People on the street approached the woman speaking on the corner. Some quickly moved on, but others lingered and listened as she proclaimed words of hope and love until she closed with, “Amen,” and began to greet those who had stopped and listened.
That was the image of the priesthood which I visualized from the very beginning of my discernment, when I was a painfully shy young teen. Even though I could barely bring myself to speak to a stranger at the time and although I am a cradle Episcopalian, I never imagined myself in a pulpit. My preaching was always on a street corner preaching a message of hope and love to people who would probably never enter the doors of a traditional Episcopal parish.
This marked the beginning of exploration in my faith and tradition to find an intersection between the beauty of the Episcopal liturgy and seekers who feel abandoned, excluded, or unwelcomed by the church. Last Fall, I formalized my exploration in a grant proposal spanning work in Kenya, the United States, and my home diocese of Kansas.
The Seminary Consultation on Ministry (SCOM) awarded a grant which funds my international work, and my sending parish, Saint Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Mission, Kansas, provided funding allowing me to explore alternative ministries more locally. Particularly, allowing me to spend several days in Houston, Texas, visiting Saint Isidore’s Episcopal Church.
Saint Isidore’s provides a variety of ministries, all wrapped around the Episcopal liturgy. House Communions, free haircuts, free meals, free laundry, Pub Theology, Coloring Church, Taco Church…the entire community is an experiment in radical generosity. One ministry which is particularly stirring is Warrior Church. The setting is a gym, and the attendees are ex-military and first responders. People who have performed bravely in serving our common good, but who have been left with Post Traumatic Stress Injury and need a place where body and spirit can be brought back together. We opened in prayer and moved on to making full use of the gym where we met. After a full body workout, we gathered in a circle for Morning Prayer. Rarely have I felt the strength of the Holy Spirit as I did that morning.
But what really struck me was not just the great ministries, but the generosity of the people of St. Isidore’s, the Rev. Sean Steele, who leads the community, and Jason Evans, the Diocesan Missioner for Missional Communities. I came from a corporate environment where innovative ideas are held closely. The blessings and grace I received from the open sharing and willingness to spend ridiculously generous amounts of time with me served as a reminder that doing the work of Christ is proclamation which transcends the pulpit. As soon as I arrived, I felt warmly welcomed in a uniquely beautiful community of Christ. The time Jason, Sean, and the people of St. Isidore’s spent with me was a gift of love and the Holy Spirit. I have an ever-broadening community of Christ, and as I move forward with my ministry, every one in the community of St. Isidore’s will be there with me.
The ability to build a community without the expense of a church building is a desperately needed model in many contexts. Not only does it provide a means of creating community for those who are unable or unwilling to attend a traditional church building, it provides a solution for those parishes that can no longer afford the upkeep of a building. It is a reminder that we are people of Christ, not of architecture. Our God transcends the walls we have built, our faith is too big to be gated in. There will always be a place for soaring church towers, but there is also a place for the living room, the gym, the food truck, and the street corner. So, when you see the woman speaking the Word on a street corner, stop and listen. If the words you hear are words of love, grace, generosity, and hospitality, who knows? It might be me and I would love to greet you in the name of Christ.
Jennifer Allen is a Middler in the Master of Divinity program from the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas.