A Shelter In Open Places
More than three years ago now, we set out to explore church planting for ourselves, with no expectations except that God could form a group of followers into a community of meaning for our particular time and place.
During our first few years of gathering, we’ve been patient and diligent. We have been diligent about listening to God and following the steps laid out for us. For the longest time this has meant that we’ve been practicing our community faith in such a way that there’s been little evidence of activity. This is where patience comes in! It has been a challenge. Each of us in turn has had the chance to remind the group to be diligent in following through with our chosen way, or to be patient while waiting to see the fruits of our efforts. Go team!
Even better, our hopes that God would respond and lead us have been largely fulfilled. We have a confidence we wouldn’t have otherwise, and we are stronger for it. Our practice during this season has included, almost exclusively, a focused program of prayer and listening to God that has helped to bond us together, and strengthened us as individuals and as a community. Now, we are leaving this season of intense weekly prayer, and moving into a new season.
To lay a little groundwork for a description of what’s next, let me say that I, for one, set out on our journey with the confidence that if we listened to God and were patient and did what we were given to do, that God would “call” us in a way that matched us uniquely. And we have come to that place, where we get to say, “Ahh, yes! That feels right!” We feel like we can serve a unique and needed purpose in this area. It’s sweet to know where we get to stand, and I love how we got here. It feels to me like God has proven that he knows and loves us.
So where have we come to?
In recent months, God has been weaving together a series of words and images that have come by prayer throughout our long season of discernment, outlining a picture of what could be. Only recently have we begun to make sense of it all. The imagery is mostly architectural, and speaks to the kind of gathering place we can be. The first image, now years old, was of a “few posts lifting a single ridge beam”. In subsequent prayer this was revealed to be an image of ourselves “holding up Jesus”. We started calling our prayers for one-another our postings, as God prepared us individually and as a group to bear burdens and create a space for others. Some other significant and supporting images that came through prayer were “an old rustic church façade … without walls”, “people in a circle facing outwards with arms raised”, and “big, old-school, tents-of-meeting”.
Near the end of last year, we received a critical image that tied it all together: it was an image of a gazebo. A gazebo is a unique sort of architecture with interesting and relevant qualities. A gazebo has a series of posts or columns, but no walls; is not a home or a place of business, but a place of reflection and rest; is permanent in structure, but not fixed in purpose; it is a place in between.
Other word-pictures we’ve received from praying friends over the years gain clarity in light of this unexpected image, and add to the flavor of the space-we-are-creating: that we would be a “place created for wanderers, like missionaries on furlough, or leaders in retirement, for those leaving one life-stage-in-the-church and entering another”; that we are “not building a church, but exist for the church at large”; that we are going to do “church outside”; and, finally, one image that was pretty bizarre and a little out of reach until recently– one man’s perception that we will be like “chutney, not the main dish, but providing some essential flavors to round out the meal”. Nice.
What does it all mean?
The gazebo has always been a unique kind of architecture. It takes its place in the city among the homes and high-rises, the apartments and store fronts … but the gazebo is unlike all of these. It is shelter-when-you-need-it; a place for rest, refreshing, and renewed perspective; a temporary meeting place … a place on the way. As we think about it, we begin to see that this idea of a gazebo is a provision for people who are accustomed to spending their lives indoors: a kind of transitional space that provides both refuge and prospect. It’s an indoor-outdoor space that can provide shelter for a season, along with a killer 360° view.
To speak to its meaning in relation to the church, the value of the gazebo will be obvious for all kinds of faith-travelers.
For some, time outside the church, or in-between, can be unnerving, and may well feel unsafe. To be on the outside can feel to them like being outside of God’s care, or at least removed from the care of community. To others, being outside the church is a way of life, and they’d rather risk exposure than set foot inside, though such persons still need a place to meet with others and find community. Whether one is purposely moving from one community to another, at risk of losing a connection to their community of choice, or simply unsure if true community can be found, it might be nice to know there is a place to sit a while among fellow travelers without being entirely alone and exposed.
I’d suggest the stake we are putting in the ground is that the in-between space is still inside of God’s sphere of influence, and that the outsider can still be within the grace of God. The wilderness, after all, has been a very productive place in the great span of sacred history: not every revelation takes place within temple walls. At the same time, the wilderness is rarely a comfortable place, and not a place that many people would want to call home. The wilderness can mean many things, of course, but it serves here as a good metaphor for the seasons we all travel through at one time or another, when we find ourselves out from under the covering of our chosen structures. A gazebo is a picture of grace for such times.
A gazebo is a place to …
throw a party (think barbecue, brew, and bluegrass bands)
take refuge from a storm
get a new perspective …
on your life with God
on the place you’ve been
on the place you think you are going
We love this. We are eager to see where it leads us, and to meet those who step inside. …
Stay tuned. There’s a lot we might say about how this will play out in the coming season.