|There's a mountain to climb|
Pilot Mountain, N.C.
The pastor of Refuge Home Church in Durham is Megan Pardue, who was one of two Duke Divinity field education students assigned to the Rougemont Charge in the summer of 2011. I was her supervisor. I remember telling her she had the gifts and graces to be a pastor if she felt called in that direction; she wasn’t sure at the time.
When we met last spring, Megan was glowing, pregnant with her second child. Looking at her, I felt old. I wondered, for the hundredth time, if I have the energy to do something this different and new. Megan described the joys and challenges of worship and fellowship in a house church.
Refuge Home Church members worship in one another’s homes. Are they even members? – I don’t remember asking. Probably lots of them are worshippers without being members. They tend to be young and have children. The Nazarene fellowship doesn’t advertise, Megan told me. They are bursting at the seams, partly because of the small worship space, but also because of growth, which has been all word-of-mouth. She told me that newcomers don’t even typically use the website to find the late Sunday afternoon worship services, which change location every week. People are motivated to come, and so they figure it out.
Megan thought Aldersgate House’s biggest challenge would be changing to the different worship and preaching format required of a smaller, intimate worship space. She told me I would need to break out of my dependence on what we Duke Divinity graduates call the “well-crafted sermon.” She wasn’t sure I could do it.
Well, I’m teachable, I argued. I can learn! What’s so hard about it?
She explained, and my understanding of the preaching experience at Refuge Home Church goes like this: Megan sits in a chair and holds a cup of coffee in one hand, a Bible in the other. Everyone finds a seat in the living room. She reads the scripture and expounds a little on it. She then opens it up to the group. Part of the challenge is getting people to talk honestly, which requires a level of trust in the group. Some of the best discussions have allowed people to talk about how scripture can seem not to have been true for them – illustrating that the kingdom of God is also “not yet,” she told me. Could I tolerate that? Could the congregation?
Could I let go of the well-crafted sermon? Could I gently direct a topic that is getting dominated by one or two people, but also not control the conversation? There’s an art to it, apparently. And no, it’s not the same as a good Bible study, she replied to my wondering.
Every Sunday at Refuge Home Church, the conversational sermon is sandwiched between a covered-dish dinner and Communion. Singing and praying are a part of the worship service, too.
Newcomers don’t sneak in and out of the worship service the way they do in traditional church, Megan explained. They come for dinner because the worship service starts with dinner. They get to know people in a way that’s unlikely in a typical traditional service.
One of the most interesting aspects of Refuge Home Church is the portability of the service. The Sunday service moves around, and not just to people’s homes. The church supports prison ministry, and so periodically, they take their worship service to a prison. This is not an additional service attended by a handful of dedicated souls, but THE Sunday worship service. I was impressed, thinking of the ways a healing ministry, should Aldersgate decide to embrace it, could be moved around to hospitals and nursing homes as THE Sunday service.
My meeting with Megan left me feeling both excited and scared, which translates as “unsettled.” If I hadn’t continued to feel, in prayer, that God was leading Aldersgate and me in a strange new direction, I would have chickened out. I was often tempted to chicken out. I still am! Prayer keeps me focused. And my, how things keep changing.