Last Monday morning I stood in a circle with three other men and we prayed together. Not that unusual an occurrence since we were closing out a worship planning meeting, and praying is the way most Christians start or finish any meeting; but for me it felt a little bit uncomfortable. Perhaps it was because I led the prayer and I was the only woman in the room. Perhaps it was because we all held hands as we prayed, and I didn’t know everyone that well yet. Perhaps it was the low-lit, run down office building we were meeting in, with its buzzing fluorescent lights, dusty wooden shelves, and frayed brown carpet. Or perhaps it was something else altogether. Something unnameable and more mysterious than I could ever imagine. Perhaps it was something holy.
Two of the men were members of the worship team, and my husband, the executive pastor was the third one—the one who’d asked me to pray. We’ve been holding worship services at ten a.m. every Sunday since September 16th, in the gym of a small school called South Knoxville Elementary. In some ways we’re not doing anything new. Thousands of church plants have been launched in the past fifteen years, ten of which I could name without much thought, right here in Knoxville. From local schools to movie theatres to shopping malls, you can find almost as many new churches these days as the old established ones on the prominent street corners of our town.
But one thing that sets Bridge Church apart is our effort to be multicultural and multiethnic from the ground up. Our lead pastor is black, my husband is white, and our youth leader's parents were once immigrants from El Salvador. Our current worship team includes two black men and one white man, and we’ve also had some Asian men on the set up team. We’re averaging about fifty people right now, drawn from at least three different churches, from various locations across town. If you came and visited us some Sunday morning you’d see a ragtag group of people from all economic and social backgrounds, dressed mostly in blue jeans and t-shirts, trying to figure out how to run a church service smoothly.
Every week it seems we have a new challenge. Sometimes it’s the sound system not working right, sometimes it’s the lack of computers available for check-in and programming, sometimes it’s the rainy weather and stressed out volunteers who couldn’t get their sick kids out of the house for the second week in a row. Yet each week we’ve managed to pull it off somehow. And every single time we’ve met I’ve felt the overwhelming presence of something good, something loving, something powerful. I think of that presence as the Holy Spirit, and even though I believe that Spirit is always with me as a child of God, there’s something special about experiencing that presence with a group of people who all identify themselves as children of God.
Sunday after Sunday we sing and pray and listen to the truth. We smile at each other. We shake hands, bump fists, and offer hugs to those who look like they could use one. We lift our voices and our hands as we bring a sacrifice of praise into our little makeshift house of the Lord. We don’t always clap on the same beat, and we sometimes feel awkward and unsettled as we look around and see people who worship differently than what we’ve been used to most of our lives, but we’re committed to stretching and growing, to learning how to love this new community we’re discovering together. We’ve still got a lot to learn about South Knoxville, about her people and their needs, about the best way to serve the men, women, and children who live in this diverse part of town, but the good news is we’ve got time. We’re not going anywhere, and we’ve all been called to come together for such a time and place as this.
On our first Sunday, Pastor Anthony read from a passage in Revelation that talks about Christ lighting the lamps of latter day churches. He told us that Christ had lit our torch and no one but Jesus himself could blow it out. He told us he believed Bridge Church had the blessing of the favor of the Lord, because our mission was one that pleased God. Because of my background, I can be pretty cynical when I hear people say things like that, but for some reason, that day, I felt like I could believe it too. After all, a church who “uses the gospel to unite believers with truth and love in order to overcome ethnic, cultural, generational, and socioeconomic barriers” sounds like the kind of church Jesus would bless.
I wasn’t able to be part of the worship service this past Sunday because it was my turn to serve in the nursery. My husband was preaching that morning and I was feeling a little bit like I was missing out until I began visiting with the other woman serving with me. She has three small kids, and had also been looking forward to some adult time in worship, but ended up helping me out instead. And that’s when I remembered that being part of a church is so much more than what happens in one room on a Sunday morning.
When the Bible talks about holiness it always comes with a price. Isaiah kissed the burning coal in order to become clean enough to be sent out as God’s prophet. So perhaps there are more uncomfortable times ahead for myself and the people of Bridge Church, but perhaps this uncomfortableness will result in something special for the city of Knoxville someday. And perhaps it will be something holy.