12/19/07

SEATTLE'S MOST HATED PUBLIC ART

From December '07 TRAVERSE newsletter
On Wednesday, September 5, 2007, a Seattle Times headline caught my eye. It was about art gone awry in Belltown. Our neighborhood is often in the news. Belltown stages the clash between soaring skylines and rising incomes against street violence and sidewalk poverty. This urban experience captures the attention of local journalists and confronts some of our deepest concerns. What will become of Seattle as we increase, build in density, and attempt to solve problems we have never encountered? Northwest ideals are tenuously grasped in one hand, as the city faces new challenges and conducts experiments in the other. Meanwhile, some folks are caught in the center of the clash. Neighborhood churches should walk alongside those people.
Joe Corsi, a neighborhood apartment manager, is one such person. Trapped between the red-taped good intentions of the city’s art commission and drug dealers using a sculptured bench as a crack house, Joe struggled for years to overcome the hostility outside his front door. He was in the news that day, the victim of public art that had been hijacked, but a victim who was fighting back. His story intrigued and inspired me. Joe seemed exactly the kind of person the church should be praying for and getting to know.
I showed up at his door and asked about him, but he was not there, so I left a message. The following week, another neighbor who knew Joe introduced me to him. Joe recalled hearing about the neighborhood Pastor who had stopped by, and was willing to meet. Since then, we have spent time together. Joe recently asked Emmaus Road to pray for friends in the neighborhood. I have offered encouragement and willingness to advocate for Joe, and to help him organize and network with neighborhood resources I know about. Joe even inquired about our worship service and small group ministries (though he was careful to warn me against raising my hopes to high). I am simply glad that we’ve connected, wherever the Lord may lead us.
But that’s the point of this story: Joe is a person learning to do God’s work, and is rediscovering God in his life. But we would not have connected on a Sunday morning. After years of ministry in Seattle, it still seems to be the case that most people are not consciously looking for a church to attend. I believe deep down all people belong in worshiping community, but it’s not a felt need on the surface for most. Drawing people through the traditional front door of church, no matter how great that door is, will never be the primary way we connect with neighbors and their daily lives. But I am learning that when we get out of our Sunday morning box to walk alongside them, the way Jesus walks alongside us, the kingdom grows. Some will even walk back to Zion to worship Jesus with us. See the actual Seattle Times story online.

SPARK PLUGS AND GLUE

From December '07 TRAVERSE newsletter
For a period of time, our “Twelve Spies” listened and learned. They focused attention on our community to find out how God is working, and to discover potential neighborhood strengths and assets, as well as needs.
What has come from all our listening and learning? SPARK PLUGS and GLUE. In many ways, we have observed that Belltown is a population, but not quite a neighborhood, at least not for many people. Most barely know or acknowledge each other, frequently new to the area, too busy, and wary or of strangers. We have met admirable activists, working in this or that corner, who do not always know or trust one another. Sometimes they are divided over differences in methodology, or prone to territorialism. We have also met selfless neighbors who harbor great goals and dreams, but worry no one will listen. They lack energy or faith to take initiative alone. While urban problems overwhelm, problem solvers remain lonely and isolated.
This community cries out for spiritual and social glue. It needs spiritual encouragement and spark. This is the mission edge for Emmaus Road, fulfilling a call to become spark plugs and glue. We Christians profess to have the unquenchable spark of the Spirit within us. We invite people to a uniquely safe table, where our Lord of Hosts welcomes and reconciles people who are lost. We are called and sent to demonstrate this good news beyond Sunday.

The Emmaus Road Story

In the winter of 1997, we began as a small team of about 10 people, committed to gathering and growing a church that would connect with others like ourselves; people interested in connecting with God, in the person and work of Jesus Christ, but disconnected from the activity of many mainstream congregations. With the financial support of a larger church organization, our pastor was able to work full time with the team in planning, leadership development, and meeting people in the community.

Our first meetings were open discussion forums. We talked about prayer, scripture, spiritual discipline and the issues with which we all struggle. As friends talked to friends, the first group expanded and we multiplied into two.

Inspired by the journey process as a metaphor for spiritual growth, we searched for a name which would reflect that idea. In the resurrection narrative of Luke 24, we found our name "on the road to Emmaus."

After our first worship event on Good Friday of 1997, both groups began to gather together for worship once a month. In various coffee shops and rental spaces, we gradually increased our worship times to twice a month, and in September of 1998 we decided to gather every Sunday. Since the beginning, numerical growth has been gradual but steady, most often through the personal contact of friends talking to friends.

Today, several small groups continue to meet for open discussions on prayer, scripture, and the process of encountering God in daily life; we all gather for worship each week.