-founders Rebecca Anderson, who was ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and Vince Amlin, a UCC (United Church of Christ) minister, about their vision for East Rogers Park "congregation in formation" on the north side of the city.
"We believe God welcomes all -- and we have the stories of Jesus hanging out with all the 'wrong' folks to prove it -- and so we do too," said Anderson. That's why they held a preliminary get-acquainted meeting in a bar, hitting their attendance goal of 120 right off the bat. A non-religious setting removes the barrier that traditional Christian architecture can pose for some people, Anderson continued, "people who were wounded by Christianity."
The Gilead Church Chicago website states: "We want to be church for and with people who've been turned out, turned off or just left cold by church." Their goal is to create a "creative community of Christian faith" where all are welcome.
Anderson's background in farming, storytelling, and comedy and Amlin's interest in creating intentional Christian community led to a plan to build a spiritual community in which participants tell true stories about their own experiences; grow, eat and share good food; and worship together. In this way, they say they seek to "do justice ... [and] bring joy and fun back to faith."
The stories provide a kind of catharsis so that listeners can own one person’s confession of imperfection as their own confession. When one of the ministers acknowledges, "we all have stories like that," the speaker and listeners can then hear the words of assurance that God offers pardon to all. Then as participants pass the peace, they receive and extend that pardon and mercy to one another, saying, in effect, "we heard your story and we still like you."
According to the church website, "we believe that ... every story is a God story. God is present in our ordinary, everyday lives ... Telling our stories helps us see the holiness we may have missed ... the Spirit's fingerprints on our days ... It lets us claim our daily grind as a spiritual journey. It changes the way we live, and frequently, it saves our lives."
Sharing food together at Gilead has almost a sacramental aspect, as the church website states: "There are few things more sacred than growing, cooking, and sharing food with one another. ... Food is worship and service when we give away the produce we’ve grown ... And it’s relationship when we deliver a casserole to the new parents trying to stay afloat. Food is even evangelism, when you leave church telling friends, 'You have to taste the pie my minister baked!' We believe eating is a spiritual practice."
Worshiping together "beautifully" involves participants bringing "songs, and poems, and art, and jokes that make you feel like you're standing on holy ground. Things you find and things you make." The community then works to "stitch them together" into a kind of spiritual quilt that becomes the church, "and watch God show up."
The name of the church -- Gilead -- provides insight into how the co-founders understand its purpose, as the church website indicates: "It's a Spiritual about making the wounded whole [a reference to the song 'There Is a Balm in Gilead'] It's a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about seeing the sacred in the ordinary, [referring to a novel called Gilead, written by Marilynne Robinson]. It's a pharmaceutical company [Gilead Sciences, Inc.] that makes lifesaving medication for those living with HIV. In the Bible, it's a place where healing happens, where medicine grows on trees [Jeremiah 8:22]. And the place where a man named Jacob wrestles with God and gets blessed [Genesis 32:22-31]."
Whether inside a sanctuary, or out in the world, God calls us to action. What does it mean to be “church” in the modern, changing world?
More on this story can be found at these links:
Today Visits the Church That Holds Its Services in a Pub. NBC Today Show
Gilead Church Chicago. Gileadchurch.org
Chicago New Church Start Attracts National Attention Before First Worship Service. United Church of Christ
The Gospel Blimp -- Or, A Dummies Guide to Overcomplicating Evangelism. Anchored in Christ
Here are some Bible verses to guide your discussion:
Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert. (For context, read 43:1-7 and 14-19.)
God promises to bring his people back from exile, restoring their hope after years of separation from their land. When he says, "Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old," he is referring to the losses and sorrows of their time of discipline.
But in verses 16-17, he reminds them of the way he delivered them from slavery in Egypt through the path God made through the mighty waters of the sea. That happened in the past, but the prophet uses the present tense, "Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea." In other words, God is still acts to deliver his people.
Questions: Do you feel like our church is in a place of exile and incompleteness, or have we reached a kind of promised land, or are we somewhere in between? What new thing do you think God is about to do in our midst? What makes it hard to perceive that new thing? How have you seen God act to give our congregation hope in the past?
And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (For context, read 28:16-20.)
After Jesus' resurrection, before he ascended into heaven, he gave his disciples instructions as to the nature of their mission. Those of us who are his disciples today have inherited that same mission. The main imperative in this passage is the command to make disciples. The other verbs (go -"as you are going," "wherever you go", baptizing, and teaching) help us understand how we are to accomplish that objective.
Questions: What is a disciple? How did Jesus make these men into disciples? What can we learn from him about the process of disciple-making? What does Jesus' authority have to do with our mission (What is the "therefore" there for) ?
Prayer for the Mission of the Church (BCP p. 816)
Everliving God, whose will it is that all should come to you
through your Son Jesus Christ: Inspire our witness to him,
that all may know the power of his forgiveness and the hope
of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you and the
Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
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