I am not normally one to receive Divine messages at night—as if spoken to me, audibly, in my mother tongue. But one night early last spring God talked to me. And this is what She said: “Be Chloe’s Church.”
I had been sitting with my desires for a youth group. Remembering the life changing experiences I had as a young person: our church youth group traveling to Mexico and the Navajo Indian Reservation and partnering with a local community to do some good work.
I want that for the children growing up in our community. I want our church to enable them to go places that stretch and expand their consciousness, that open up new ways of looking at the world and break down the false barrier between ourselves and others. I want road trips and candy from the gas station and nights somewhere where the stars hang down, heavy as jewels. I want them to have the chance not just to read the gospels, but to live the Gospel— to see in another’s face a mirror of their own soul. I want them to taste and touch and encounter the Holy, in that unique way you can when travelling outside of the regular routine and thus on sensory alert to the world around.
But we don’t have a van with “Church in the Cliff” emblazoned on the side. Or a large group of youth. So last year I just sat with this yearning, crystallized around Chloe, who literally grew up in this community and was becoming a teenager before our eyes.
And God’s answer was pretty clear: “Be Chloe’s Church.” The message transformed my internal sense of scarcity into a recognition of our unique calling. As a small community we may not have a slew of 12-18 year olds and a musty van, but we do have the opportunity to know and love our children by name. We can honor their coming of age with a mission project that speaks to their particular dreams for our world. We do not have to outsource the loving of our youth to a specialized ministry on the side. Instead, we are invited to claim it as our work, as an entire multi-generational body, to listen attentively to young voices and to wrap our resources around them. They will be our guides to build the kingdom Jesus proclaimed.
And last year, Chloe’s vision– of a world where even the poorest of children has access to enriching arts programs– led us to New Orleans. We partnered with “St. Walgreens,” an Episcopal Community Center housed in a renovated drugstore in the lower ninth ward and led a music workshop for their summer camp – culminating in a mini musical “Go Down Moses.”
Now there are plenty of stories that go with this trip. Stories of getting lost, stories of Perl’s first beignet, of working on houses of people ripped off by insurance scammers, of children so lovely and so lonely at the same time, stories of Gospel songs sung by powerful voices, and visionary Episcopal priests, and donated cellos. Stories of love and connection that continue in our hearts and new knowledge about the particular ways in which our country can forget about whole groups of people—holding them invisible right before our very eyes.
These stories run deep—both for the participants and for the identity of our whole congregation. One of my favorite stories occurred as we were heading out the door of the center and a fellow volunteer caught my eye. I could tell he was trying to make sense of our posse — spanning over five decades in age with Perl, then not yet two, as our youngest traveler. “Who are you?” he asked. We explained that we were a church inspired by one of our young people to come here to help with the music camp etc and a lightbulb went off and he said, “Oh—so you are like an all ages youth group!” I smiled and said, “You got it.” I feel like that is a pretty good description of our church, not just on mission trips, but year round.
And this Sunday we celebrate the new story unfolding as our community prayerfully engages with what it means to “Be Iris’ Church.” Iris has recently stepped from childhood into her teenage years yet retains a heart as wide and open as the sea. And she instinctively gets what so many of us learn to forget: that God is not only manifest in our relations with other people, but rather God is alive and accessible though all of creation—especially animals we know and respect.
Iris’ vision leads us into a partnership with Heifer International—a grassroots organization that empowers families to feed themselves and lift themselves out of poverty through the donation of quality livestock and training. This is a special kind of summer mission project—rather than fundraising for a whole group from our community to travel to another site to do mission work, each of the participants are totally paying their own way to go to Heifer Ranch. Heifer Ranch offers a unique program called ‘Global Village,’ an experiential learning opportunity in which nothing – shelter, food, water or cooking fuel – can be taken for granted.
Participants prepare a meal with limited resources and sleep in simple housing. Heifer Ranch is also a farm complete with gardens and animals including water buffalo, camels and traditional farm animals such as pigs, goats and more. Iris and other participants will learn more about the issues surrounding hunger and poverty, Heifer’s sustainable solutions and what they can do to help.
By paying their own way on the trip, our youth hope to encourage our community to channel our fundraising efforts directly to support poor families around the world. Specifically, Iris’ love of animals has inspired us to take on Heifer’s ultimate challenge: raising $5,000 to purchase a Gift Ark. This gift provides livestock—two of each of pigs, cows, trios of rabbits, donkeys, beehives, sheep, llamas, flocks of geese, goats, oxen, flocks of chicks, trios of ducks, trios of guinea pigs, water buffalo, camels, pigs and training for struggling families worldwide.
Sounds like a lot, but we are resourceful. And our youth have actually already been hard at work: staffing tables at First Thursday in Bishop Arts as well as Oak Cliff Earth Day. Together they have already raised close to $500 and educated countless people about Heifer’s grassroots movement to end hunger and poverty. Iris has also sketched beautiful gift cards with animals on them for thank you gifts for donations.
This Sunday, as part of our “Fresh Encounters” series, we are dedicating our whole worship gathering to learn more about Heifer International’s work to end global hunger. Please join us to find out about the many ways you can support this project: through prayers, education, fund-raising, and even join us for a tour at Heifer Ranch when we drop off the youth on July 8th!
Can’t make it Sunday but ready to donate now?Can’t make it Sunday but ready to donate now? Make checks out to Church in the Cliff and put “Heifer Mission Project” in subject line and drop in mail to PO Box 5072 Dallas TX 75208. Thank you! We will keep you updated about progress toward our Ark.
Summer Bible Study
You are invited to be part of an intentional small group this summer. In Church in the Cliff fashion, you are welcome to this Bible study whether you know a little, a lot or not and whether you believe a little, a lot or not. To foster a dependable space where the same folk, experiencing the same text, find themselves in the same space together an hour and a half each week, this study will be limited to 15 people who can commit to attending each week and completing outside reading.
What: Invitation to the New Testament
An 8 week small group study that invites participants to delve into the New Testament .
When: Most Wednesday nights (and one Tuesday) from May 25th – July 27th. 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM
Where: Teri Walker’s home
Who: Up to 15 folks who can sign up for the full series (attend at least 6 out of 8) and can commit to doing outside reading.
Cost: $12.00 (Includes a participant’s manual and sharing the costs of the group materials/DVDs)
RSVP: Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Food: The group can discuss before the first gathering if we would like to have dinner together before our discussions and how we would like to share those costs and responsibilities.
Wed, May 25: Jesus Calls Us Into God’s Redemption Story
Wed, June 1: Jesus Calls Us to a Transformed Life
Tue, June 14: Jesus Calls Us to Minister to a Hostile World
Wed, June 22: Jesus Calls Us to Complex Communities of Faith
Wed, June 29: Jesus Calls Us to Serve One Another
Wed, July 6: Jesus Calls Us to a New Relationship With Tradition
Wed, July 20: Jesus Calls Us to Live in Light of His Coming Again
Wed, July 27: Jesus Calls Us to Experience the Gifts of His Dying and Rising
If you are interested in this study or studies like this, but these particular times/dates/location doesn’t work, please email Teri and let us know about your interests. There is nothing to say that only one group can be going on.