It’s about love, not about living in the right place, or having the right friends

Someone asked me how it all works the other day.

From what I know, here are the basics about Circle of Hope: we’re a circle of hope in Jesus. We are church that is made up of cells. You could say that the four congregations are expressions of the cells. The cells are positioned outward for transformation. They are incubators of revolution. They change us when we include others in them. And those people that are included are changed. Those seemingly “little” changes, change the whole world. As we do this incremental, we are doing our part in the new creation—bringing God’s kingdom right here, on earth as it is in heaven.

The cells are beautiful expressions of us, and out of them and out our church, we form compassion and mission teams that pull us into new directions. Underneath all of that is something of an infrastructure with which our capacity teams form and support us—they lead our common fund, site management, human resources, and technology areas.

People from all over town connect to our congregations, which have their main headquarters on corridors that intentionally invite people form everywhere. Two are on Broad St. in Philadelphia. Another is that a central intersection in South Jersey: where 70 and 130 meet. And another is on Frankford Ave., the main artery that runs from the Northeast all the way to Girard Ave.—spanning a populous and increasingly gentrifying area. We planted in these places so that we could be regional. One doesn’t have to be “in the neighborhood” to be a part of us. Some people choose to do that, but they are no more holy than those who live elsewhere. Moving closer is not a prerequisite.

The other day someone asked me if she could be a covenant member if she lived in a distant neighborhood—I exclaimed, “of course!” She had gotten the impression she needed to move to one of the hip neighborhoods many of our friends are moving into. She thought she wasn’t a “good” Christian because she had to travel 30 minutes to get to a PM. To live in a local neighborhood by the meeting site of the congregation, that’s a fine thing to do, but it doesn’t make you more committed or righteous, if you ask me.

Neither is being in the “in-group.” Sometimes I wish there was not an in-group (but humans will be humans). In my high school, I never seemed to be in the in-group (but I did tend to know someone in each of the cliques). In fact, as a Christian Arab, who is quite different in terms of thinking to many other Christians (many of whom seem to be lackeys for the G.O.P.) and other Arabs (most of whom are nominal Muslims), I have never really found an in-group. For me, the Body of Christ is my family, when the world made me other (literally, on the census form). So I am among the people that longed to be cool and never were. I think Jesus specialized in being friends with us.

The cells and the church aren’t about getting in—they are about getting out there! You haven’t made it once you are invited to all the parties. I think we’re really talking when you go to the parties to meet your next friend. Or, better, you invite everyone to your house and you help people meet Jesus that way! We are forming community and including the next person in it, not making sure we can relate to the most arbitrarily popular people. The concern is if the church is all about community and not mission, once you get your friends, you’ll be done. There are people who keep the friends and forget to extend the invitation and hospitality that they received when they got connected.

That invitation, and that hospitality is life-altering. That transformation happened in cells. They are like little communities led by pastors. Each of our cell leaders has the level of dignity and responsibility that we would assign any of our pastors. The cells form communities so that natural cliques in the church aren’t encouraged to form. They are porous so that people can get in and out easily. They are not like the store you keep getting Emails from ever since you bought that cardigan. They are not like the elite nightclub with a huge line and a big cover. They are inclusive, and filled with enough love to go around.

That’s the basic principle for Circle of Hope: there is enough love to go around. The love of Jesus is not better because it is scarce, giving to the popular people, or in the right neighborhood. It’s everywhere. It overflows out of us and straight to the margins and the ends of the earth.

What would you add? Comment below.

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