By Timothy and Alice Colegrove
It’s 6:30 on a Sunday night and Dinner Church Boston, a new urban church plant of the CMC, is gathered around the table. Our bellies have been satisfied with a home cooked meal and we have transitioned to coffee and dessert. We are caught up in reflection on the Beatitudes of Matthew chapter 5, specifically the verses on judging. Christian and pagan sit elbow to elbow as we open up the scriptures. For some of us, this is our first encounter with Jesus. For all of us it is a time of deep listening and learning. I ask the group simple questions, to provoke discussion: “What do you observe in Jesus’ teaching here?”; “How does this resonate with your experience?” Some responses come easily: “Remove the log from my own eye first.” “Look at yourself before you look at others.” Others speak up from personal experience, “Many Christians I’ve met don’t seem to match up with this…”; “There seems to be a big difference between Christianity in essence and Christianity in practice when it comes to judging” and; “It seems that smaller churches do a better job at not judging. Why?” The time of sharing and reflection is lively and charitable, with no question or comment off limits, and no shame in not having all the answers.
It is in the context of this ragamuffin dinner community that we’ve embarked upon a crash course in church planting. A year and a half ago, when my wife Alice and I were first led to the CMC to plant a church, we were keenly aware that our community would be representative of a new wave of CMC churches adjusting to the challenges of a rapidly post-Christian context. We knew that the old presuppositions of Christendom often don’t hold water. People in Boston are no longer convinced by arguments such as, “Because the Bible tells me so” (should they ever have been?). Most of the people around us did not grow up in church-going households. Our society is no longer a place where Christians wield political power, and a growing number of individuals (22% in Massachusetts!) no longer identify with any religion. On our tiny one-way street alone we share space with Muslims, Hindus, Gnostics, and atheists. It seemed clear to us from the beginning that a long road of experimentation lay ahead of us, filled with successes and failures, trial and error.
“Now, nine months into Dinner Church, we can affirm that our intuitions were even more correct than we thought. Church planting takes flexibility, creativity, and patience.”Now, nine months into Dinner Church, we can affirm that our intuitions were even more correct than we thought. Church planting takes flexibility, creativity, and patience.
We’ve been meeting in our home for Sunday worship since May 2014, and the group that gathers around our table couldn’t be more eclectic: a Cambridge architect, two single moms and their kids, an antique dealer and a social worker from PA, a graduate student, a folk musician, and those are just a few of the people who have joined our gathering. Our fellowship has been small but diverse: rich and poor, housed and homeless, black and white, believers and skeptics, college educated and street educated. I take this to be a metric of success, since it was to groups like this that Jesus ministered and Paul wrote his letters.
On Sundays we gather in a circle in our living room, where we begin our evening together with a time of worship that includes testimony, confession, liturgical prayer, silence, song, and a short sermon. Then we eat a meal together at a common table and catch up with each other on the busy week behind us. The meal is the center of our time, a space where we can foster community and speak freely. After dinner, we end our time together with about forty minutes of scripture reflection over coffee and dessert, where we discuss the passage for next week’s teaching, raising questions and making observations as a way of employing the whole community in the work of preparing the following week’s sermon.
Zandra, a single mom and artist, said of Dinner Church, “I am so grateful for this community on Sunday, I am reminded of how good God is.” Her comment signals that we are doing something right. She didn’t praise our musical worship, how interesting the sermon was, or how “put together” our people are, but how good God is. This is a sign that we are fulfilling the purpose of the church: The purpose of (to paraphrase the words of Mary, the mother of Jesus) “magnifying the Lord,” or in the words of our church mission statement, “to become a worshiping community, joyfully participating in God’s mission as we share and live out the good news of his forgiving and reconciling work.” Zandra’s testimony speaks to the richness of our time together. In the nine months that we’ve been meeting our group has heard serious sins confessed, seen prayers for employment, housing, and provision answered, and learned deeply about the meaning and nature of the Gospel. We’ve served together to meet needs in our neighborhood, and we’ve had fun together at events in the city. God’s presence has been felt in the time we’ve spent together these past nine months. God is good.
But we’ve also struggled and made mistakes.
I began this venture into church planting with a vision for bi-vocational ministry, which I see as having certain advantages: less financial strain on the group, more solidarity with the realities of the global church, and more engagement in the community, to name a few. Yet, this has come at the cost of time. Alice and I maintain part-time jobs in the city, are parents of three boys under four, and frequently open our home to struggling friends. That translates into less time for new evangelistic work and discipleship than we’d like. This has been a challenge, and it has led us to a place where I am strongly considering raising a part-time salary so that I can give more fully of myself to the work of evangelism and disciple making.
Additionally, we’ve struggled in gathering a core group of visionary people who can help move forward the organization and mission of our community. We still have a deep need for more passionate mature Christians to join us in our work and help us take the next steps forward. To this end we’ve established a theological scholarship for persons in the CMC who might consider relocating to Boston to partner with us in church planting while studying at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. (Know anyone who might be a good fit?). Bible scholars or not, we need people who can identify with our vision and partner with us in this challenging but deeply rewarding work.
Despite these challenges, we’ve had much to be hopeful about and we are deeply thankful for this season of learning that God has given us. We are honored and excited to be part of the future generation of CMC communities and we look forward to seeing how the Spirit leads us in the work of making Jesus’ name great.
Every week, before our community comes together for dinner, we circle around the table to sing a simple hymn as a prayer of thanks before we eat. The words have served as an anchor, calling us back to the radical grace shown to us on the cross. To those of us who grew up in Christian homes these may be familiar words, and perhaps they have lost their power with repetition, but in our context, in the ears of people experiencing the good news of God’s Messiah in fresh ways, these are words of life and joy.
We thank Thee, Lord, for this our good,
But more because of Jesus’ blood;
Let manna to our souls be giv’n,
The Bread of Life sent down from Heav’n.