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Visioning Process -- Future Story

 

The following Future Story was presented to the congregation at First Christian Church on February 3, 2008 (if you have any feedback to share with the Visioning Committee, please feel free to send us an E-mail): 

 

Future Story -- told from the year 2015

Banners proclaiming First Christian Church’s promise statement, developed back in 2008 as part of a larger visioning process and awareness campaign, are draped above the front steps leading up to the sanctuary:

First Christian Church:  transforming lives, Christianity, and our world.

“Well, Christianity sure could use some transformation – I wish them luck with that,” Adam mused to Eve, as they walked past the church on Oak Street with their friend Rebecca. Once they arrived at Theo’s Coffee House, Eve picked up the conversation:

“Actually, Adam, this church might surprise you. I moved into my apartment on West Broadway seven years ago, and it’s amazing what they’ve been doing. I’ve actually become a member”.

“Really? So what’s up at First Christian?” asks Adam.

“Well, it’s a little embarrassing,” whispers Eve, “but I actually first came in contact with them through their Good Samaritan ministry.”

“What’s that?” asks Rebecca.

Eve elaborated: “I was basically a street person, new to Eugene, trying to find shelter. They gave me food, but more importantly, they listened to me.”

“What’s so great about that?”, asked Rebecca, not quite understanding the point.

Eve answered: “They gave me hope. They couldn’t solve all my problems, but they pointed me to other agencies and resources in the community. I think they may have had more faith in me than I did.”

“That’s cool”, Rebecca said in reply.

Eve continued: “After I got on my feet, found a job, and got my apartment, I went back and helped in the Good Samaritan ministry – you know, trying to give something back, and, frankly, to feed my own spiritual needs.”

“You actually did that?”, asked Adam.

“Yeah, and I discovered that they take their downtown ministries very seriously. They have that one, the Good Samaritan ministry for street people. Then they have the Helping Hand Room for homeless people, as well as folks who have apartments and jobs but need help with clothes and stuff. I got clothes for my job interview from them. They also have soup kitchens and a shelter. Lots of their members are trained in mental illness and addiction problems. They even helped me with a scholarship so I could take some classes and get a promotion at work.”

“Sounds like they have a compassionate spirit toward strangers”, observed Rebecca.

Eve added: “Pretty much. You know, I’m not really into the whole ‘worship’ thing – going to church on Sundays and all of that. But I keep up on their web site, reading some of the writings from Dan Bryant – sermons and stuff. You can even listen to the audio, which I’ve gotten in the habit of doing while I wash dishes.”

“Even doing that much sounds extreme to me”, said Adam.

“Maybe, but it really kind of blows me away. They actually take Jesus’ teachings seriously – to stand up for the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized in society. They actually believe in peace instead of war, literally to treat your neighbor as you would yourself. What a concept!”

“I like the sound of that”, said Rebecca.

“Their belief, what they call their theology, is kind of weird – the focus is on this life, what we do during our time on earth, not so much about being ‘saved’ and an ‘afterlife.’”

“That sounds different”, said Adam.

“Yeah, and it means they actually care about things like the environment, global warming, a green economy. They’re not waiting for Armageddon to happen – they don’t even buy into that type of mythology.”

“This is weird – now I have something in common with a Christian church. I must say, I’m a little intrigued”, said Rebecca.

“Oh, and they’re somewhat radical about the equality thing – male or female, rich or poor, gay or straight, black or white or anything in between, everyone is considered the same inside that church. And they fight for that same equality outside the church as well. As an example, several years ago they officially became an open & affirming congregation.”

“I didn’t even realize that type of Christianity existed,” Adam says, with a mix of disbelief and confusion in his voice.

“I didn’t either. When I walked into that Good Samaritan office seven years ago,” says Eve. “I figured I’d have to renounce Satan and accept Jesus as my personal Lord & Savior, before they’d give me a box of crackers. Come to find out, the folks I’ve met don’t even talk much about Satan or Hell. The church doesn’t have a long list of things you have to believe”.

“Wow, these people are totally out there by themselves!”, exclaimed Adam.

“No, as it turns out, they’re not alone – there’s a whole movement of progressive Christianity going on that they’re part of. They call it the ‘emerging church,’ or something like that. I don’t know if it’s left, right, or otherwise, but I know they think of it as taking Jesus seriously.”

“Yeah, you said that before. I’m starting to get it”, said Adam.

“That Helping Hand room I was talking about is a good example -- that started way back in the 50s, and now it's a coalition of three downtown churches, all working together to serve the poor.”

Just then, one of Eve’s best friends, Mary, entered the coffee shop with another group of friends. Eve warns her group: “If this conversation continues, you’ll get an earful from Mary, too.”

“Hey, what’s up?” Eve asks, as Mary approaches.

“Not much,” replies Mary, “just catching a little afternoon caffeine before crashing at the townhouse. What are you guys talking about?”

