The city is ripe with potential for urban entrepreneurs. Loft development, expansion of the arts, restaurants and coffee shops that offer community space, business development and social service all offer the creative and innovative a chance to offer their unique gifts to the formation of a revitalized city. As a young adult who attended college in the city and has chosen to stay in St. Louis, I have gotten to witness to the burgeoning of social, cultural, economic and residential revitalization in the city. From Forest Park to Grand Center, Dogtown to Washington Avenue, the city looks and feels different than it did ten years ago. As always, the institution that I am a part of seemed to be behind the curve.
I am a 29-year-old pastor in the United Methodist church. And like most brands of Christianity, we can be slow to recognize the changing needs and realities of the world around us. Unlike a few generations ago, though, if we don't take the initiative in being part of a revitalized city, the city will not pay much attention to us. Churches of all kinds no longer get to coast off the subsidies of a culture that expected church participation. We now must create communities of faith worthy of one's commitment. Like the city we love, the church is need of a renewal that must include broad participation from diverse peoples and communities.
Within this context, I decided that I wanted to address a dual need. On the one hand, I believe that a healthy, vital and vibrant city is one that includes spiritual and prophetic conversation. Spiritual revitalization adds to the depth and richness of communities. On the other hand, the church (and I mean all churches of all kinds) needs the input of the expansive diversity of the city. As a cultural, artistic, social and economic center, the city has an important word to add to the church's ongoing mission of love, service and journey for truth. The city without the church risks losing significant communities of conversation around values, meaning and significance. The church without the city risks offering an innocuous message and irrelevant witness. The city needs the church and the church needs the city.
This last Sunday, an urban entrepreneurship of a different kind began: The Gathering United Methodist Church began weekly worship. We are a new church committed to forming a Christian community that is compelling for new generations of people living in and around the city of St. Louis. Commensurate with so many who are committed to bridging the old and the new in the city, we took over an old sanctuary building and renovated the inside. The building is a fitting metaphor for our mission. We hope to be consistent with the best the church has offered the city in the past while recognizing that both the city and the church have changed. That change requires communities of faith with the willingness, agility and creativity to adapt and respond. We hope to be one such community.
In many ways we are a church among churches. We have a story to tell that we believe is compelling. We believe people have gifts and passions that ought to be used for a purpose greater than themselves. We believe in a God who reaches out to us in love and so expects us to reach out in love to others. We believe in redemption, that "what is" is not "what has to be," that we as individuals and as a city can be become better, can find meaning in our struggles, and purpose in our journey toward a future marked by healing, wholeness and justice. We believe such things, and think that this is an important voice in the conversation about who we are becoming as a city.
In many ways, we are much different than many churches in the city. We are young, both as individuals and together as a community. We bring a perspective to faith and life that is forged out of a different generational experience than most churches. We are committed to a progressive theology rooted in our sacred scripture and the realties of human existence in the present. We value both a personal relationship with God and a social witness that compels our faith to interact with political and community issues. We are defined more by a shared set of practices and less by a shared belief in dogma. Practices of corporate worship, learning in community, service to the poor, prayer, hospitality to the stranger and giving away of our resources define who we are. Beliefs are important to us, to be sure, but while we believe that following Christ commits us to a set of beliefs, it also commits us to experiences and practices, and church life has been centered on the former to the neglect of the latter.
Ultimately, our community hopes to offer a witness to both the city and the church. To the city, we witness to the power and value of the spiritual as experienced in the context of churches. People benefit from religious communities, including Christian communities, as places that can help inform and shape their commitments and values. These are the same people who help lead the revitalization of our city on so many levels. To the church, we witness to the need for reexamination and renewal. Churches must return to a deep examination of our unique beliefs, commitments and practices rooted in the life and witness of Jesus. At the same time we must open the stained glass and look around at the city a bit more. We need to become compelling communities for the people who live in our neighborhoods.
If you are living in the city and have struggled to find a community of faith that is compelling and meaningful, we invite you to come and experience The Gathering. We want others to help us be a part of the conversation that leads to more meaningful and fulfilling lives, a stronger and more faithful church and a renewed and revitalized city. Visit us at 2105 McCausland Ave., online at www.thegatheringstl.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Rev. Matt Miofsky is the pastor of The Gathering in the city of St. Louis. He has dreams to one day be the coolest pastor on a scooter.