The following is an adapted version of my introductory words at our recent Annual Meeting, held on Tuesday, December 5 at United Presbyterian Church in the Wisconsin Dells. Rev. Kerri Parker, Executive Director WCC
Good morning, Church! Let me tell you a story…
The congregation where I served before coming to the Council had a ministry called Messy Church. Once a month we would unfold a Bible passage in an informal, mildly chaotic cross-generational setting, and then explore the text in hands-on ways.
Part of the fun for me was figuring out how to share each text. Learning the bones of the story, and finding simple tools to support the telling, anchoring the story in the brain and heart was always something which enriched my own relationship to the sacred text.
There are portions of the Bible that lend themselves well to this approach. We spent a lot of time with the narratives – the stories of the matriarchs and the patriarchs, the Jesus stories, the parables. But we couldn’t stay there forever. There were other parts of our faith story it was time to bring to life.
I had a challenge before me: how do you take the bits that some people have written off as dry, boring, or incomprehensible, and make them matter? How do you get people excited about the business items? (Do I really have to care about all those books with all those weird names in the back of my Bible?)
As we entered Acts and the Epistles, a fragile, lopsided boat, folded out of a single piece of paper, became my favorite prop. With this little boat, I started telling the story of the early church, and of the way of Jesus spreading from one place to another: the message carried by word of mouth, by foot, by boat, by letter, by caravan.
I got to see people’s eyes light up as we talked about the viral good news.
Once upon a time, the church was odd enough to light up the map with the repeated query, who are these Christians? Why are they here doing these strange things – caring for lepers, entering the prisons, standing alongside the dispossessed, setting aside their privilege, refusing to pledge allegiance to Empire?
These are the kinds of things you do – the things you still do – when you are a community of divinely commissioned oddballs, who believe there is something true in God’s promises to turn the world rightside up again. So you set off in your little flotilla of boats, set out on the road, in twos and threes, to the edges – as people of faith, dispersed but connected by a Spirit that gives life. People of faith connected by a commitment to Christ’s way. Knowing that it offers and demands much, even up to our whole lives.
We have documents in our business packets today that talk about our directions for the next year, but what I’d like you to take from those reams of paper or PDFs is this: the call to the edges. If we dare, we have the chance to be odd enough to light up the map once again, to make people ask, ‘who are these Christians?’ by looking to the edges.*
The church is always at its best when it de-centers itself…when it follows Jesus to the edges: the edges of town, the edges of empire, the edges of respectability, the edges of hope. To those who have given up on the church, and those who are about to. To those who are under-represented and whose voices have not been heeded.
For today, I will leave you with this: we know life at the edges is never easy. The way is costly. But we have a holy story, a treasure to bear into the world. And in the season when we hear of dreams and angelic visitors, the first words of these holy encounters are words of encouragement. Be not afraid. There is Good News to share. Amen?
*During my time at the podium I also referenced a tweetstorm by Diana Butler Bass about the rich spiritual heritage of the ‘Exiles’ and what the contemporary church should consider about its approach to those who are not settled in the institutional church. I highly recommend it to you!