Eve responds, “Well, we passed First Christian a couple blocks ago, and I was going on about how that place has impacted my life. I warned my table that they may get a double dose from you!”

That is all the chance Mary needs. “Eve’s right! I have been so excited about everything going on there – small groups, Bible and other book studies, young family groups and marriage enrichment classes, groups outside the church like hiking clubs, all kinds of social support. We even do a ‘parents’ night out’ thing where different people do babysitting so others can go have dinner and watch a movie – we rotate around, each taking a turn.”

“Gee,” says Julie, “sounds like you’re really involved. Do you get enough volunteers for that?”

“Yeah, the families really support each other”, replied Mary.

“Isn’t it kind of a hassle to come downtown, find parking and everything?” asked Tim.

“Actually, a lot of our new members live downtown -- – a lot of folks walk to the church every Sunday morning, like I do”, informed Mary. “The church has made a real effort to reach out and not only serve the unique needs of downtown, but to attract members from the neighborhood as well – a lot of folks walk to the church every Sunday morning, like I do. I’m hoping to get Eve to go with me,” Mary says with a smirk.

“Maybe I will,” says Eve, smiling back.

Mary continued: “As part of that neighborhood thing, we’ve hung flyers on doorknobs at all the housing units and businesses in a 6-block radius – quite a few people who work down here come and attend the informal prayer service during their lunch hours”.

“I went to that once. It was pretty good. Low key,” agrees Eve.

Mary queried the group: “I’m guessing some of you have noticed our summer ‘church in the park’ that happens at Kesey Square – between the conga drums, electric guitars, keyboards, and free food, it’s quite a scene. I think even ol’ Ken would be tickled that we use his spot for such a joyous celebration.”

“That’s First Christian? Wow, I didn’t realize that – wouldn’t have guessed it” said Tim.

“I like that kind of worship,” adds Eve, “because it’s outside, seems more open.”

“Yeah, I have seen people there,” says Rebecca. “I thought the music was pretty good.”

Mary speaks again, “One particular group of people that I help reach out to are people who have been burned by churches in the past – put down, made to feel unworthy, discriminated against. Lots of people have simply given up on Christianity or churches in general.”

“Yeah,” says Adam. “That happened to me. I didn’t like church and quit going when I was about 15.”

“You’re not alone,” says Mary. “Others have never attended church or have any faith background at all. Our generation probably never even grew up thinking about attending church.”

“I had never been to any church before,” Eve pipes in. “But at First Christian they don’t ask you to believe unbelievable things, they just ask if you want to help make the world a better place.”

Mary says, “We talk about ‘evangelizing’ not to save souls, but to find kindred spirits who want to help save the world. That’s a new concept of evangelism, not the old one I grew up with. I find it not only refreshing, but inspiring. I think if you focus on bringing heaven to earth, the eternal life stuff will take care of itself.”

“That IS different,” replies Adam.

Mary continues, “There’s all kinds of worship services to go to, if you’re into that sort of thing. We have a high-energy service in the early morning--the music is rock-and-roll, then a more traditional ‘churchy’ type service after that. There’s also a more spiritual or meditative service on Wednesday nights.”

“Tell them about the 11th services,” adds Eve.

“Oh, yeah,” says Mary. “Eve means the Interfaith service on the 11th of each month – hard to believe we’ve been hosting that service since 2001, right after 9/11, and it’s still going strong fourteen years later”.

Julie asks: “I hear about that in the media, I’ve always kind of wondered what it’s like”.

Mary filled in some details: “All the different faiths in the area participate in it. On the annual anniversary these days, we have to use the Morse Event Center at Northwest Christian University, because the crowd is too big to fit under the dome on Oak Street. Sometimes even on our regular Sundays we have that problem – especially when we try to get all the different services together at one time.”

Eve jumped in, “I told you once she got going. . . . It just seems like they have their act together. Dan Bryant, the senior pastor, is really active in the community, always standing up for social justice issues”.

Mary jumped in again: “It used to be that he’d be out there talking in the public square by himself, but more and more you see other members of the church joining with him, or speaking out in the same way.”

“I have seen his name in the paper,” says Tim.

“Yeah, and when they hired additional ministers, it freed Dan up to do more of that kind of thing. Now they’ve got the best of both worlds, with folks focused on the care of the congregation, the youth group, education, counseling, volunteers, and all those details. It seems like everyone’s needs get met in some way,” adds Eve.

“Sounds like a nice church – very active”, observed Rebecca.

Mary can’t remain silent, “Yeah, when they hired additional ministers, everything seemed to really take off – everything got very organized, new members started showing up, and it really did give Dan a chance to ‘go deeper’ into his theology and social activism.”

