On Monday morning, the phone began to ring at Kingwood Christian Church. People called asking if our church planned to open the doors to people in our community who needed shelter. The leadership team including Pastor Chad Mattingly quickly decided to prepare our facility and reach out to the local authorities to begin the process of opening our church as a shelter. In light of all that is happening in our country and in our churches with regards to race, religion, gender, sexuality and especially here in Texas immigration status, I hope to bear witness to the church, a city, operating at its best.
Here is what I saw: quick action by a church; a fellowship hall, Sunday school classrooms and storage closet turned into bedrooms; social media as the best tool for mobilizing a faith community and an entire city; a middle school turned into a launch site for volunteers with boats, jet skis, and canoes; people of all color seeking shelter; people of all color offering to volunteer or dropping off donations; families seeking shelter; singles seeking shelter; the elderly seeking shelter while shaking, fearful and throwing up; dogs and cats being rescued by neighbors; people walking the streets looking for ways to help; trucks full of water and food unloading in our church parking lot; a group from LA using the church parking lot to store their rescue gear; displaced people seeking shelter offering to use their gifts and talents in the shelter….we had an amazing lead chef!; a new friend driving 45 min away searching for supplies and returning with an abundance; people from the community driving up and offering to host a family in their homes; the Baptist church providing a meal; the Methodist church providing a meal; the Church of the Latter Day Saints providing a meal and offering to clean our facilities 3x’s a day; lists and lists of people’s names and numbers who wanted to help; nurses, counselors and pastors offering their services; and finally seeing people being picked up by their family members who had driven long distances.
Here is what I heard: people talking about their experience and realizing that the person sitting next to them lived in their same apartment complex; a man who had a birthday on the first day at the shelter and our people found a way to celebrate with him; a Muslim family who had just moved from New York 2 months ago and now has lost everything; dogs whimpering; kids playing; volunteers sobbing as the reality of the devastation began settling in; quiet as people took to their blow up mattresses to rest; individual needs for specific medication, shoe or clothing size; people calling the church looking for their loved ones; weary volunteers calling for help; my favorite slogan, “Texas Tough: Come Hell or High Water,” now having deeper meaning; sister churches suffering extreme damage to their facility but ready to reach out to the community around them; thankfulness by our church members that we could offer our facility; thankfulness from those in the shelter who had no other place to go.
After the mess of Charlottesville, writer, pastor and activist, Brian McLaren wrote an article for Time Magazine reflecting on his experience in Charlottesville. http://time.com/4915161/charlottesville-alt-right-alt-christianity/
In that article, he quotes Christian Picciolini’s interview with NPR. Picciolini, a former white supremacist, who renounced his involvement with the movement in 1996, now is an advocate for peace. Picciolini said that people seek three fundamental things: Identity, Purpose, and Community. McLaren’s advice to the struggling church is this, “If we don’t provide emerging generations with genuine identity, community and purpose through robust and vibrant spiritual communities, somebody else will do so.”
I reference the above articles because they have relevance in our faith community today in Kingwood, Texas, as we shelter displaced people and clean up neighborhoods. In a church that is politically split, struggles with accepting difference, and disagrees about welcoming the LBGTQ community, these past few days, I did not hear any talk of immigration status or concern about race or religion or gender or sexual orientation. I did not hear any talk about who is blessed and who is going to hell. None of that mattered….thanks be to God! All were welcomed…truly welcomed and I felt Jesus here. So I am up at 3:30am this Thursday morning (August 31st, 2017) wondering if the church needs a crisis in order to reimagine how we offer those 3 fundamental things: Identity, Purpose, and Community. Many of us know that the church in America is already in crisis but because the massive catastrophy hasn’t happened yet, others continue to be in denial. So, I want to begin to think about how can we capture this moment, this crisis, as a way to talk about how to operate as the church EVERYDAY?
Our ancestors of the faith suffered crisis and offer a look back at how our people navigated these waters before. (Waters! I had to chuckle and leave that in.) I believe we can look at several places in scripture (the Exodus experience, the prophets, the entire book of Acts) to see how our ancestors of the faith let go of traditions, firmly held doctrines and beliefs that no longer served the community in order to embrace the new and grow stronger. Let’s explore this together in the coming weeks and after I get some much-needed rest.