Truth be told, over the past seventeen years we have struggled to figure out who we are. As in, what exactly is Circle of Grace? It requires enough thinking to make my head hurt.
We are the same thing now as we were in the beginning, it just takes years to let go of assumptions and preconceptions and live into our organic reality. When we first started we wanted to be a church- and we are a church- but over the years we have had to redefine what 'church' means- or at least challenge our individual and collective ideas about what it means. Maybe we are closer to being a spiritual community. Because we are not connectional or denominational how we define ourselves is not preset.
This is what I know:
We will never own a building.
We will never have programs that involves teams or sports.
We will never be large.
We will always be intimate spiritually and personally.
None of this is easy.
I confess that my struggle is often with internal formless expectations. For a long while I thought that our goal was to grow and become self-sustaining. I hoped for a membership large enough to support my addiction to ministry so that I could pastor Circle of Grace as my full time calling. It is my full time job but the work doesn't support me financially. (I'm not talking about making $30,000 a year, but just enough to sustain a simple life style.) I'm pretty sure that will never be the case. My struggle/problem for years has been that it must mean I'm not doing something right. Why aren't we growing into something financially viable? Why can't the community support its pastor? Why can't we have our own building?
I admit, as pastor, there are probably lots of things I haven't done right. I have been on the longest, steepest, seventeen year learning curve that has ever been devised. But I don't believe it is any of my shortcomings or mistakes have hindered our 'growth'.
Instead, I have come to believe that we are called to be is spiritual healers in a world filled with spiritual abuse. That's who we are. We gather in folks who long for a way to connect with Godde, whose Christian grounding is important to them, but who have experienced judgment, abuse, discrimination, sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, ageism, or ableism in the name of all that is holy.
Who we try to be, who we feel called to be, is a reflection of the kin-dom of Godde. Our perenneal question is: who is not at the table? Most recently, we are aware that we need more men and more heterosexual people sharing the bread and wine. How do we get all kinds of people at our table, in community, sharing life? The short and long answer is that we try to make a safe space. If you come, all of who you are will be welcomed. A challenge? Absolutely. But we have managed to be safe haven for people with mental health challenges, physical disabilities, different races, genders, classes, understandings...
Those who leave are often those who are uncomfortable with differences - both in the expression of humanity and in the variety of theological understandings.
So we are kin-dom builders. In our small way, in the cosmos of our community, we work to live out the kin-dom within and between us. It is our holy work. And frankly, it's not work that is ever going to draw in the crowds, not work that is ever going to attract big givers or appeal to those who desire the absolute sureness of their beliefs.
We are a church, a spiritual community, a gaggle of stragglers, visionaries, dreamers, mystics, scholars, laborers, and seekers struggling to be Godde's dreaming enfleshed in the world.
It doesn't pay well.
It is not self-sustaining.
It is not large.
It is not easy.
But it is a life-giving, soul-healing opportunity to live authentically.