In the past three weeks I have traveled up Lewisburg way four or five times. It seems to be a good middle-point meeting place in our diocese and getting there from Harrisburg is an easy- and scenic- drive up Rts 322 and 11/15.
I’m beginning to learn the names of the towns that are along this route, strung like pearls on a necklace, or beads on a rosary. I count them off and name them as I drive east and north: Fishing Creek, Halifax, Duncannon, Buffalo, Liverpool, Selinsgrove… Multiple route signs announce each of these villages (or are they towns, or boroughs? I’m still trying to understand Commonwealth terminology). Every five miles or so there is a sign that announces “Harrisburg” with a simple arrow pointing to recommend a turn-around, just in case we have changed our minds, or something.
My favorite of these little towns is Liverpool. I love it for its name, of course, and can’t help but think of the Fab Four everytime I pass though, but what I really love is the way that the houses on Front Street all stand shoulder to shoulder, as though on attention, as I drive by. Now, I know that it’s not for me that they stand proudly and present themselves- they’ve been there for more than 200 years (Liverpool was founded in 1808)- they stand there together and face the canal and the river. In the pre-railroad days, the Main Line Canal was a thoroughfare of industry stretching from Duncannon to Northumberland- 39 miles- and Liverpool was one of the busiest towns on the canal. There is a long strip of houses- maybe 30 in all- perched on a broad street with parking in front of each stoop. This residential Front Street is divided from Route 11/15 so as you pass through there is a feeling like you are watching a movie or riding an amusement park ride- like the one through the Hershey factory where they show you how chocolate is made.
As I drive by I wonder about the lives of the people in those houses. What do they do with their days? Where do they work? Do they have children? Do they go to church? What do they think about us, the travelers who whizz by, exceeding the modest 45 mph limit by a healthy, guilty margin? As I do my wondering, I offer a prayer for the people in this town, for their health, contentment and strength and then, in just a few minutes, I am at Weaver’s (Amish Farm Stand and Bakery) and all my thoughts turn to cantaloupe, tomatoes and sticky buns.
My drive past Liverpool – and my wondering about her people- is not too different from the “pajama rides” that we used to go on when I was a kid. After our supper and our bath, my mom would pile my brothers and me into the way-back of our Country Squire (no seatbelts in the 1950s and early 60s!) and drive around the neighborhood for a little while. I now understand that my mom was trying to get us to settle down before bed… but I sat up straight, looking into windows, trying to climb inside the lives of the people in those houses.
The Missional Church movement invites us to do more than peer into the windows of houses as we drive by. The Missional Church movement asks us to fully explore our neighborhoods and the places in which we live and to see the hand of God already at work in these places. We are called to join this work- God’s work- as participants in God’s mission, locally. This kind of work requires that we know each other, deeply.
In the days when I was being driven about in the back of that old station wagon, church was a cultural institution that gathered us together. The norms of our society included our participation in a faith community and regular gatherings for worship, education and fellowship. Those days have past. Today, the church serves as the same gathering space for those who are old enough to remember its “good old days” but the call to community is different. God is now asking us to step out of our red doors and seek God’s presence and participation in our neighborhoods and civic communities. To build community on Front Street.
The erasing of boundaries between Church and Town is a little scary. In church, we feel safe talking about God, singing about God, and sharing the rituals of our ancient tradition. In the Missional Church, we see that sharing God’s love and God’s Word is right and meet so to do in parks, in our friends’ homes or in the barber shop. Not, maybe, in a Bible-thumping way, but in a way that begins with knowing each other and sharing our stories. Of listening to each other, building relationships and seeing how God is a dynamic force in our lives- everywhere. We begin to distinguish less between Church and Society, between Church-life and “Outreach” and become more integrated in our minds and our spirits. The cartography of our souls finds that God’s love is present within us all the time… and present in our neighbors, known and not yet known.
While we begin to chart how it is that we will find our Way, together, we need also to honor and pay attention to the place in which God has put us today. While the Christian Journey includes movement, transformation and growth, we need, also, to look for Christ as close to us as our neighbor’s kitchen table, in the hardware store down the street or on the river trail. The Missional Church movement invites us to draw a circle around the spot where we are right now, and look for God.
More on all of this, coming up. For now, spend today noticing. Look for God where you are today- at school, at work, at home- puttering around the garden or in the kitchen. For, as God reminds us in Jeremiah, “When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)