Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What Happened to the Asbury Room?

This last Sunday, I spent time with a raucous group of people in church singing and dancing along with a spirited band. We sang such spiritual classics as “Johnny Be Good” by Chuck Berry, “Shout” by The Eisley Brothers and (my personal favorite) “Chain of Fools” by Aretha Franklin. Seriously, last Sunday I was part of a group that nearly rocked the windows off in the Asbury Room at First United Methodist Church of Whittier with loud classic rock. Not only that, but this gathering was one of the highlights of my recent Christian walk. Why?

Well, to begin, this was not Sunday morning church. Fear not, we sang even older songs that morning (alas, without drums or distorted guitars). This past Sunday marked my grandparents’ 50th anniversary. Starting at three, my family and roughly 140 others celebrated the two most loving people I’ve ever known. Directly after a re-affirmation of their vows, we all headed to the church’s fellowship hall and spent three hours eating, watching slideshows of old photos, chatting with people we barely knew, and dancing. It was awesome.

Now, the room after which this post is named is something of a hallmark in many Methodist churches. It’s filled with round tables, chairs that probably became dangerous 15 years ago, couches that look like your great-grandmother’s, and is filled with the smell of lasagna dinners, coffee and Ben-Gay. Most importantly, there is an industrial-sized kitchen capable of feeding hordes of famished Wesleyan-Arminians. I’ve been to my share of old Methodist churches, and this type of room (usually named after some former champion of the denomination) is a fixture.

Now, what I love about these churches is that they not only have these rooms, but they get used all the time. Not only that, but they often are used for gatherings that don’t necessarily fit into the realm of “church activities”. Potlucks, social gatherings, anniversary celebrations and even birthday parties are hallmarks of these rooms. To tell the truth, I’ve never seen such a heartfelt sense of community in many younger churches. I mean, I’ve been to coffee shops with art on the walls and pretty decent espresso, I’ve still never seen such an emphasis upon church community as I see in some of those smelly old Asbury rooms.

I guess my question is, why? I mean, “community” has been uttered so many times it’s almost become a tired cliché. On my read, there’s still something mercenary about the ways we do “community”. Especially in some of the more “emergent” communities that I’ve witnessed, there seems to be an ulterior motive to community. Sometimes it feels as if all the talk of “authentic community” is just “authentic marketing”. What I love about these smelly rooms and old churches the fact that the gatherings held in them reflect a deep bond that transcends traditional church activities.

So, what are your suggestions? How should we genuinely foster a feeling of community within our church bodies? All I could come up with would be to value events, milestones and gatherings that have very little to do with “church” activities. I feel it’s a start, but only that. So, what do you, the loyal adventurers think? If our churches want to re-discover the value of community, what are the practical steps? I eagerly await some feedback.


1 comment:

Renee said...

Well Collie, I've thought about this very topic many times over the years. As a young adult, I attended a small church that integrated events that valued community-- meals, celebrations, picnic events, etc. I felt like I was "living life" with so many other families. And, I grew so much in my walk as I shared my faith and observed others younger and older in the faith live out life with the Lord. Later, I attended a more contemporary, larger church, and I have to admit, out life together is what I missed most. If I show up or don't show up to church...few notice. When I need a shoulder to cry on, I don't really know too many to call. I don't have an answer to your questions, but the question is vital. I've been blessed by so many aspects of both church experiences/families... but lately, I find I'm yearning for the "community" you talk about at the anniversary celebration in the well-used room that has witnessed much joy in families coming together to live life.