On March 4th, Spirit of Peace held the dedication of the, “Urban Gathering Center.” It is a 32 bed gathering center for groups who want to come into the city to explore, serve and learn. The dedication was a milestone event for our little church and it took all of our efforts to get it ready. Some organized the event, others painted and cleaned, others assembled beds and laid carpeting. We did a once over of the entire building including a new coat of paint in the fellowship hall and a new shine on the tile floors. The building was transformed. The day of, we had great music, inspired messages followed by one of our signature church meals, highlighted by frybread tacos. In the process we realized that all of our gifts were needed to make the day a success.
We all felt the positive energy that was generated by coming together and sharing our abilities and gifts. It is really amazing to see how much we were able to accomplish. One of the keys to our success all along was having a shared mission to take part in. At our first church council meeting, we discussed what our little church felt God leading us to become. We knew our success was tied to reaching out into our neighborhood. As we batted ideas around, we came up with four areas we felt God leading us to pursue. It is not a coincidence that these four areas were also areas that we had gifts and abilities to draw from. After the meeting I thought to myself, “how are we ever going to accomplish all four?”
The first of these four was an outreach to the LGBT community. We already were a “Reconciling in Christ” congregation. RIC congregations decide officially and publicly to welcome Lesbian, Gay, Transgender and Bisexual members. Spirit of Peace already had taken this step years ago and had LGBT leaders within the congregation. The neighborhood we are located in has a higher than average population of LGBT people. A quick survey of churches in our neighborhood showed us that we could uniquely offer this openly to our neighborhood. It also matched our theology and practice of radical welcome.
The second was sparked by a friendship with a Moravian man named Doug. He lost his son in a tragic accident about the same time that Divine Word Pentecost, (the two churches that came together to form Spirit of Peace), suffered an embezzlement that nearly "wiped them out". When Doug heard about it, he had a desire to walk with them. He got his Moravian church to become our first partner and together they offered some financial and moral support. Hearing about his generosity I wondered if there were any Moravian churches nearby we could partner with as well. When we learned that Watertown was the closest, we decided to figure out a way to be a Moravian presence in Milwaukee. I was hoping that we would get the names of Moravians who lived in Milwaukee so we could invite and involve them locally. We went on a statewide tour of Moravian churches sharing our story and asking them to partner with us.
What we got was a call from the National Moravian Bishop. She asked me if we would be interested in connecting with a Moravian pastor from California, who was ending her call there to start something new. She warned me that she had visible tattoo’s and an unconventional style. I said, “So your saying, she will fit right in.” Her name is Pastor Christie and she came to Milwaukee and started, “the Tricklebee Cafe’.” She and her family are also is a vital part of our community and she preaches and leads a Moravian liturgy once a month and has become my pastor.
The third idea was to become a church that is welcoming to families with special needs. One of our best leaders, was a mother of two amazing Aspergers children. She shared at my first council meeting that her support system was rooted in her church. Because the church was small and friendly it was willing to accommodate the special needs or her children in worship. With her guidance, we started a support group for parents and a youth group for their kids. We realized that there weren’t any other similar support groups in the city and opened our doors to an often overlooked, under supported, cohort. The group grew and named itself the, “Wisconsin Aspergers Empowerment” and can be found through meetup.com
The fourth idea we had that night was to turn our unused basement area into a summer mission trip destination for youth groups, wanting an urban experience. Before becoming a pastor, I was a youth minister and every summer took youth trips to do mission work often staying on the floor of a church or school. We decided to look into becoming a welcoming place with real beds and showers and great food. We wanted to to make the experience of learning about the best and worst our city has to offer and also to involve youth groups in what God is doing to alleviate poverty and dismantle racism.
G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “If something is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” I don’t recommend a four pronged approach to mission, especially for a small church. My initial thought was to do one thing well. One thing I have learned is that, it doesn’t take great skill to get something started. It doesn’t even have to be perfect. Each of these areas had passionate leaders who could see the importance of each mission. Each of these in their own way has helped to give Spirit of Peace its identity. There were other ideas that came up that night and they probably were even worth doing, we just didn’t have the gifts, abilities and passion we needed to push them forward. Some of the gifts we ended up needing, we didn’t even know we had, until we asked. So cheers to God’s Spirit who uses our abilities and gifts and gives us challenges to pursue imperfectly.