Today was a long day in session, but somehow less intense than yesterday’s drive and dinner, for me anyway. Elaine Heath spoke most of the day, with a brief intro about the distinction between Extractional (attractional) church and missional church, then dove into her experiences with missional communities such as the Epworth Project (communal housing, following a Rule of Life which includes active service within the neighborhood, among many other things) and the New Day communities, which are house church/missional parachurch worshiping communities.

It’s provocative stuff. I would have paid good money to be able to peek into everyone’s brains and see what sparks were flying. I know there were some folks who didn’t get (or agree with) what she was saying at all, but there were also a bunch of people who have major wheels turning about what might be able to happen in their own settings. I am loving this chance to be in on some of those conversations!

For me, one of the high points was hearing her share the Rule of Life which the New Day leaders follow. They don’t expect all of the worshiping participants to follow the Rule of Life, but they keep very high expectations of their leadership team, including the supporting clergy, who also follow the same Rule of Life and participate in – but do not lead – a covenant group with the rest.

The Rule of Life they use is based off of the UM membership vows, but push into what those vows mean when lived out. Prayer intentionally includes a variety of methods, to spur growth and depth, and also specifically includes fasting. (Interesting.) Presence encompasses hospitality, to neighbor and to the community, including mandatory regular potluck suppers with the entire neighborhood invited! Gifts includes caring for the gifts of the earth, and an explicit rejection of consumerism. Eating together (which I believe serves both Presence and Gifts) is considered a sacred act; at the table, all are levelled; all are sisters and brothers. (What if communion were really experienced that way??) Service comes out of gratitude for the love of God, and also explicitly includes regular practice of Sabbath so that participants can truly serve out of love. Witness includes reconciliation work (racial, gender, and otherwise), as well as encompassing the language of resisting evil and injustice, as well as actively pursuing peace.

It’s heady stuff, and helpful. The lead team meets bimonthly and is accountable for all of these things. Heath says peer pressure works well for them here – no one wants to show up month after month and have to say they still have done nothing to connect with their next-door-neighbor!

And the subversive aspect is…these folks go back to their “anchor congregations”, which make a point of visibly holding up and supporting their work, and over time, Heath says “it infects the imaginations of the people sitting in the pews.” My favorite quote of the day: “When you worship with your local congregation, it is as returning missionaries, coming together to celebrate what God has done.”

She also spoke to the deliberate blurring of boundaries – claiming the promise that “in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek” – seminary teachers, for example, are in covenant groups with their students; all are expected to be open to each other and to care for each other without regard for worldly status or “normal” boundaries.  Speaking of the story in Mark 2 about the paralyzed man being lowered to Jesus through the roof, she points out that the setting for this story is Jesus at home. Jesus had a home? According to Mark, he did…and he invited so many people into his home that it was full to overflowing, and this bloke came in through the roof. What if our homes were that open, that porous? What would it look like, to invite people into our lives to such a degree? That is the example we are given to follow. Suddenly, every building is a house of prayer, a sacred space…we’re never “off the hook.”

Her missional living communities are exciting, are inspiring, but are not likely to be the entry point for most congregations or pastors. Residential communities can work great for twenty-something seminary students. Not so much for established families in suburbia, I suspect, although my own soul has yearned for something similar for years. Tomorrow morning’s focus is on small discipleship-focused groups; I’m very much looking forward to the conversation, since that’s where our community is growing, and where my heart is.

I was given the opportunity to help serve at communion tonight, for our close-of-day worship. I was glad to be asked; I don’t get many opportunities to serve communion, and it allowed the clergy in the room to receive rather than give. It is a powerful interaction – an intersection, an incarnation. Thanks be to God!

The conversations around the edges, amongst participants, continue to be rich and fruitful. It’s a great joy to see awakenings, imaginations catching fire, to see new things becoming possible because of this event and our connections. What a blessing to be here, and be together!

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