The last weekend of January my Beeson Pastor cohort joined some Beeson International Leaders in Houston, Texas. We spent five days traversing the city, discovering a variety of churches and ministries that are extending the ministry of Jesus to Houston and around the world. There were five different types of ministries that piqued an earnest interest in my heart and mind.
1) Street Reach Houston (www.ywamhouston.org). This ministry gathers under a tree just west of downtown Houston every Friday night. They meet for prayer and a proclamation that Jesus is Lord. Then they head into the streets. The external ministry is to pass out water, pray with people, and assist people who are ready to escape the life of the streets. They reach out to people who are homeless, people who are selling their bodies, people who are racked with questions about their true identity.
On the night we were there we encountered a person who at first called himself Nicki. Throughout the night we crossed Nicki's path about 3 or 4 times. Each time our team leader asked if we could pray with Nicki he dodged us. The last time we met him, he said he was ready for some prayer. In the course of the conversation he told us his name was Leonard. This conversation about his real name sent me to a passage from Ephesians that we have been studying around our kitchen table. In Ephesians 3, Paul prays for the church and he says he is addressing the Father from whom all nations receive their true name. That prayer connected on the street - God the Father gives to us true names and calls us by true names. In the world in which we live, those names can become lost and covered over. Leonard's true name is often lost under a tragic disguise, yet thanks be to God - He keeps calling and searching for Leonard. Maybe one day Leonard will receive the light of Christ and let it free him.
2 & 3) Chapelwood UMC has two fascinating ministries which are like churches within a larger church. The first is the Center for Christian Spirituality. The Center provides spiritual formation opportunities to the full Chapelwood community. It also creates and hosts a weekly contemplative worship service every Sunday at Chapelwood UMC. The contemplative worship is marked by scripture and communal prayer and a good dose of silence and reflection. In the midst of our busy travels, we found a moment to rest in a mini version of contemplative worship.
The second fascinating ministry is called Mercy Street (www.mercystreet.org). Mercy Street was described for us as a "full scope ministry designed around the needs of the recovery community." This church broke so many social and religious norms it is hard to imagine it without being there. The coffee pots are big, the crowd generally discordant from the surrounding community, the order of worship simple and confessional. They began with songs, then a greeting by a guy who introduced himself in AA style, "Hi, my name is ____, I'm an alcoholic." They had "Celebration" time which introduced us to sharing birthdays, anniversaries of sobriety, prayer requests for family members struggling and lots of cheering. The Pastor gave a "Talk" and then it was over, for us. Others stayed to take a class on integrating faith and addiction recovery. Mercy Street would have the Saturday Night Live Church Lady lamenting about sacrilege, it looked a whole lot like the Gospel of Matthew brought into the twenty first century.
4) St. John's Downtown (www.stjohnsdowntown.org). St. Johns is primarily an African American church in downtown Houston that is pastored by Rudy and Juanita Rasmus. Pastor Rudy wrote the book Touch; the power of touch in transforming lives. The ministry extends itself in a plethora of directions. It has a ministry to street people. It works to inspire radical discipleship. It sees itself as being a part of transforming downtown by radically extending the touch of Jesus to every person. Pastor Rudy is engaging. He told us his spiritual gift was the gift of "hanging out." He said his wife is a better preacher than he is. He's a remarkable man who has himself been radically transformed by the grace of God into a work he never could have imagined.
5) Ecclesia Christian Ministries (www.ecclesiahouston.org). Ecclessia is a church that is hard to put a label on. It meets in a small Baptist church building constructed in the 1960's. During the week the building serves as a Coffee Shop, Bookstore and Art Gallery. On the weekends it becomes the gathering spot for Ecclessia. The group that gathered for the 5 PM Sunday night service looked to be made up of about 80% college students who were soaking up a conversation/sermon on contextualization that came from Daniel 1. They had candles burning, an artist painting. They used call and response prayers in preparing for Eucharist, and they offered the Sacrament with grape juice or wine - the dipper (they used intinction) could take their pick. The guys leading it, Chris and Robbie Seay, their dad is a Southern Baptist Pastor. The church was originally chartered as a Baptist Church. I would doubt you could find too many people who would today described it as a Baptist Church. It was a community of people seeking and following Jesus, as an older couple told me, utilizing the right side (creative side) of their brain.
We visited a lot of other churches and they all went together to form a great trip. Most importantly, we got to see and hear what God is up to in Houston and through the International cohort, the rest of the world. I'm thankful to have that picture, and really glad that in the midst of the whole world, God knows Leonard's true name. He knows my true name too.