Evangelism is mutual

Wireless world, networked ministry: Part XI of a series

By Rev. Rick King

Much is changing in the institutional church today, and the pandemic sped up the change in the past year and a half. This is the last in a series of columns based on the book “The Digital Cathedral,” by Rev. Keith Anderson, to expand our concept of Church beyond the bricks-and-mortar, exclusive-membership, financial and flesh-and-blood institution we’re used to, allowing God to birth the NEW reality, already underway in the world.

It was evening, and I was sitting with a group of other pastors around a fireplace at the Western Christian Educators’ Conference in Lake Tahoe in 2009, listening to Emily Scott tell of the “dinner church” she was founding in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York–St. Lydia’s. She had a full-time gig as the director of worship at Riverside Church, but St. Lydia’s was her passion, as well as her side-hustle.

It’s named for Lydia in the book of Acts, a well-to-do fabric and dye merchant and early convert to Christianity in Thyatira, a city in Asia Minor and the location of a significant Christian church that met in her house. She also provided support and hospitality for the apostles Paul and Silas after they’d been released from jail.

St. Lydia’s was Emily’s vision of a Christian church whose central practice was hospitality. Each Sunday they gathered in the afternoon to prepare and cook a meal together, and that evening have it and worship together around a table that was open to anyone who showed up. It eventually grew to several tables and many people cooking dinner and celebrating the Eucharist or Communion, singing, praying, reading and sharing about Scripture.

St. Lydia’s continues to this day, even though Emily has moved to Baltimore to start another church. It’s significant because it fills a need for a space where all are welcome and the love of God gets shared freely and without strings attached.

In his account of Emily and St. Lydia’s in his book “The Digital Cathedral,” Keith Anderson relates something she said about the evangelism that happens at St. Lydia’s: “In a bar on the Lower East Side in New York City, the most powerful tool of evangelism is NOT inviting someone to church. In a bar on the Lower East Side of New York City, good evangelism does not have to be about preaching, proclaiming, pamphletting, or proselytizing. It is about relationships.”

Spaces of welcome and mutuality like St. Lydia’s are reshaping what we mean when we talk about evangelism. Anderson calls it “networked, relational, and incarnational.”

I call it evangelism UCC people can engage in with a clear conscience!

What are some new ways you envision we could provide spaces of welcome, belonging, and sharing the love of God without conditions?