Whatever is a tough word. In this day and age, when a teenager says it to a teacher or parent we might think of the word accompanied with an aloof roll of the eyes and the most dismissive possible tone imaginable. W-H-A-T-E-V-E-R. Someone in worship even heard this and gave an air-slap across the face. Wow.
Whatever claim has just been uttered by the irrelevant person is the least interesting utterance imaginable and has received its appropriate reply or response. Well, maybe such a back and forth is a parable for church planting. Most of the rest of the big body of Christ, may think and utter, whatever. Why are you trying to take from what we have already built? We do not understand what you are doing and it makes us nervous.
The Tobacco Trail Church planted almost five years ago. It had no ecclesial body behind its’ first days. It had no core group other than five Linney’s, all of whom were reluctantly willing to follow their husband/father, but did not know exactly what he was talking about or where he would lead. By this time of year, winter, a half decade ago, it was becoming clear that God was calling me to something special, something different, something that might not make sense to me or even to others as I tried to explain it. Despite clarity, I would have to say HERE I AM. I am ready to go, to follow, to lead ahead of a clear and rational explanation.
I shared the following in one of the early sermons in 2010:
Paul says to the Ephesians, “As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.” The word whatever indicates to me that it will be different shoes or modes of transportation in different seasons to different audiences, worn by different evangelists. I’m grappling with what I know in my heart is true, there is not one right way to worship the Lord, at least not now, before he reveals himself again.
The church has its more traditional and institutional place and identity, but it cannot be just such structures. It must be neighborhoods again. It must be mobile. It must not fear change and humiliation, and that at times for such fringe communities it will be difficult to articulate what and where this gathered community is. Jesus was nothing if not misunderstood. If our present day Beloved Communities are at first, unintelligible to the world, that might just be a sign that we are on to something.
This articulation of the church and in this case, The Tobacco Trail Church, continues to be troubling for many. If I cannot see it, then it is not the church. There is the easy fallback to I must hear and taste the word and sacraments.
Perhaps it is still troubling for me. I am not sure I have better words five years later for what we do, but here is some of what we do.
- We gather to read scripture on Tuesday mornings at a coffee shop.
- We have gathered weekly for worship on Sundays (mostly evenings) for worship with preaching and The Lord’s Supper. We are moving to a monthly worship service of this format.
- We run, at least most of us do.
- We are known as the Running Church, but our core members do not want to change our name to anything like this. They are traditionalists and would not want to lose our long and storied history.
- We are young, active, mostly white, mostly Durham residents.
- Our mostly millennial and Gen X crew of people struggle to relate to giving as generations before them did for a vast number of reasons. Finances are probably the greatest risk to our sustainability.
- Our different worship locations are probably intimidating for newcomers.
- We seem to strike a chord with many seekers in the community, but not enough for them to attend or come more than once. Still, they are intrigued by the merger of exercise, worship and prayer.
I am still up for whatever, but recognize just as Paul may have that this does not lead to clarity. Even when backed with St. Paul’s authority, I still hear and wonder if you might hear and read, whatever, as possibly dismissive. But it does not have to be. Whatever is freeing and tenacious, creative and scrappy. Whatever tools you have been given, use those. We will use whatever it takes to be the church. Will you?
By Rev. George Linney, Pastor, Tobacco Trail Church