Filling the Church-Shaped Hole

Theologians talk about a ‘God-shaped hole.’ I wonder if most of us don’t also have a specific ‘church-shaped hole’ that we long to fill with intimate, life-giving community. As we move through life we look for safe spaces to bring our weary souls and for circles of people to trust to teach us more about the wisdom of Jesus.
Jesus was many things: prophet, social critic, healer. He was also undeniably a cultivator and organizer of community. He points people back to one another, again and again. He reminded his students that simple acts of love offered to neighbor, other, even enemy, can have the startling effect of drawing us deeper into the presence of God.
This summer the worship team invites all of us into an intentional time of telling and receiving stories about being church: stories about the varied traditions we grew up in as well as the identities we claim to this day (and why they are not always the same). Stories from those who grew up heavily ‘churched’ and those who grew up outside the church and what draws us all together in this place. Stories about what we have carried forward, and what we have left behind.
We will also talk about what we love from other denominations (Barbara Brown Taylor calls this ‘holy envy’) and the work we do to redeem the tricky bits of our own communities of origin (Kathleen Norris calls this work ‘holy wickedness.’) The worship team recast it as ‘sneaky redemption.’ Either way it points to the creativity involved in acknowledging the brokenness of the theology and/or the practices of communities from our past. And yet somehow continuing to be present to the life-giving pieces we inherit from them and making something new out of all these lessons.
So starting next week we are going to explore a flavor of the week. By our count we have almost a dozen denominations represented as well as folks who grew up outside a church but with all sorts of other valuable experiences. We are sure we left someone out but here is the list in progress of traditions from whence our peoples come: Baptist, Bible church, Catholic, Disciples of Christ, Fundamentalist, Jehovah’s Witness, Methodist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, and Quaker.
So here is the open invitation. Please get in touch with me if you would enjoy sharing your story one week alongside other folks with a similar background. (We will likely group a couple of the closely-related affiliations together in the same week). And then we will end with the affiliations that many in our church claim or see as important for our future and get the folks who are most committed to them to tell us about them: Alliance of Baptist, United Church of Christ, and Emergent (which is should be pointed out is not a denomination but a ‘conversation.’)
Wed nights will award us more time to share tales, but every Sunday we will also open our Conversation with a different testimonial as well as incorporating some features of the ‘flavor of the week’ into our design of worship. The lectionary supports our series by providing a summer full of scriptures (from Galatians and Colossians) directed to people struggling to be church in their time and place.
The worship team fully anticipates that this may be awkward. We will probably have to define our ‘churchese’ vocabulary for one another. But we hope it also might be fun and reveal something about the people we are even as it points us in the direction we want to go as a church body.
Join us tonight as we get the ball rolling over Paul’s skillet-fried corn and other summer treats. And email your ideas my way.
Joy and all good things,
PS call 214. 233-4605 for direction’s or more info about our weekly community meal at 6:30pm. Paul’s address is 108 S. Rosemont and he says bread and dessert is welcome.


One of the joys of pastoring a church such as Church in the Cliff is how engaged this community is in social investment of various forms.  We give money, we organize, we volunteer, we enter into relationship with the poor, locally and globally, and we help and love each other.
Sign up this week for our first ever Church in the Cliff Mission Trip. Inspired by Chloe, a powerful 13 year old who has grown up in our community, we are headed to New Orleans to work with kiddos. Join us in a trip to the lower 9th ward as we partner with All Soul’s Episcopal parish/community center that hosts a summer camp and music program. Dates: wed July 7- sun July 11th.
If you are interested we will have detailed info/forms available tonight and Sunday and I can email them about upon request. Please just let me know of your interest this week so we can reserve our housing.
Also, Chloe is going to be taking some pictures of folks who want to support the trip and making a collage of their faces to take with the group. She is also accepting donations for the trip fund.

Comments 1

  1. I like this notion of a “church-shaped hole” in that it gets at the community I believe we were created for. One of the most significant turns in my journey as a Christ-follower came as this realization that following Jesus=living in some form of community really sank in. I’ve experienced the Church as that community and so am comfortable with the notion that the Church at least has the potential to be the loving, welcoming, life-giving body that I think we all yearn for. It’s natural, then, to speak of this community in terms of the denominational traditions we’re all familiar with here in the U.S., but I do think we muddy the waters quite a bit when our conversation shifts in this direction, for I think many of us have experienced “little c-” churches, rooted in their denominational context- that weren’t loving, welcoming, or life-giving at all. If we all do have God-given spaces in us that yearn to be filled by a whole group of significant others that we’re on a journey with in the struggle to follow Jesus, these so-called “churches” (perhaps especially in light of their larger denominational contexts) did little to fill this gap. This is why I so appreciate the way one of my former pastors and mentors spoke of his congregation’s denominational ties (or lack thereof). This was, at the time, a nominally Baptist congregation (they met in the building of and received a very little bit of support from a historic Baptist congregation downtown) with strong Lutheran theological leanings that appealed to what would be come to be called an “Emergent” crowd. Anyway, he described their search for denominational support as something akin to a musician searching for a record label. That is, the denomination/record label could help get you “published,” but that’s maybe as far as their usefulness went, and it was probably helpful to have the insight and awareness regarding just what you were engaged in as you sought their “help.” I myself am a pretty mixed bag in terms of tradition. I grew up in the Assemblies of God and attended a non-denominational (but “evangelical”) Christian college, and I’ve been part of the following faith communities, in turn: a Mennonite cell-group based church plant in Philly (that also would attract in large numbers what would come to be called “Emergent” folks), that nominally Baptist but theologically Lutheran congregation I spoke of above, an urban community made up largely of homeless folks or folks in recovery that intentionally did not want or seek its own building, and finally I’m also a Lutheran seminary graduate. For my part, then, I suppose I like the notion of a post-denominational future that seems to be looming on horizon, at least for some of us. This too poses a unique set of challenges, but whatever they are, I know I’ll face them in community, hopefully with all of you.

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