The Spirits Whispers - Nicole Lamarche
One of the first signs of the Spirit's whispers appeared in doodles. The doodles began to appear in the margins of my many notebooks, like the way I would secretly crush on a boy in middle school, writing my name with his last name in all of the ways my hand could pen. I doodled names of a hip church, a church that I would attend even if I weren't the minister. I doodled slogans and jingles and words for banners that would invite people into this dream church. "Not your grandma's church (although your grandma would be welcome)." "Yes we believe in God, but She's not the Man you think She is." "The church you never thought existed." I had pushed aside the thought of starting a new church for a while, creating one obstacle after another in my mind, until a phone call from a friend. I had been in a time of deep discernment and God spoke through her, offering just the kind of clarity I thought only happened to other people. "I know you have been thinking about starting a new church. My husband and I have met with our financial planner and we would like to offer a $10,000 seed for you to do a new church start." I suppose God knows that anal-retentive people need not just a little sign, but something like a knock over the head, and I got it.
The Particulars of Planting Churches
Since that day, I have been in constant prayer, read as many books about church planting as I could find, interviewed church planters, attended the Center for Progressive Renewal's Church Planting 101 class, and talked with people of all kinds, including demographers, youth ministers, community organizers, church haters, and anyone who could offer insight for this endeavor. While my denomination has been supportive, I have learned that many well-meaning people know nothing about the particulars of planting churches. It is not the same as starting a second worship service, or improving hospitality, or reworking existing church boards. Often the names given to me as "helpful" people were enthusiastic, supportive souls who knew nothing about this unique kind of work. Quite a few people have even gone to great lengths to caution me that what I am doing is nearly impossible. I have been told that this area is too secular, too anti-institutional, too far gone from the era of church for even a progressive Christian community to thrive. While I agree with most of these assessments, I often smile inside knowing that this is just the group I am targeting: the young, rowdy, progressive bunch that believes the church to be too hypocritical, too boring, too dogmatic.
Hold onto the Vision
Most of my time in the past months has been spent in one-on-one visits with anyone and everyone who was willing to hear about the vision, offer wisdom, or share resources and contacts. After a series of encounters where I left feeling like maybe I was indeed crazy for thinking this was possible, I wrote the words, "Hold onto the vision" on an index card and stuck it in the corner of the mirror on my bureau. I want to remind myself daily that this vision is from God and might be appear strange to those who haven't spent time in my head and heart. I think of the church planters in Acts and how loony they must have appeared to the people with whom they shared the story of a new kind of community, a community grounded in the teachings of a guy who had died, a community that was beyond even what the planters themselves could imagine. So, even on the days when I feel overwhelmed by how much money I have to raise, or how far I have to go before this adventure will be considered a church, I have peace with the fact that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has connected hearts with God even when the people sharing the Good News have done it imperfectly.
Most of the United Church of Christ congregations in Northern California are in sync with people theologically, but not liturgically. I am convinced that, even if not all of the young, rowdy, progressive people in the Silicon Valley are intrigued by this new church, there are enough who are intrigued by the prospect of a spiritual community that is both radically welcoming and radical in worship. The churches that are growing tend to be the ones that meet people right where they are, using the language, media, and hospitality to which most of us have become accustomed in our everyday lives. I keep working, keep praying, and keep going because I believe that this church not only could exist, but also should exist. God longs to have a relationship with the group that has mistaken the church's failings for God's; She just needs a new venue to make it happen. For now, I am holding onto the vision, the vision of Silicon Valley United Church of Christ: bravely inclusive, boldly Christian, blatantly spiritual.