Two years ago on Easter Sunday morning, I announced to the congregation that it is time for us to start seriously thinking about moving to another location. From the pulpit, I said to the congregation that I believe with everything in me, that it is now time to move. Now mind you, this was not something that I had planned.
For you see, we have been sharing space with a wonderful church—Peace Lutheran in Memphis Tennessee, for the past twelve years. The folks at Peace have been wonderful. We have done many things together—from worship services to outreach ministries. Indeed, the building located on 1542/1548 Jackson Ave, has been a blessing for many on the margins of society. One of the last things we did together was to help start Trinity Ministries—an outreach ministry of the Lutheran Church, led by the Rev. Antoinette (Tonie) Robinson—who has a heart for outreach and service.
To be truthful, that would have been enough for me—stay there, share space, pay “rent” (even though we never felt like we had a tenant/landlord relationship), and do ministry. However, two years ago, on Easter Sunday morning, I told the members of Gifts of Life Ministries (G’Life) that it was time for us to move.
That Easter Sunday morning started like any other Sunday morning—I got up early to prepare for our 8:00am service focusing on my sermon for the day. As I prepared my coffee and started to get ready for worship (being quiet as not to disturb Lisa who likes to get some extra sleep on Sundays…..), my mind starting rushing on other things. Now mind you, this is not unusual for this to happen on Sundays for me. My mind tends to rush on different things as I prepare in the quiet on Sundays—prayer requests, thoughts about sick and shut-in members, situations happening in our city and world. Sunday mornings is usually a good meditation time for me and as I prepare, I try to listen to the Spirit and allow my mind to wonder wide.
There was however one thing that kept “popping” up in my mind—“moving and ministry.” I had no idea what this meant, so I kept mediating and thinking about Resurrection Day and “getting Jesus up out of the grave.” I finished dressing and with another cup of coffee and a quick kiss on the cheek to Lisa (as she was still in bed), I was on my way to church.
I remember praying when I got in the car for a “spirit filled service” and for “resurrection in the lives of the people.” After that, I put on some music as I continued to mediate and prepared to enjoy my ride in to church. However, now while the music played, (probably some hip hop or old school Gospel music), I “heard” or “sense” the words moving and ministry again. This time it would not stop until I turned down the music and wondered aloud, “what does this mean?”
As I approached the church, moving and ministry turned into “It’s time to move.” I did not want to hear this—like I said, I had grown comfortable with where we were—and to top things off, we were doing ministry! We fed and housed the homeless, our summer camps and after school ministries were blessings to parents. We opened our doors and shared our space with groups other ministries, agencies, anyone looking for a space to share information that was helpful to the community.
Many knew us as the “friendly church” because of our open door, radical hospitality and inclusive nature. We were proud to be that progressive church in a neighborhood that needed a church to be a little different. No, not everyone got what we were doing and yes, we lost some members along the way, but we really felt God’s call on us and we have stayed faithful to the original vision, mission and spirit of our church—a called centered, mission group oriented, servant leadership church. Each and every day we tried to lived up to our name—the Urban Oasis. So, why, now, Lord? Why move, why now? Why Lord why?
I did not get my answer until I said those words—“I believe it is time to start seriously thinking about moving to another location.” I did not want to say it—I tried not to say it, but as I was going through my pastoral remarks, it just came out. It came out as I tried to contain it, not to reveal it—I mean what if I was wrong. It came out, as much as I tried to change it, rearrange it, or act strange to it—it just would not stop. It just came out, because, as I know now, it was the right time.
Why move now? My answer came in my unprepared remarks that Easter Sunday Morning. It was time for us to move because we were about to outgrow our present place. It was time for us to move, because we needed more space—space to house, to fed, to counsel, to minister. It was time to us to move because our mission and vision demanded the move. It was time for us to move, because we saw a place—an Urban Oasis opened to all and for all. Then I asked to church to dream with me a dream I shared with them earlier:
Imagine a place where people can find safety and security. A place where one can find water to quench one's thirst. A place where healing and deliverance can take place. A place where the hungry can come and find a meal. A place where education and learning take place. A place where dreams can be shared and lived out. A place where gifts and abilities can be practiced and demonstrated. A place that is a sanctuary of shalom in the middle of a storm.Imagine a place where you can come and discuss the tough questions. Imagine a place where you can be whoever God has created you to be. Imagine a place where children can discover who they are and what they are called to be. Imagine a place where the elders of the congregation take time and sit down with the young people not to berate and belittle, but to encourage and inspire. Imagine a place where the spirit resides and the spirit has its way. Imagine an urban oasis.
After I said that, the congregation responded with praise! I admit, it had taken me back a little, but I soon discovered that the church thought it was time to move as well. Many of them felt it was time for us at least to start seriously looking at the possibility. After the service, many shared their hopes, dreams, and ideas about what a building would look like. Some even thought of new ministries we could do in more space. However, the majority of the church wanted something to call “ours.” They did not want to rush—you know, get ahead of God, but they were in total agreement with me when I made that announcement.
Two years ago, Easter Sunday morning, I just made an announcement. I had no plan, no agenda, and no idea where we were to go; I just follow what I believe was the Spirit leading me to announce that it is time to move. Fast-forward about two and a half years later, as I write this, we closed and have keys to our new ministry location! Let the moving begin!!
To be continued……..
Rev. Andre E. Johnson, PhD is the pastor of Gifts of Life Ministries and professor of Rhetoric and Religion and African American Studies at Memphis Theological Seminary