Monday, December 31, 2012

Ten Years After: Our Anniversary Celebration Sunday, Jan. 6. Come Party With Us

The Welcome Table Church, a free christian universalist missional community, celebrates our 10th anniversary on Epiphany Sunday, Jan. 6, come for worship at 11 am, and/or meal at noon, and/or public reception from 1-3 pm, at 5920 N. Owasso Ave. one block west of Peoria Ave. behind the Tag Agency and near Cherokee School. Please share this with others and bring friends, or just the curious...

 This Epiphany Sunday Jan. 6 it will be 10 years to the day since our first gathering of what is now known as The Welcome Table missional community; so many changes, so much incredible ministry, still beginning but worth celebrating; especially an invite to all who have ever worked with us or worshipped with us.

 In some ways we began in Weston, Mass in 2002 during the annual convocation of the Christian Churches within the Unitarian Universalist Association when during worship and on my knees with hands laid on me by ministers and those in attendance I was commissioned as an evangelist; this coming just two months after I had been officially ordained by All Souls Church in Tulsa. But church is not one person, even co-missionally, and so we really began as we, a group of nine half of whom had not met one another and one whom was supportive but only came to lend moral support, met Jan. 6, 2003 in our living room at the time in Owasso, OK and each week after that one place or another or day or another. First we were Epiphany Church and met in homes then motel banquet rooms in Owasso and at Panera Bread meeting room, then rented space at German Corner in Owasso; our first public worship was Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday 2003. We had 25 people on Easter; the Sunday after Easter we had three people. We could have stopped then, like so many church plants dying of a premature birth and inadequate leadership and limited resources and in a culture that didn't fit with us. But we continued to be open to where the Spirit of God would lead us, would need us, and so it was through many "deaths to what we had been", through many steep learning curves.

then in September 2004 in a re-start we moved to Turley, OK and the far northside of Tulsa in the 74126 zipcode and still at first as Epiphany Church and meeting on Sunday mornings, then on Sunday evenings; then we became The Living Room, all at 6305 N. Peoria Ave. in what was originally a mom and pop grocery store where they lived in the back, and now has been boarded up again for a few years like so many of our spaces here on North Peoria. But so much good stuff happened with us there, connections made, from there we began our guerilla gardening and got a grant for wildflowers on highway 75 to mark exits to our abandoned place, and started serving the students at Cherokee School then still open, and coordinated litter pickup days and painting over graffiti, etc. And we began our practice central of offering a common meal every time we gathered with and for worship;

In January 2007 we made our big missional transformative move at a time when we were losing our biggest contributor but felt called to serve our community and its severe needs of abandonment by renting a four times larger space across the street on North Peoria and opening up a community center with library computer center clothing room food pantry health clinic and gathering space, in which we began to worship rather than having separate worship space and we worshipped during the week and travelled to other churches to worship with them on Sundays especially the Church of Restoration our closest northside UU church. The center was called A Third Place Community Center and started embodying the concept of third spaces where people of great differences could come together for the common good, especially in an abandoned place of the Marketplace Empire, with people left behind and left out, in the lowest life expectancy zipcode in our greater area. We were still known as either The Living Room Church or sometimes as just Church at A Third Place.

In 2009 we completed the missional move by creating the separate non-profit A Third Place Community Foundation to connect with others and partner with them for renewal in our area, and to be the organizational wing of our mission, while the church became organic, incarnational, smaller so that we could keeping dreaming and doing bigger things. Which we did the very next year

In summer 2010 we bought the city block of abandoned homes and trash dump and transformed it into a community garden park and orchard, and called it The Welcome Table, after the demonstration garden spot across the street we had put in as partners with the local United Methodist Church on their property loaned to us. At the end of 2010 we bought the original Methodist church building which had been the largest abandoned building in our community for several years. In keeping a simpler and uniform name, we called the community center project also The Welcome Table as we had named the gardenpark and orchard project. And so when we moved into it our church/missional community became The Welcome Table, with the nonprofit organization still operating connected but separate from us as A Third Place Community Foundation, the umbrella for our several projects. In the future as we may spin off new projects and relocate them in new places to fulfill our mission.

But just Two years ago in January, 2011, then, we started our move to and reoccupying of the old church building originally built in 1925 on a site where there had been a church since 1909, where we currently remain, now with a much expanded food pantry and more space to add new programs like our art studio, and where our community events like the holiday parties grew in leaps and bounds to what they were in our previous rented space which had grown in leaps and bounds from what it was in our first rented space on North Peoria Ave.

When we moved to the old church building we worshipped on Sunday morning, though could also worship at the gardenpark or at our garden we had put in at the Cherokee School, or wherever our mission might take us. We had a main gathering that would start at 9:30 am with ingathering and sharing of lives and news, then move at no designated time into a study and sharing time often watching a progressive Christian video or discussing selections from books or bible study, then also at no designated time moving into worship time for communion and prayers, which might at times be interwoven into our common meal time which always follows. This has given people options to come into the group for any or all of the rhythms, including those who join us from other churches after their worship or who come for the meal time together only and may join us for worship or study if we are still engaged in it. Our motto was worship is more party than program. More like what we think it must have felt like when Jesus gathered people together wherever he was at meal time. Sometimes still we would go worship with other churches keeping our connection with them across denominational lines.

Now at the 10 year turning point we are going to be discerning again how to incarnate our vision of God's movement in our neck of the world, how to respond to grow deeper in the four paths of church: missional service with and for others, community covenanting and life together among us, developing and growing in discipleship or our personal faith formation, and grounding in worship and prayer. How can we grow leaders who will help us to go deeper along each of those four paths, and how can we share our ministry more, and how connect those four paths with a variety of folks depending on where they are in their spiritual journey? Can we help foster intentional community, new monastic community, bringing in new and more people into our core group, and still offer the permeable boundaries of community worship and service and study that welcome in folks who are either in other communities or are content with their involvement with us, who might only want to be with us either during the week or only at a more traditional Sunday worship time? Can we embody multiple communities connected together in a radical way, and grow leaders for each of them? Can we in the next 10 years start or inspire whole new missional communities in other places and ways both in our own area of service and beyond? Can we connect to and contribute to multi-associationally with national or worldwide religious groups, such as with the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Christian Universalist Association and the Christian Community Development Association and other missional church oriented groups that can help equip and put us and our neighbors in the service of God's mission?

Celebrating and sharing our past is a way to let it inform us but also to let the past be the past, and to remember the great risks we have taken during the past 10 years that have resulted in where we are doing what we are today, so that we can experiment and be radically risky in the years to come.

Come be a part of this pivotal moment this Sunday, ten years to the day since we opened our living room to see who might show up to begin dreaming of what might be. Especially if you have been a part of us in other way during these ten years, and may have moved on to another church or found another spiritual home, your presence with us has been monumental and we couldn't have come to this place without you. Come and let us remember together, and to celebrate your time and your presence, no matter how brief, with us. We have been blessed.

Follow us on facebook at revronrobinson or at A Third Place or at The Welcome Table Center...

Thanks, blessings, and more to come,

Ron Robinson, a church planter turned planter of missions that plant missions, in the abandoned places of the Empire.

 P.S. I hope to write more soon, though i have written in the past about it too, of that steep learning curve, and all the things I did wrong as a leader and church planter, both my first go around in 1991 and this time too. Just so the only inspiring things are not just the things that get lauded, for it is most often the other things, the missteps, that have had the most impact during these past ten years.

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