Things I’ve Been Thinking About

Last year in Diakonia I turned what was supposed to be a “journal” for class into a blog series. I’m super excited that this has turned into an opportunity to blog for The Lutheran/Living Lutheran.

Here’s my first post! http://www.thelutheran.org/article/article.cfm?article_id=12760

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This is all church

Nearly two years ago the congregation to which I belong—Grace Lutheran in Evanston, Ill.— began talking about starting an affiliated mission community, which is an ELCA ministry designed to find new ways to connect people with their faith and (maybe) the church.

As a student in the diakonia program of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod, I’ve spent the last year thinking about how I can use my passions to connect the church and the world. It’s exciting to think about how we might begin to “do church” with people who would never set foot inside a sanctuary. But the process has also brought up a lot of questions, perhaps the biggest being: “Why do church anyway?”

Don’t get me wrong—I love my church. But I’ve started wondering lately how this thing we do on Sunday mornings turned into being the thing we have to do every Sunday.

When one of my favorite pastors-turned-authors was in town, I forked over $100 to attend his preshow meet-and-greet. I knew I’d get to ask him one question. When my time came and he turned to me, I asked: “What do you think about church?”

Right away he seemed to know he was being baited, but he played along. “What do you mean by church?” he asked.

“You know, singing songs on Sunday morning, going to council meetings, planning the youth lock-in,” I said.

He replied: “First, I think we have to be careful about throwing around the word ‘church’ generically. Second, I think there a lot of things about church that aren’t working for a lot of people right now, but people will never stop wanting to get together to talk about the important things happening in their lives.”

His answer has been following me around since he said it.

People getting together to talk about the important things happening in their lives.

Suddenly “church” meant a lot more to me than that thing I was tired of doing on Sunday mornings.

Going to dinner with friends? People getting together to talk about the important things happening in their lives.

Monday morning staff meeting? People getting together to talk about the important things happening in their lives.

This is church, I started telling myself. This is all church.

One afternoon I went with a colleague from the food pantry to attend a free weekly meal for about 135 people in need in Chicago’s Loop. We had just sat down when a young man with a buzz cut and tattoos covering his arms and neck plopped down in a chair across from us.

“I got out of the Marines a month ago,” he said. “While I was gone my parents both passed away. Now I’m here, living on the streets, and I have no idea what I’m doing. Can you help me?”

My colleague whipped out his smartphone and looked up the nearest
Veteran Affairs hospital. He started jotting down notes about busses to take, who to ask for, etc.

I thought about getting up to get the social worker who was on duty to help people in these situations, but I paused. The social worker would be there all afternoon. I could grab her later. First I had a question: “What does the tattoo on your hand say?” I asked him.

“It’s my daughter’s name,” he said. “I’ve just got to get myself together for her, you know?”

“How old is she?” I asked.

He answered. Then he started to talk about her. After a while he even started to smile.

People getting together to talk about the important things happening in their lives, I thought.

This is church. This is all church.

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