This past Sunday, I visited Presbyterian Church of the Covenant in Greensboro, NC. As I pulled up, I noticed their sign right away. “Inclusive, Open Minded, and Home For Your Soul: A Progressive Community.” Having gone to college only two blocks away, I smiled and figured that had to grab the attention of the students walking past on their way to and from campus. I also worried, wondering if this was just another ploy to reach out the students but didn’t actually match the congregation at all. I am so pleased to tell you that this is no ploy– this IS Church of the Covenant!
PCOC is a very unique and beautiful community of individuals of all backgrounds coming together over the course of two gatherings on Sunday mornings. This description of “Gatherings” has been intentionally chosen, recognizing that not everyone has come for worship but at the most simple level, all have come to be with one another.
The first gathering, while taking place within the sanctuary of PCOC, is not a religious one (although it is made clear that this is still a Christian Church). Individuals who come together identify as everything from Presbyterian to Atheist. Local musicians are invited to share their gifts with the community for ten minutes at the opening and close of the gathering (this week, I left with “One Love” by Bob Marley stuck in my head!). One individual serves as “Host” and welcomes the community to this time and space– “I hope everyone has had a great week and has been doing things that are good for you.” The Pastor, Rev. Mark Sandlin, then offers a reflection on a topic that is important to the community in this moment in time (this week he spoke about forgiveness and compassion) and the reflection is followed by a period of silent reflection. This past week, this portion of time also included communion– explained as a time when each of us expresses full compassion toward one another, serving each other as a unified community around a table of fellowship. Finally, a safe and open space is made available for anyone to ask questions or share their own thoughts on the theme of the day. This week, some of these reflections pointed toward a forgiving God while others reflected on the ways that they have seen forgiveness and compassion in their own lives and relationships- one person even sharing that after many years, this discussion helped him to finally understand why he has had a negative relationship with Christianity.
The second gathering follows a similar model, however this is the religious gathering complete with scripture, prayer, and communion at the Lord’s Table. A time of both silent and communal reflection is offered, once again allowing every voice to be heard as each person desires.
“Inclusive, Open Minded, and Home For Your Soul: A Progressive Community.”
Unique, powerful, life-shaping, and discerning. These are the words that I would love to add to the sign.
In a time when it seems that our communities are divided and broken in every way possible, I celebrate that Greensboro has this safe and open space for individuals to come to reflect with one another and to grow together.
In a place where it can seem that there is no answer for “the dying church” (read more of my thoughts on this in this previous blog) , I wonder if we can learn from these gatherings at Presbyterian Church of the Covenant?
As I reflected on this first gathering, I kept thinking “What is Church without all of the fancy language?” In my mind, church without fancy language is people gathering and loving, sharing and reflecting, serving and supporting. I saw more love and support in that hour than I see in some religious worship services. Stories were shared that I would never expect to come up without prompting on a Sunday morning, especially when there are guests– strangers– in the room, and each was greeted with an affirming and non-judgmental response.
One shared reflection sums up this unique and incredible gathering beautifully. Sharing from the book “The Shack” (Wm. Paul Young), one individual quoted from when Jesus was speaking with the main character, “I will walk any path to meet you.”
ANY path- traditional or contemporary, dark or well lit, religious or not… never alone, but always gathered together with one another; and whether we see it or not, know it or not, or believe it or not– always gathered with God. No fancy language needed.
Thank you, Presbyterian Church of the Covenant, for this beautiful reminder of how we can ALL gather with one another in a dark and divided time!
How do you gather with those who might not believe the same as you?
What space is opened for reflection and conversation in your congregation?
Rev. Jordan B. Davis