Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Church--Where is It?

"We moderate and polish the world's thinking, and name it Christian. The church embodies the upside-down kingdom. Whatever the world admires is probably not good, according to kingdom values. The church is always anti-empire.

What the church does is provide a place where pain can be touched and where the vision for a new world can be lifted up and held before the people."
    --Gordon Cosby

If you leave Main Street in Greenville, turn left on College Street--drive past the Greenville Art Museum--drive not far on Buncombe Street you'll come to a part of town not so ritzy as some parts of Greenville. Turn right on to Rutherford Street and you'll see a church. It's called Triune Mercy Center--funny name for a church. We parked and moved toward the doors. A smiling black man who looked like life had not been good to him--greeted us and handed us a bulletin.

Up the steps and into the doors to the Sanctuary we were welcomed by another black man. Well, this is a surprise, I thought. I had read the Pastors's powerful book, The Weight of Mercy which told the story of Deb Richardson-Moore's pilgrimage as Pastor of this church. I had wanted to visit this congregation since I had heard about the church four years ago when we moved back to South Carolina. They minister to homeless folk, the drug-addicted and the destitute.  But looking around there were a whole lot of people that could have been in anybody's church. The place was packed. Here and there I saw a few people I knew. Sure enough I could see people who looked like they had so little. But they didn't look uncomfortable or out of place. This was their church. There were sitting side by side with men in ties and women carrying Michael Kors' purses. 

The church looked predictable.  Stained glass windows like my home church had 70 years ago. The pulpit was in the center. There was a piano and an organ and band instruments. There was a tiny cross-stitched panel on an easel. On the Communion Table were beautiful flowers. Behind the pulpit up high was a large stained glass window of Jesus praying in the Garden. I liked that.

The bulletin surprised me. I don't know what I expected--but it was almost a typical Methodist worship service. At least this is what I thought. A man came forward with a guitar and sat on a stool and began to sing. It was haunting and it was beautiful. There was applause which would be a theme that ran through the service. The Pastor welcomed everyone in  a relaxed loving kind of a way. She asked a black man toward the back to stand and she thanked him for his art work on that easel at the front. More applause.

As the service moved along there were Biblical readings and responses and hymns that everyone knew. The man with the guitar sang several times. More applause. When it came time for the offering four black men looking rough came forward as ushers. As the Pastor held up the Offering bags--and prayed--this was followed by more applause. She had reminded us that how fine life is and how grateful we were to be alive.

As the Pastor began her sermon you knew she was a good communicator. Warm and loving she laughed and said she was going to
she was going to preach a sermon she had preached there three years before. The title of her sermon was "From the Epistle Known as Sports Illustrated." Hmm. I wondered   where this would go. She told a story she had read once in Sports Illustrated.  It was about a young man who had a hard time with reading. He was great at football. And he could have played for the NFL but he flunked out of college. His Daddy said, "Well, I guess you can be a ditch digger." But he didn't. He wound up was a High School Coach and had an incredible influence and won game after game. The whole town worshipped him for what he had done for that school, the players and their town. He moved on later to a terrible school whose winning almost any game was nonexistent. She linked her sermon to I Corinthians where Paul told his friends that we cannot be judged by human standards. This man had an incredible influence on many and certainly was never was ditch digger. She said none of us are losers. She hammered that home powerfully and I found tears in my eyes.

She was reaching out with her arms and told us that all of us were loved and we counted. She said that the world talked a lot about losers--but in the kingdom of God all of us count are loved by God. When she finished--the applause swept through the room. That happens in few sermons. Everybody there must have gone away feeling like we had been graced and we had heard a mighty word about worth and dignity and love. Despite it all none of us are losers. 

The church serves lunch every Sunday and a different congregation in town is in charge of the meal.The bulletin said that almost every day of the week there are meetings for Alcohol or Narcotics and the Porn Addicted.

I read in the paper that afternoon that the Greenville Hospital Association provides a traveling van that moves around the city and treats sick people who have no insurance and few resources. One stop in their mission is always Triune Mercy Center.

Mainline churches almost everywhere are having a difficult time. Atheism is on the rise. More and more folk are disenchanted with today's church. The Evangelicals who have jumped on the Trump Bandwagon has diluted the message of our Lord. Small wonder our influence is waning. What is obvious is that vast silence from most pulpits about  the injustice and cruelty that is coming from the highest places of our government. Interestingly there was no mention Trump or where we are as a country in that service at Triune. But we all knew from that solid gospel service that all really do matter and that in a dark world there is still a very good news. 

My wife and I left moved and touched by that experience. I did not know what to expect before we went. I was surprised at so many touches of the mainline church that I saw in that building and in that service. But that hour made me glad again to be on this team where, on our better days, we still beat the drum for justice and righteous and love for all God's children. Not a loser among us. 

Langston Hughes, the great African-American poet expressed it. And as we think of this month of Black History I think his words are important.

"At the foot o' Jesus,
Sorrow like a sea.
 Lordy like yo' mercy
            Come drifting' down on me.

At the feet o' Jesus
At yo' feet I send.
O, ma little Jesus,
              Please reach out yo' hand."

(You might want to read the Triune story in Deb Richardson-Moore's fine book, The Weight of Mercy: Monarch Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2012)

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

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