I’m still a little off-centered after this weekend’s trip to Baltimore. This past weekend, an intergenerational group of 20 members of St. James packed up and headed out for another weekend at The Center, where members of this church have served in years past, and, where, I am confident that, members of this church will serve again.
The Center understands its mission in terms of inspiring and equipping churches and individuals “to engage boldly with their neighbors—to get involved where Christ’s love and justice are already at work,” and we give thanks that we were able to share in this mission, in this experience, this weekend.
The language of “mission” has been complicated in recent years. Churches no longer speak of “mission trips,” because “trip” language suggests that what one does whoever they go has no bearing on the person after he or she returns from the place that he or she visits.
Plus, the tone of “mission trip” language suggests that the experience has more in common with a vacation than with a worship experience (and thus, the people one meets while traveling become part of an attraction as opposed to partners in relationships where love abides and grace abounds).
If one whole-heartedly believes that Christ’s love and justice are already at work in the places we serve, service is more likely to be experienced as worship, that is, as an authentic encounter with the living God, than as a museum piece to be studied or as a sociological experiment.
Because the people we meet wherever we serve are living and breathing, then it seems safe to assume that the God, who breathed the universe into being, is living and breathing in them. Every person we meet has a story, and within each story, is further evidence of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, because we are all broken, and by God’s grace in Jesus Christ, we are redeemed.
I experienced God’s grace in the experiences that I shared with people at Harundale Presbyterian Church’s Taste of Heaven on Saturday. As I listened to Steve Grubb speak about his group’s experience with Civic Works and to Mel Shaver-Durham reflect on her group’s experience with Hope Community Center during worship on Sunday, I sense that all who served on St. James’ mission team experienced God’s grace in Baltimore, too.
Now, we find ourselves asking, “What’s next?” There is enough momentum behind this particular mission to assume that St. James will return to The Center. But, what about between now and then? Were we changed enough to boldly engage neighbors who come from different racial, ethnic and socio-ecomic backgrounds? I am off-centered enough to believe that today’s status quo doesn’t have to be tomorrow’s status quo, but only time will tell if such optimism, such hope, is well-founded.