Rethinking Church is not a new concept in the history of Christianity. The Church has seen transformations in multiple iterations throughout its life. So, when The United Methodist Church creates a piece within itself that is attempting to rethink church, the task is going to be filled with challenges and excitement.
The latest shift in Christianity is slowly forming around one simple idea: listening through love. Churches all across the country are starting to realize that they should be spending time listening to their communities, not assuming that we know what they need and how they should accept it, but to listen. When we listen with the ears of God, then we will slowly fall in love with those sharing with us. We discover a deep desire to share this gift of grace, peace, reconciliation and deep love with all we encounter. When the listening transforms into blessing neighborhoods, that is when Church Can Happen Anywhere.
Valley and Mountain Fellowship is a United Methodist church in South Seattle proving that church can happen anywhere. The story of how the Rev. John Helmiere, Valley and Mountain’s pastor, listened to his community is a vital example for the future of the Church.
When John first arrived, he was honest with himself and with the community that his main “job” was to listen. He even created business cards with the title of “Minister of Listening.” He knew he was not from the neighborhood, so he simply wanted and needed to be present. He became as active as he could in the local community by joining clubs, volunteering and became personally involved in activism. He listened to thousands of people over a long time and every now and then he would run into people who would listen to him and were able to hear the passion and love he desired to share with the local community.
John says that intentional listening is “99 percent presence. I was not reading the latest trends on blogs; I was getting out of my house and spending time with people in my neighborhood. I was in ‘third places’ where people gathered. Places that could be public or private depending on the listening needs.”
Where Valley and Mountain Fellowship first began to see its place in the neighborhood was in supporting social justice causes. The congregation realized that the areas of town impacted by this activism were very post-Christian. The 30-year-olds up to the 50-year-olds in the community were not familiar with the language of the church — nor of Christianity. The people of Valley and Mountain listened to the passions of the community, and as they listened they noticed that these passions were in fact the same passions of Christianity. Valley and Mountain Fellowship joined the community in their shared passions, which involved joining protests ranging from economic justices to creating subversive street art to bring awareness to housing crises in the area. They joined the community in challenging civic leaders to focus money toward education rather than funding jails — with the dream that with education, jails would not be needed in the first place.
Through this creative collaboration, church was created based on actual community needs rather than a preconceived set of ideas of what the community would need. The church in addition to weekly worship now provides a drop-in center that provides a warm place for coffee, food and conversation to anyone in need. It is also a co-working space that is providing a place for collaborative ingenuity among professionals. Church IS happening in new and innovative ways through this partnership.
Just think: If church is happening here, then Church Can Happen Anywhere. How are we listening?
A special thanks to the Rev. John Helmiere for taking the time to Skype with Rethink Church and show us and our community what beautiful community can look like.
For more information on this unique expression of church please visit Valley and Mountain, The Collaboratory, and Community Arts Create. Please join the community and dialogue with Rethink Church on Facebook, Twitter and our website, RethinkChurch.org.
Images courtesy of the Valley and Mountain Facebook page.
D.G. Hollums is the Minister of Online Engagement with Rethink Church. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication and a Master’s of Divinity. D.G. is a pastor in the United Methodist Church and has a passion for experimental expressions of church. When he is not creating and curating content he can be found experimenting with contemplative photography or teaching his family how to appreciate good quality pop culture.