Let me be very clear. The Gathering for Worship in the Liturgical Tradition, which meets every other Saturday night in Plain City, Ohio, is not a church. The people who attend have not been recruited to participate in a church planting effort, nor is their association with an endeavor like that in the future either assumed or expected.
For some, the Gathering is the closest they come to involvement in a church. Most, however, identify with some existing church already and have opted to add our service to their crowded schedules out of a deep love for liturgy and an appreciation for sacramental spirituality, particularly the Eucharist (communion). At the Gathering, we want to be a place where people can find, in the words of writer Frank Schaeffer, spiritual beauty that feeds our souls.
The Gathering is a worship service only, and a local church is far more than its public worship. Still, in the interest of full disclosure, it is important that you know that some of us fervently hope and pray that God, in his providence, will enable the Gathering to transition from a worship service into a full-fledged local church—a faith community—at some point in the future.
When that time comes, and probably even before the church is formally birthed or planted or otherwise brought into existence, we will need a name. Here is the name I intend to propose: Community of Hope.
Every local church is a place where the worldwide body of Christ is visible to its city or neighborhood. Functionally, it is the agent of the kingdom of God in a specific locale. Practically, personally, and relationally, a church should restore our faith, renew our courage, and assure us that we are safe, loved, and accepted. For me, the name Community of Hope encompasses the heart of what a church should represent.
A friend and former colleague is helping to implement the vision for the Gathering. Without his steady encouragement, I doubt that I would have undertaken this challenge, given the course of my pilgrimage over the past few years. (I was decidedly in need of renewed hope.)
At lunch the other day, he shared with me four words or terms, corresponding to the letters in the word “hope,” that convey some of the characteristics he would like to see embodied in Community of Hope, if and when it becomes a reality. Here they are, with some minimal additions and revisions by me.
God enabling us, Community of Hope will exhibit these qualities.
- Honesty. Doubts and questions are a normal part of life, including the Christian life. COH will be a safe place where doubts and questions are welcome and persons are encouraged to explore and test beliefs instead of accepting the pronouncements of leaders uncritically.
- Openness. COH will be a faith community open to new and fresh ways of knowing and understanding God and experiencing the movement of the Holy Spirit within and among us.
- Progressive Thinking. Not so much a political statement as an acknowledgement that God, whose fundamental character does not change, nevertheless is not static in relating to human beings, whose knowledge and understanding have changed over the course of history. COH will encourage the sensitive and conscientious pursuit of restorative social justice and responsible stewardship of the environment and all of creation.
- Evangelical Fervor. COH believes that God has conquered sin and death through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. This truth, along with the promise that God is making all things new under the kingship of Jesus is truly good news. We are passionate to proclaim this good news through lives marked by radical discipleship, always ready to give to all who ask a reason for the hope within us.
If you’d like to know more about the Gathering for Worship in the Liturgical Tradition, as it is currently experienced by those who attend the bi-weekly meetings, scroll up to the top of this page and click on the listing for the Gathering in the bar located just under the picture. You will find there our meeting schedule and other information of interest, including links to an audio recording of the most recent homily and a .pdf of the printed liturgy. If it’s at all possible, we’d love to have you worship with us sometime during the summer.
That’s enough for now. As you might imagine, I will return to this subject frequently over the next few months. Will God transform the Gathering for Worship in the Liturgical Tradition into a Community of Hope? Only time will tell. Stay tuned.