Mustard Seeds in the 'burbs

For my second "Mustard Seed" post of the day, I'll briefly submit for your consideration St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in Bellevue, WA, where I am employed as the bumbling youth minister. Contra most images of the emerging church, we are an established congregation in a wealthy suburb, with a healthy mix of grey hair, boomers, young families and a youth group. We don't have high tech presentations in our services, and not many people would self-identify as post-modern. We're certainly not part of an identifiable movement, and not many conversations. Our sanctuary-style I like to describe as "Pottery Barn", and lots of our congregants drive SUVs (with a few scattered Priuses).

However, in the year and a half I've worked there, I've come to realize that many of the trends in Anglimergence are also trends at St. Margaret's. We're self-consciously missional and trying to figure out what that looks like in our happy little suburb. We recently began the process of attempting to sell off a chunk of our land for the construction of low-income housing (of which almost none exists in Bellevue), we have an established thrift store that gives away $25-30K to mission every six months, and our maintenance guy (actually a 'Sexton' in Episcopal terms), not a Christian but one who spells God "Nature" with a capital N, and I recently began a series whose aim is to determine how we should live responsibly and missionally in the midst of an environmental crisis. Every Wednesday, we open our doors to youth from the school across the street, provide them with a place to hangout, and feed them junkfood and energy drinks as a service to the local community. (Props to Buzz Matthews, my predecessor, white rapper and by all accounts genius youth minister, for establishing that one.) Our senior warden and others are attending mission conferences and thinking outside the box about ways we can be the church in Bellevue. We're renting out our building to community organizations, teaming with interdenominational congregations, and reaching out to our community on a regular basis. I'm not sure how it happened, but all of these old folks and boomers drifted in an emergent direction without even having a pastor with cool postmodern crap. In five years, I won't be surprised if they have established a monastic community on the property, right next to Target and Old Navy. I personally am trying to figure out what it means to be a youth minister in this context--having some success and lots of failure, but generally appreciating the gift of employment and freedom that St. Margaret's has given.

St. Margaret's is, honestly, the primary reason that I'm skeptical about all the suggestions that traditional and institutional churches are hopeless, and that we have to establish something new. History is a story of cultural drift, with only the occasional revolution. St. Marg's is evidence that cultural drift is still happening, and that institutions can transform rather rapidly to meet a changing set of circumstances--even when twenty-something leaders aren't given full reign. It's one of the key reasons that I'm committed to working in a missional direction in the institutional church, and evidence that established churches can use their significant resources to move in innovative directions.

Comments

maggi said…
fab post! thank you
Paul Fromont said…
Thanks for your reflection Tim.It confirms my own inclinations. Visited via my good friend Maggi's blog.
ajt said…
well-said. keep on.

(another Maggi reader)
Cecilieaux said…
As a youth minister, you're dealing with a period in which people search and explore and -- in a statistically "normal" proportion -- actually leave church for a while. So that's challenging and what you're doing (by my reckoning it's "being there") sounds just right. I bet you'll be remembered many years from now by many former kids.

(a former kid myself)
Perhaps a lot of good revolution is revolution with or even by tradition — innovation within a framework that resources and evolves organically in relation to it. It's just narrow and sterile to set "inherited" against "emergent" as a simple either/or. By not doing that you're experiencing personal and spiritual opportunity/ fruitfulness...

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