|Walking on a snowy road can be both beautiful and slippery|
Bunny Road in Rougemont, NC, after a snow storm
Reactions to the idea of “Aldersgate House” have been interesting.
Some people get excited about the possibilities, but a significant number are perplexed or confused. No matter how many times I explain it, or put it in writing (see http://methodistfindinggod.blogspot.com/2017/07/aldersgate-house-prototype.html ),
they remain confused. Maybe it’s too far out of the box to imagine. Perhaps it must be lived into. Several people persist in repeating they are turned off by the idea of “worshiping in someone’s living room” even though the “great rooms” we have looked at in various houses are beautiful and spacious. One member said she did not relish more intimate worship services nor did she want to share meals with “those people.” One shut-in member responded by shaking her head and repeating, “It’s just soooo sad!”
Sad is the last thing the Aldersgate House is, to me. It’s scary, maybe; intimidating, for sure; exciting, yes; but not sad. “Sad,” to me, is witnessing the struggling remnant of a church wrecked by its own history.
Not many pastors know about the idea of Aldersgate House because my experience at Carr UMC taught me that pastors tend to be pessimistic and overly cautious about out-of-the-box ideas. I have a wealth of pessimism and caution of my own and don’t need to add to it.
I was completely ignorant of “house-church,” but I researched on-line as well I as could. I failed to find any United Methodist house churches (meaning: sacramental house of worship); our denomination favors a traditional church model. UM churches tend to have a sanctuary with pews facing forward, focused toward a pulpit, Communion table (which probably gets used once a month), and baptismal font (which typically gets used far less than the Communion table). Our churches have educated, trained, paid clergy who have expected tasks within the church. Worship tends to be passive for most of the laity. UM churches typically have Sunday morning worship, Sunday school, age-level programs, committees, set ministries – and a need for enough money to pay for all of it.
House churches attract newcomers who want an alternative to traditional church. They don’t find the spiritual formation and intimacy they crave in traditional church, so they look elsewhere. They want Communion more than once a month, interactive “conversational” sermons, and weekly fellowship meals. They want fellow worshipers to be “real,” to share details of their lives, and to offer genuine friendship. The research said they dislike giving money for the upkeep of a building and prefer their offerings go to meet local needs.
I felt – still feel – uneasy that Aldersgate, as it currently exists, is exactly the sort of church these kinds of seekers are trying to avoid. I hope that being located in a house, having a specific shared ministry with a focus on healing, and hosting an intentional living community will be enough to change everything.
Most house churches fail, and usually because of disorganization. The leader is often underpaid and untrained theologically and liturgically. In the absence of good leadership, the most needy, talkative people tend to dominate the worship service. If the leader is a pastor, he or she often becomes resentful about working long hours for very little pay. A typical house-church moves from house to house of its own members; the size of the worship space limits the number of worshipers. Jealousy can develop over whose homes host frequently and whose do not.
In my research, I discovered one house-church in Durham: Refuge Home Church (www.refugehomechurch.org ), a Nazarene fellowship whose pastor is – surprise! – a former Duke Divinity field education student I supervised when I was pastor of the Rougemont Charge. I contacted her, and we arranged to meet.