Tiny Revolution: First Steps

Baby Steps

Every day this week since I wrote that last blog post about bearing a churchbaby I have vacillated between wanting to crawl into bed to panic in the darkness to a deranged and hyperactive excitement erupting into way too many emails in the span of 5 minutes to one graphic designer friend. In many ways this feels like a kind of fertilization, one that is reminiscent of both my pregnancies. It’s always a mixed bag. Anticipation and terror. I can’t wait to meet the baby but I’m not ready for this baby. Elation and aversion. This baby is a beautiful miracle. Get this baby out of me!! Vivacity and total, sheer exhaustion. Though I felt like in the beginning I was able to live on just a handful of hours of sleep I felt simultaneously ready to collapse at any moment. I still do, sometimes.

But, now that I’ve put it out there, even though I did put the qualifier in at the end, “This may not turn into anything at all – I’m totally aware of that possibility,” I still feel like I have to do this now. Because you readers are holding me accountable. I know that no one – well, maybe a few – may be thinking, “Oh, it’s another one of her crazy ideas because she’s bored,” or “If she doesn’t follow through with this to some measure of visible success then it’s just evidence that she’s a serious 7 (Enneagram) and can’t stay focused on anything.”

Yet, I still feel that since it’s been verbalized there’s a pseudo-covenant being formed here. And, it’s not that I fear failure so much, (although, I totally do fear that, of course) but more the inevitable insane giving of oneself over to the roller coaster ride of work – the emotions, the challenges, the people. That’s where the analogy to parenting is helpful to me. It’s a world of pain and hurt – this giving of oneself to another little creature. And why do we do it? I can think of a myriad of reasons, but for now, the one that compels me the most is to be changed myself.

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With anything new I know we do a little at a time. So, these are the baby steps I’ve taken so far.
1. I volunteer at the Shalom Community Center now 1-2 times a week in the kitchen and the hospitality desk.
2. I volunteer with the Interfaith Winter Shelter on Thursday nights for set up and registration until the last day of the season which is March 31st. The point of these commitments is to simply show up and be present in the homeless community.
3. I have had lovely encouraging and inspiring conversations with other churchy types – church planter, Catholic Worker types, and mainliners.
4. I continue to spend time with students and making plans with other student campus groups to lay the groundwork for hosting a possible Dinner Church with the homeless starting in April. Just need to find a space.
5. I’ve been talking with numerous people about starting a mobile food business called Kup Bop to make this churchbaby financially sustainable. More on that later, including a Kickstarter if I get the balls. And figure out where to store a food cart.

I’m not looking to be one of those huge church plants. That’s not appealing at all to me. But I do want to do something meaningful. It seems fitting on the MLK Jr Day that I think really seriously about local community and impact, and how important it is to be a part of something that is meaningful right in our neighborhood. When people have often lamented to me about how overwhelming and huge #blacklivesmatter and mass incarceration and the immigration and refugee crisis seems and “what can we do?” I hold onto the advice that scholar-theologian-lawyer Andrea Smith gave a group of us about revolution: “We need to execute numerous direct actions. Do what you can in your neighborhood, community, town, and city. We need everyone.”

That’s how change happens. Baby steps.

Thanks for journeying with me.

Tiny Revolution: Dreaming of a ChurchBaby

Winter Sample Gates

Starting churches is in the blood of many immigrants in this country.

I grew up in a Presbyterian church that was young when we arrived in the late 70s because it was full of mostly newly-arrived Koreans chasing dreams of success, education, and making life really count. But the day in and day out of realizing the streets aren’t paved with gold and that bootstraps made little sense meant that church every Sunday was a chance to sort it all out and breathe in deeply. Sometimes it was also Wednesday and Friday, and maybe the occasional Saturdays. The Koreans can get fanatical. But each time in those gatherings, in the rented out basements, I watched my parents, all our parents, breathe easily, which meant they could also speak, and be heard, and listen, and sing, and laugh like they were shedding layers of that thick skin necessary to protect them and survive each day in this strange, hard country.

Church every week was a protest, it was resistance, it was a gathering in the darkness, and a way to be given life and light.

I know there’s hardly a tweet or post that goes by that I don’t invoke the words “vigil” or “demonstration” or “protest” or “resistance,” but that’s because these words articulate the kind of defense mechanism church is and was to my family, and to so many like my family. Church is a tiny revolution, says my dear friend and sister the Rev. Jodi Houge, and I feel this in my bones and marrow. Despite the many churches in my little college town, and that I am friends and colleagues with many of the pastors, and love and respect them and their work, I believe we need more tiny revolutions.

So I’m dreaming of a churchbaby.

It’s been swimming around in my soul for a while, this little zygote of a dream, ever since my first Executive Presbyter (Presbyterian-speak for bishop/superintendent/pastor to pastors), Jean Johnston, planted the possibility back in 2006. I had just started in my first call as an associate pastor and it was over a lunch in Flanders, NJ. She was scattering all manner of seeds: solo pastor, head of staff, church planter. And I was a hungry soil at the time – fascinated and wondering what would take root. Would I be able to handle it? Would I be smart enough, wise enough, saavy enough to do this kind of work? 