Eve says, “Right after I came, Dan got to take a sabbatical to the Middle East and study the first century world of the Roman Empire, where the Apostle Paul lived and preached. The next year, he took a group of about 30 of us on a pilgrimage to walk in those same footsteps. The parallels to today that Dan teaches about are amazing.”

Mary says, “From that sprung those neat ‘town hall’ meetings he facilitates to discuss issues of the day – sometimes we advertise them to the community, so all kinds of people show up. They’ll take a controversial issue, something like our recent invasion of Syria, and debate it from a religious or theological viewpoint.”

Adam commented: “That would be a great discussion – pre-emptive war in our time compared to Roman imperial domination in the time of Jesus. Huh. What possible connection could there be?”

Julie chimes in: “I’ve actually been to a couple of those -- they always allow people from both sides of an issue to speak, and everyone feels safe and ‘heard.’ It’s neat to hear an actual dialogue on such issues, instead of just one side”.

Mary adds: “Sometimes they use that same format for internal church communication stuff, conflict resolution, and they always follow-up on the suggestions they hear”.

Rebecca commented that “It still seems unusual for a church to be growing in our day and age”.

Mary continues: “One of the new pastors brought some really interesting ideas about having small groups meet in people's homes -- tea, football games, book studies, whatever strikes a group's interest. For a lot of people, that setting is more comfortable than walking into the big downtown building. On any given day, our 'church' is meeting all over the Eugene/Springfield area.”

“I’ve had the Good Samaritan group in my apartment a few times,” adds Eve.

Mary says, “Yeah, that approach brought in a lot of couples with young kids, which brings a whole new energy to the congregation. It brought enough people to expand the youth program -- even enough to fund a full-time youth minister, which has been great for the high-school group. And the younger kids just love the Worship & Wonder program – storytelling and reflection led by volunteers and supported by one of our associate pastors”.

“OK, I know we may be boring you to death at this point,” Eve says, “but to be honest, I never thought such a church could exist. I never thought I’d ever refer to myself as a ‘Christian,’ but I actually consider myself that these days. The relationships I have with the other Good Samaritan volunteers are among the deepest I’ve ever had with anyone. They truly saved me in more ways than one, and it’s been pretty incredible to turn around and be part of helping others in downtown Eugene.”

Mary agreed, “I feel the same way. And we haven’t even mentioned one of our coolest programs, which is the overseas mission program we’re involved in. I actually leave the Eugene airport in four days for my first trip as part of that. I don’t really know what to expect, but a couple of years ago, the church joined forces with a couple of other churches in Oregon, and they adopted a small town in rural Mexico. They'd already been doing an annual mission trip down there to build homes, but now they’ve expanded it to work on things like purifying water, and education to help people understand why that can be critical for them and their kids. This trip, we’re going to begin the construction of a church, and in future years we’re going to build a school. It’s incredible the difference you can make in someone’s life, but even more incredible is how these trips deepen the soul of our own church here in Eugene. All the volunteers come from the congregation – we just keep cycling through new members. When they come home, there’s a new-found sense of purpose in their lives – I know it sounds kind of corny, but these trips really change people. And now I’m about to be changed!”

Julie mentioned that “My daughter’s best friend went on that last year, and was just on fire. She showed us all her pictures, and had a pretty incredible story to tell about each one. She said the plans get bigger every year”.

“Wow, I guess I didn’t realize what the heck that old building was up to,” says Adam. “Now I know what their banner from last month meant – ‘Take the Bible Seriously, Not Literally!’ Who knew?! I have seen the community rally around their building project. I’ve been in there a time or two, and those windows are really cool. It's good to see they'll last for another 100 years.”

“Yeah,” replies Mary. “It's nice that the church has become financially strong enough to expand the elevator, build the new entrance out back, get a new organ, and refurbish the main sanctuary.”

Eve chimes in: “I think they've grown because they just seem to ‘get it’. They talk about discerning God’s will and trying to bring it about on earth, but to me, it just seems like they care and speak out on social justice issues. It’s almost as if the loving way is written in their hearts.”

Mary says to Adam, “Why don’t you come with Eve and me this Sunday?”

Adam replies, “I haven’t ‘gone to church’ since I was a kid, but I guess I could try it. If the two of you are willing to go with me, then I’m in.”

Eve smiles and says, “Okay, it’s a deal. We’ll pick you up at your place at 9:10 and walk over to the rock-n-roll service. Be prepared to dance!”

At this point, a group sitting at another table asks: “Can we go too?!”



As a church, our work is never done.

But we know the spirit always moves toward union, not division.

As we look back on the past 7 years, we can proclaim that First Christian Church is indeed transforming lives, Christianity, and our world, here in the heart of Eugene.


Do you have feedback regarding this Future Story?  What did you like?  Any concerns?  Anything else you'd like to share with the Visioning Committee?  If so, please feel free to send us an E-mail.  Thanks!

 

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Photo by Paul Carter, The Register Guard, used by permission.