An Unexpected Foray into the Community

Nina Lau-Branson

Our church had been awarded a worship grant to seek the reconciliation that the Lord’s Supper extends. A key part of the grant was the Session invited a group of 10 people, who reflected the diversity of the church, to explore what this might mean for the congregation.

This group met regularly to share a meal, share the Lord’s Supper and share testimony of a time of uncertainty when God had met them. The Lord’s Supper was shared with a liturgy which affirmed that as God had invited us into his fellowship, so we were invited to make room for each other with all our strengths and weaknesses. As part of the liturgy after the meal was received, one after another, each person invited the group to make room for the next person with all their strengths and weaknesses. A time of silence was entered to allow God to bring forward that person’s strengths and weaknesses and then the whole group declared, “Welcome!”

The group practiced time after time in sharing the Lord’s Supper and making room for one another with all their strengths and weaknesses. In the middle of the worship grant project, God invited the church to not only make room for each other but to make room for neighbors. As we explored reconciliation with each other around God’s Table, He surprised us with a much bigger picture of what He is doing and invited us to join.

An outstanding young man in the community around the church, Brandon Jackson, was murdered in a gang shooting. His family had no ties to a faith community but wanted the funeral to be in a church. No church was located for the funeral.

A church deacon, David Williams, had coached this young man and knew the family’s desire. Though the church did not have a relationship with the community, he decided to present the opportunity. Within a couple of days, the Session voted unanimously to have the funeral in the church sanctuary even though there was risk.

Because it was a gang related shooting and emotion were still running high, retaliation was a concern. City law enforcement contacted the church and committed to a presence around the church property the day of the funeral.

Church members committed to not just have the facilities used but to extending hospitality by being present to welcome, provide food and in other ways.

The community’s need to grieve together was evident. On the day of the funeral people from the community showed up hours before the funeral. So many people came that they overflowed onto an outside patio and overflowed into another room. During the service, in response to a call to “step into the light,” 80+ young people stepped forward saying they did want to make a change in their lives.

The church property is located in a community that had been one of the few neighborhoods that were available to people of Japanese descent to live in after WW II. The church community is historically Japanese American. At its outset, there were strong relational ties and overlap between the church community and the geographic community around the church property. Over the years many of the Japanese families had moved to other neighborhoods and new neighbors had moved in who were strangers.

Brandon’s family is our neighbors and they were strangers until a year ago. The sharing of sorrow and the wondering of what resurrection looks like in this situation is one we continue to hold with the family and the community and by which we are enriched.

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