It’s 2016, and I’m still asking if I’m enough. For sure, one thing has not changed: I’m hungry. But I’m beginning to realize that perhaps this is enough for now. At least, it’s a beginning. I’m hungry for community, hungry for change, hungry for transformation, hungry for revolution.

I know in some ways I’ve already recently been a part of a kind of church plant with UKIRK at IU, which is a Presbyterian campus ministry, but I want to expand it so that it’s not only focused on a specific demographic but positioned more broadly. In doing so I hope to create more spaces for overlap between those connected to the university and those who have always held the deepest places of my heart – the people on the margins. In Bloomington, I see that being the homeless, transient, and working poor.

So, friends, this is what I’m thinking, doing, dreaming these days. And I’ll be writing out the process – as honestly, openly, and genuinely as possible – my reflections, my questions, my hopes. I am intentionally putting myself in those spaces and will begin: volunteering at the Shalom Community Center, working with Dan and the Interfaith Winter Shelter, and listening and learning from with those in the community who have committed their lives to these people. I’m talking with people who have business and startup experience about the possibilities of making this tiny revolution financially sustainable with pay-it-forward options. I’m dreaming about dinner church, story telling and peace making gatherings, interreligious vigils and protests, and a space for people to breathe, to listen, to speak, to laugh.

This may not turn into anything at all – I’m totally aware of that possibility. But, I believe in the meaning of process and journey, too, and am holding onto the hope that when you give yourself over to a God who loves fiercely and recklessly, then something amazing comes of it. It just may look different from the original blueprints. But I can’t deny the desire anymore, after all, it’s in my DNA. My father started a church, too. I do know one thing for sure though: Revolution will happen, at the very least, with me. And, that will never be an insignificant thing.

Journey with me, dear ones?

I change myself, I change the world. -Gloria AnzalduaClick To Tweet

 

Thank you to my sisters – who are also my inspiration and coaches in this endeavor: Kerlin Richter, Emily Scott, Jodi Houge, and Nadia Bolz-Weber.

#Yoked: Parenting and Planting

#Yoked: Parenting and Planting

Yoked magnet

This is part of a series on clergy couples and their stories. Andy and I wrote a book about being a clergy couple and all the insanity that goes along with it called Yoked: Stories of a Clergy Couple in Marriage, Family, and Ministry.

Back in the days when we were newlyweds, I was serving as a pastor and my husband was in seminary, and we dreamed big dreams. We dreamed of a larger family (though my husband wanted many more kids than I did), we dreamed of moving across the country, and we dreamed of starting a new church.

Fast forward a few years, and we have lived into the dream of planting a new church but it hasn’t been easy. It has been nothing like we imagined it would be. Neither has the journey for our family been anything like we dreamed at the time.

We have one child, our son AJ, who was diagnosed with autism at the age of three. We are planting a church, but serving two other churches part-time in addition to planting this new church. We did move across the country, but with a two-and-a-half year stop in Oklahoma in which we bought a house, then felt called a year later to move, after our son’s diagnosis and discovery that the resources for our son were few and far between where we lived.

When we moved to the Seattle area, we naturally began connecting with other families that had children with disabilities. We found that we shared similar experiences in terms of church—not all churches are welcoming of people with disabilities. Sometimes our children are too loud, too mobile, and too disruptive. We have been asked to take our child (who was four at the time) to the nursery where the babies were. We have also been told our child was not welcome in childcare because the workers were not trained for autism (we always answer, “Neither are we”). So many families of children with disabilities have also not found church to be a welcoming place.

We also found families of typically developing children that had another family member or friend that had a disability and knew some of the challenges we faced. We also found adults with disabilities, their families and friends, and the vision of Open Gathering, our church, came to be—a worshipping community that gathered together, where a child running around and yelling, or another child dancing, or an adult asking serious questions that might seem silly to others would all be welcome, and not only welcomed but included and valued. As we prayed about the vision for our church and who we might be, we know that our own experience helped to shape that vision and continues to frame its future.

We still don’t have it right all the time. We have had times where one of us is wrangling our child while the other is leading the music or prayers. Several times this fall our son has slept through Open Gathering because we meet on Sunday late afternoons and he didn’t sleep well the night before.  One of the common issues for individuals with autism is sleep disruption. Our son AJ has not slept well for the past few months, and because he is a PK (pastor’s kid) of course he often does not sleep well Saturday night into Sunday morning.

Parenting is tough. Pastoring is tough. Planting a church is tough. Combine it all together, and throw in sleep disorder and autism and we struggle at times. But I don’t see how we could follow this call to this particular community without us both being clergy, both understanding what we are doing and why we are doing it, and feeling called by God to this work. We believe in this vision for our church because we are both clergy, because we are both parents of a child with a disability. The dream has changed, but it is still there.

Family portraitRev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell is an ordained American Baptist minister serving in the Seattle area along with her husband, Rev. JC Mitchell who is ordained Disciples of Christ. Together, they have begun Open Gathering, a new church community in Bellevue, WA that seeks to be welcoming and inclusive of people of different abilities. They have one child, AJ, who has autism. Mindi blogs at http://rev-o-lution.org and has recently launched autismandchurch.com with another clergy colleague.