Originally posted Aug. 1, 2013, at Pastor Keith Anderson. Republished with permission of the author.
When I was younger, I pilgrimaged to medieval cathedrals. Now I pilgrimage to new mission churches.
Last week, I made a pilgrimage to Humble Walk Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Minn., a mission start congregation of the ELCA.
Humble Walk is true inspiration to me. Their pastor, Jodi Houge, is just amazing and gave one of my favorite interviews in “Click2Save: The Digital Ministry Bible.” As she told us there:
“We recognized that most people don’t come looking for a church, in our demographic. And so, we [thought] from the beginning, ‘We know this. The church is sinking.’ The facts are on the table for the mainline denominations. So, we’re not going to these big glossy things that try to draw people to our cool, fancy, hip church. We’re going to be where people already are and try to be the church where they are.”
Church without walls
Humble Walk is a church without walls. They don’t have a central location, unless you count their Facebook group. They gather in coffee shops, pubs, art galleries and, the Sunday I visited, in a public park, where they worship during the month of July.
They are an inspiration to me because of their commitment to being embedded within the life of their neighborhood. And because Humble Walk is always a work in progress. It is deeply human. It has a beautiful homespun simplicity. It is and will remain an unfinished project. You know, like Christianity.
So, whereas I used to be fascinated by the great ancient cathedrals that now remain largely empty except for tourists, I am now taken with a congregation that has no building and doesn’t wish for one. Their neighborhood is the cathedral and they fill it with prayer, song, presence and joy.
I not only worshiped with them on Sunday in the park. I had lunch with Jodi and later had dinner with friends in one of their go-to gathering places, the Shamrock Pub, where they host Beer and Hymns and Theology Pubs. It was pretty cool that in order to visit their church, I had to travel to multiple sites.
Welcomed as, not welcomed to
We often say that “the church is the people and not the building.” Less often do we actually act that way. Humble Walk does. And it’s not just the “members” of the church but anyone and everyone who comes. They strongly believe that the community is made up of anyone who is gathered at that particular place and time. The church is those assembled — and as a visitor, this made a big difference. I wasn’t welcomed to Humble Walk. I was welcomed as Humble Walk.
Worship in the park
At the park, the altar was a folding dinner table with a homemade mosaic on it. The bread (baguette) and wine, grape juice and gluten-free crackers were on a mix-match of plates and IKEA cups (pictured above) and was set before picnic blankets and lawn chairs.
We started with a little welcome, then read the Gospel appointed for the day from the lectionary and then broke into groups to talk about it. There were some serious and fun promptings to get us talking. I forget most of them, but my favorite was:
seek = find. knock = answer. ask = give. for real?
We sat by the altar table and shared prayer concerns. We ended our request with “Lord in your mercy.” Everyone responded, “Lord hear our prayer.”
Afterward we had communion in a very simple fashion — Words of Institution and then we said the Lord’s Prayer one word at a time around in a circle.
We adjourned for a cookout — hot dogs and sides, moving from the Meal to the meal.
At the end we shared “milestones.” People could share milestones in their lives — a great way of sharing. Usually they put stones in a jar, but we didn’t have any, so we used sticks — “milesticks” as it were.
Simplicity is not simple. One might visit or read about Humble Walk and think the simplicity they have means it’s easy to do. It’s not. Simplicity is often harder to pull off than complexity. Simplicity requires intentionality and choice. Sometimes it’s harder to do the simple thing — and to create curated experience, especially in spaces that are not your own. When Humble Walk is inside, the liturgy is a little more formal with music and a sermon, but it varies frequently, inviting participation and co-creativity.
Some may find the Humble Walk experience too casual or rough around the edges. I found it refreshing from worship that can become overwrought and less human, less personal.
This worship in the park is something most anyone can do on a Sunday afternoon or weekday evening. Find a cookout spot in the park and a picnic table, some food, some conversation, some bread and wine and you are good to go. Don’t overcomplicate it.
What would it look like to make your neighborhood your cathedral? Where do people gather? What are the common spaces? What are the important moments in the life of your community? Find ways to be present there.