It was a pivotal moment late 2017 when our friend, Foye Belyea. shared a passage that he believed the Lord led him to give us: Joshua 3. It was our time to step into the Jordan. As a church plant, we had been meeting in a home for two years, trying to figure out how to do this well. Outnumbered by kids by about a 2:1 ratio, our worship experience was as joyful and as taxing as parenting is in the early years. Kids leading prayer time, kids puking during communion. Joyful noises during singing, tantrum screeching during the message. Our more than patient and supportive team was willing to endure as we learned, but after almost two years, we felt like our wheels were spinning. Who were we as a church? What was our vision? How would we meet and incorporate newcomers? Some of us were running on spiritual fumes. I was battling depression and anxiety, and wondering if we could keep it going. I wasn’t sure. I was seriously considering retreat.
The fresh air came in several forms: Foye’s timely word, dear friends coming alongside to partner with us, and a God-ordained vision to not retreat, but to reset. What would a new chapter of church planting look like if we allowed God to re-shape who we were, and how we engaged each other and our community?
For years, we had tried to understand what our former District Superintendent, Ves Sheely, had meant when he encouraged us to think about church planting as pictured in Luke 10, specifically looking for houses of peace and proclaiming the Kingdom in places that are welcoming to our presence. It seemed so hard to mesh this vision of church life with the traditional structures and methods that we had come to know in a lifetime of church experiences. Our default was to do what we’d always done, and yet we sensed the Lord was calling us into an expression that was a “new wineskin” of sorts. We looked around at the places we had been serving and that had welcomed us: a local nursing home, and a homeless shelter. We realized we had already found houses of peace that we were engaged with, but that something about our meeting in the home for weekly worship wasn’t translating in our community.
We decided to begin renting space in a very popular downtown area in southern Rhode Island. We were within walking distance of the homeless shelter, and friends that we had met there starting meeting with us weekly. Our identity began to materialize as we realized that the Lord was coordinating appointments and locations for us.
After about a year in our new space, physical issues in the building left us quickly displaced, and just as we thought we were “settled in,” we found ourselves without a home. Very quickly, the Lord catalyzed another house of peace for us in the YMCA. The Y invited us to come and use their community room for our worship times, but has also asked us to be involved in other ways, including speaking at their summer camp and mentoring teens. The YMCA is very much a hub for community activity, and we have been so pleased how God has taken what seems to be speed bumps, and turned them into wide open lanes for ministry.
On Easter Sunday of this year, the YMCA was closed, so we needed to find a place for worship. A local apple winery that several of us had made connections with invited us to use their space for Easter worship. The owners have since invited us to consider meeting there regularly. Another potential house of peace.
Our time at the local homeless shelter and soup kitchen has given us such a rich opportunity for ministry. We had the privilege of marrying a believing couple that had been staying at the shelter, and are now on their own and hosting Bible study and prayer in their new honeymoon apartment. A couple of Sundays ago, the majority of adults in Sunday worship were either from the shelter, or recently connected to it. Among those friends, God has been gracious to answer prayers for inner healing and or freedom from some addictions. We are all grateful for the favor that He has on his children. The Lord has been brilliantly piecing together a mosaic from what seems at times to be a mess.
We praise God for all of your support, prayers, and partnership. We take heart in the fact that even though our abilities may be wanting, our vision may be shortsighted, and our fervor at times seems to wane, He is building His church, and establishing it in His power and strength, and not ours. We’re grateful too, for the presence of our children in church, who still lead us in prayer and worship, and also remind us of His faithfulness to use us and delight in us, wiggly as we may be. —Brian Browne, Pastor