Last night a visitor arrived at St. Jude’s. He had found us from our out-of-date website and was looking for a multi-ethnic church for his young family. He has a PhD and a spouse who is learning English. Last night, with lots of us out of town, we still had folks born in Africa, Mexico, Russia, Guatemala, Vietnam, and Cuba. Add in people of European and Native American descent and our little church represented every continent except Australia and Antarctica.
I was tempted to ask our visitor if anyone in his family was doing time. You see, 25% of St. Jude’s adults have a PhD. Another 25% have done or have a family member who is doing prison time. PhD’s and prisoners. That is St. Jude’s in a nutshell.
We are a study in contradictions: liturgical and charismatic, ancient and modern…an ecumenical movement all to ourselves, our preachers come from Catholic, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Baptist, Salvation Army and Evangelical backgrounds. We joke that we are Black-catholi-gelical – A place in which you have to be comfortable being uncomfortable. And that is true, worshiping with us can be uncomfortable. It is also true, though, that we have seen a collection of unlikely and dramatic conversions, unexplainable physical healings, and are the least likely group of people you would ever expect to see in relationship with one another.
St. Jude’s to me is like the church in Antioch in the book of Acts. Everyone wants to be an Acts 2 “Jerusalem” Church. We are an “Antioch” church. You know, the place Jesus’ followers were first called “Christians.” What happened in Antioch that people started calling them “little Christs”? Jesus’ followers showed up in diverse and cosmopolitan Antioch because they were being scattered by persecution. When they got there, for the first time they began to share the Good News to non-Jewish outsiders. (Acts 11:20) They developed a church with a multi-ethnic, multi-social class, multi-economic leadership group that had a heart for their diverse city, all of it, even the people who weren’t like them. It was Antioch that sent missionaries out around the Roman world (12:25-13:3). The Antioch church lived out a vision of God’s love for all being demonstrated by those for whom the name of Jesus was the only tie that bound them. This was radical then. It is still pretty uncommon today. Nearly 60 years after Dr. King called 10 a.m. “the most segregated hour in America,” not much has changed. 90% of American Protestants still attend mono-ethnic church services. Luckily, I get to be a part of this weird and wonderfully different thing.
We have faced, and continue to face, all kinds of obstacles, some of them downright bizarre. We lack the knowledge of what it takes to plant a church. But at the same time our God continues to be living and active in our midst. I marveled last night watching our people lining up for intercessory prayer and anointing during our worship time after Holy Communion. I also marveled how after more than two hours of setting up and tearing down for 75 minutes of worship, our folks still want to figure out how to stay together longer…this time at the local Baskin-Robbins.
We are tiny. We are numerically and financially insignificant. We don’t know what we are doing. I can never figure out how we will still exist in 6 months.
On this, the day after the birth of the church at Pentecost, I wonder if the early church felt the same way. I suspect they did.