Although I was only there for worship and a short visit, I think the Church of the Village in New York is one of these places. Joy and quiet glory seem to fall upon this place. It’s a community in which people are allowed to be messy and living in full color is encouraged. The pews in the sanctuary are bolted solidly to tradition, but the spirit of the congregation often pours out in unexpected ways into the city streets. Intellect and passion both reside there; so does sorrow, grace and Gospel-hope.
“Ordinary Radical” author Shane Claiborne says, “The best critique of what’s wrong is the practice of something better.” Over the next decade, as The United Methodist Church addresses a “crisis of relevance” with its Call to Action, we would do well to look to congregations like the Church of the Village.
The church’s pastor, Bishop Alfred Johnson, recently preached about embracing “a creative crisis.” In our ordinary, everyday crises, we bring copious itemized lists, equations, logic, and the very best of planning to bear so that a situation can be fixed. Remedy is key. In creative crisis, possibility abounds. Answers merge with poetry, people play, and dream, and dare, so that lives and communities can be absolutely transformed.
It’s easy to look at places like Church of the Village and make them the exception, cast them as exceptional. The truth is they are. But so is every church. It is God, manifested in the ordinary, everyday stuff of life that transforms.
But, from my casual observations, I do think members of the Church of the Village do several things any church can learn from. They seem to listen for God. They allow themselves to be vulnerable and rather than going out and trying to “save” others – they let themselves be evangelized by the most unlikely of people. Then, God shows up and they celebrate – sometimes with tears, often with joy, and always with authenticity. Teachers, learners, leaders, followers, the lost and the found — they’re all together being church – and God is in their midst.