“We plant the seeds that one day will grow.” - from the “Oscar Romero Prayer”
"So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!" - 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NRSV)
The Scriptures talk about planting seeds of life that will one day grow - into trees of habitation for the birds of the air, which for Jesus was a metaphor for the dream of God in our world, where all were included and enlisted in the work of love, life, joy & justice.
Early Christian artists adapted the image of the life of the caterpillar becoming a butterfly as an image for each of us, experiencing birth, death and resurrection.
We find these images helpful to understand our own personal journeys as well as our collective story as a community seeking to be about God’s glory & neighbor’s good.
It was always the plan to be an open, active & inclusive faith community - even if we didn't quite know the words to describe it or how to even live out those values.
Christ Church started out as much as an idea as anything else - was an inclusive and integrated faith community possible? What would it look like? Who would want to join such a community? In a world of heartache, disappointments and missed opportunities, were dreams of a Christ-centered community of action and contemplation possible?
After a couple years of discernment and coordination, the Rev. Adam and Sarah Phillips packed up their bags and moved to Portland with a clear sense of call and purpose. Fully supported with three year commitments of finances, coaching and spiritual support by their parent denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church, Christ Church was launched in 2014. Adding to this sense of collaboration and purpose, the recently planted St. Johns Covenant Church (now named Portsmouth Union) stood alongside and sent a core group to plant a new community in the city. We set forth to be a church that was radically inclusive of all people and integrated in our approach to life and mission in the city.
Meeting first as a small group in Adam and Sarah’s living room, we gathered to pray and reflect on the Sermon on the Mount and what it meant to be salt and light in the world. We also organized around service: helping a school and its families in the neighborhood with meals and supplies. A core group of 12 became a larger group of 25-30 and we began to plan our first public launch.
Advertising our first worship gathering with a flyer that said “Everyone, yes everyone” was welcome and included to join in, a deep sense of excitement took root. Within days of that flyer being posted, the church began to receive disconcerting calls and criticisms from denominational leaders. We were asked if “everyone” literally meant everyone. Would they be allowed to volunteer in the nursery? Would they be able to lead music? Would they be invited to receive and serve at communion? It became clear that “they” meant our LGBTQ siblings and neighbors.
Even though we were assured that we could welcome and include all, while even quietly encouraged to work on LGBTQ inclusion, our denominational leaders changed course and terminated their relationship with us weeks before our weekly Sunday gatherings were launched. We nearly lost everything - including our funding, our faith family, and support.
We were not sure we would be able to carry on. But, as Richard Rohr says, no transformation is possible without “great love and great suffering.” Though it seemed nearly impossible, it became clear that the Spirit was truly moving and that a rebirth of sorts was just around the corner. We were truly becoming an open, active & inclusive community - and it was a myriad of people that held together to not only weather the storm, but lead us in the way we were to go...