A View from the Outside: E-pistle 10.20.11

A View from the Outside: E-pistle 10.20.11

Extramural means “outside the walls,” and refers to activities that are outside the typical confines of an institution’s sphere, but under its aegis nonetheless. So universities have extramural internships and study groups abroad and extramural athletics.

This Sunday, we’re trying “extramural church!” Of course, really, Church without Walls shouldn’t be new for us at all. Church isn’t a building. Or only what we do for a distinct time on Sunday morning.

Church is a state of mind or a way of being, whether we find ourselves gathered or apart.

It’s a commitment we have made… about relating to God, to our neighbor and to our world.

As Christians — or at least as our best selves — we mean to go about being the church 24/7 wherever we are: serving rather than being served, walking those endless second miles, being transformed (and transformative) rather than conforming to the ways of our world.

One of you offered a faithful critique: Church without Walls isn’t really Old First stretching that much; instead, it is more like falling back to our default position!” There is truth to that insight: we are a congregation that understands greatly our faith as “service Christianity.” Hence the importance and focus, resources dedicated and work performed around here — probably more than many congregations — on programs and projects of service, for example the Shelter or the Food and Clothing Cupboard.

When you ask people what makes Old First special to them, one of the more common answers is our commitment to serve others, particularly the poor in their basic physical needs. This response comes from folks who regularly participate in those ministries, as well as from folks who explain, “That’s not how I choose to serve, but Old First is my church because it includes those kinds of ministries.” An outreach mission focus has been distinctive for this congregation at least since we moved back to 4th and Race in 1967.

Our outreach ministry also includes helping others into service– other people who help out on Saturday mornings or who come to make shelter dinners and hundreds of Urban Service Camp participants from elsewhere visit Old First each year to do exactly the sort of mission we are undertaking on Sunday morning.

Much of such service isn’t glorious or heroic, but, we hope, in some small way, it makes a difference. Often, I suspect, the greater transformation happens for the ones who volunteer…

I think it’s important for us to get this right as we try Church without Walls. The Revitalization Task Force’s asking us to go extramural isn’t primarily about the good we can do for “needy others.” Yes, I hope we leave the city’s Samuel Recreational Center in Port Richmond a bit tidier for all who use it and for the neighborhood as a whole. But we could have done that on a Saturday morning, and left worship in our Sanctuary unchanged.

But, this “field trip” is also about a difference we hope to make for ourselves… for Old First and its mission:

..how we understand what church is;
…who our neighbors are (and what we know about them); and
…how we are to be relevant in the real world in which God has called us to minister.

Only God knows, but we might even come back with a different take on what worship should be!

Church without Walls is a deliberate break in our routine. A new location to provide a new perspective… the distance and an angle from which we might see things differently.

So, if you are going to Church without Walls this Sunday, consider that you may be receiving more than you can give. (I’ve explained before: someone told me that she took more from her years in the Peace Corps. than she gave, so I didn’t go into the Peace Corps. Years later ministry showed me the basic equation of service is about getting more back than you can give!)

Maybe after this Sunday outside, we will start to understand worship back inside the sanctuary is more about giving than receiving…

See you at church…
..in an athletic field in Port Richmond this Sunday, or
next Sunday in the sanctuary)

Michael

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