Church At The Park
Church at the Park
The sign reads “Church at the Park”, but a nondescript driveway along a road full of other nondescript driveways is all we see. Where is the church? Where is the park?
As we pull up to the former Oregon Jaycees building a few cars doubling as homes come into view, and then a flurry of activity. People walking back and forth, some carrying boxes, others holding doors, others cuddling dogs or engaged in conversation. Where was the line of those in need waiting to be served a meal? Where was the silence as they ate hunched over their plates? Where was the shame so often associated with homelessness? None of this. Instead there was leadership, ownership, and an energy born out of a sense that this was theirs. And it is. Theirs.
That’s the most amazing part of the story. Dozens of people served by dozens more, all members of one community, one family, one church.
We park our car and walk up to the doors and immediately we are guests, welcomed into the embrace of a place being formed and shaped by the same people it seeks to serve.
How does this happen?
Twelve years ago a few people in Salem including DJ and Gabi Vincent started their ministry with a novel approach…they listened. This may seem like an obvious place to start when seeking to serve, but for the vibrant community that now exists at Church at the Park, this was the choice that made all the difference. Listening before doing takes patience and courage. It requires those with privilege to humble themselves, give away their power, and let go of their own vision for how they will serve.
The way Gabi and DJ started was in some ways the hardest part…they gave themselves to a community. They fell in love with that community. They offered up themselves in service to the dreams of those they loved. In doing this Gabi and DJ allowed the stories and desires and dreams of those experiencing homelessness in Salem, Oregon to determine their path for the next decade.
This path has not been a straight line and that doesn’t seem to matter. What matters is that Gabi and DJ are free to love their community and seek its peace. Their freedom is grounded in the practice of listening to the hopes and dreams of others, especially those that have been placed at the margins in their community. This practice builds the trust that in the “other” they will find the familiar embrace of the One who is with us, with all of us.
Scripture is not clear about what Jesus was doing for the first 30 years before he launched his public ministry, but Church at the Park makes it easy to imagine that he spent that time listening to the people he had come to serve. How else does one change the world?
How are we being asked to offer up our dreams into the hands of those we seek to serve?
Stories that remind us what is possible when leaders undergo the Incarnational Movements.