Cathy Stone discusses working with the homeless and impoverished to find God.
As human beings and even as Christians, many of us have a tendency to fall 'in love' with our material stuff. One only has to pick up the Anglican edition of the Canadian Church Calendar for 2010 to view beautiful seasonal photographs of church buildings across Canada. The front of the calendar itself quotes Genesis 28.17: 'The house of God… the gate of heaven.'
Don't get me wrong. I can appreciate beautiful architecture and churches as much as the next person. But is the 'house of God' a building? Can God be kept in a box? We who encourage fresh expressions of church don't think so.
We know that Jesus attended synagogue, but we also read that the majority of his work was done outside the synagogue. He walked amongst the people: Jew and Gentile, men and women. He often kept company with those who the Pharisees considered 'sinful' people, prostitutes and tax collectors.
It was Jesus who said: 'Why worry about a speck in your friend's eye when you have a log in your own?… Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend's eye.'
For myself, nothing in my life has been more humbling and gratifying than working with homeless and impoverished women at the Cameron House shelter in Peterborough, Ontario. We meet weekly to talk about God, life recovery skills, individual problems and hope. We study the Life Recovery Bible and work on a 12 step programme for victims of abuse and addictions. We pray. We pray because prayer brings us closer to God and can teach us perseverance.
Many of the adult women in the group have suffered at the hands of dysfunctional, even abusive, parents and life partners who often gave them 'stones' and 'snakes'. As a group we are encouraged to rethink our negative concept of God, to one as a father who gives good gifts to his children. For these women who have been hurt so badly by life circumstance it is a revelation to discover there is a God who truly loves them. They did not find this God in a church building. They find him in the people who through God can offer them unconditional love.
They discover him in Scripture and prayer and discussion in a 'safe' place with people who love them unconditionally. Remember the hymn: 'They will know we are Christians by our love.' It doesn't say they will know we are Christians by our buildings. Finally, God did not say: 'Go and build a church and worship me!' God said: 'Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…'
In our woman's group we have baptised three women, had one apartment blessing, and every Sunday we offer transport to anyone who would like to attend a service. Will this type of fresh expression see the church into the future? I don't know. All I know is that it is reflective of the work of Christ and he is our teacher, mentor and friend.