Potluck | July 1, 2016

Our tiny, enormous congregation

Our congregation is small. By some standards, it might even be considered tiny. On any given Sunday, there might be 20 or 30 people in worship, and half that in Sunday school. It’s a small congregation. But our congregation is also mind-bendingly enormous.

For example: every week, I sit in Sunday school with 5 or 10 people. A few weeks ago, I realized—with an actual, physical start—that our tiny group of Brethren gathered around the scriptures included people born in five countries on four continents.

I began to pay attention to the ways our congregation is intimately connected to places very far away. Our prayer requests include people on three continents. One of our members might be in China or Romania or Costa Rica when we gather for worship. Because of the passion we share for international students, refugees and cross-cultural conversation, we regularly enjoy visitors who’ve only recently arrived here in the United States. When I asked for volunteers to read the Pentecost scripture in many languages this spring, people responded with offers to share in nearly a dozen different languages—languages that are already present among us every week.

Last month, at our coordinating council meeting, we talked about how we’re really interested in finding more intentional ways to foster connections of depth and joy among our community, to capitalize on the gifts of being such an intimate group. At that same meeting, we approved a request to share our building with a Korean Presbyterian congregation, considered how that would affect the Chinese language school that meets there, and began the process of turning a burgeoning desire to befriend recent local refugees into an active involvement. We are tiny, yes. And we are also enormous.

Parker Palmer, a Quaker teacher and author, says that the heart of human experience is paradox: not consistency, not chaos, but a deep truth that comes from peering in and through a thing that appears, at first, to be a contradiction. This is a familiar concept for Christians. After all, didn’t Jesus preach that the one who loses her life will find it? Didn’t Jesus talk about the last being first and how his yoke was easy, his burden light? The Christian life is filled to the brim with paradox.

That’s helpful, because I can think of no other way to express the surprising beauty I find in our tiny, enormous congregation. We are small, yes, but our community extends around the world. That seems, at first, like a contradiction. But in Christ, all things are possible. In Christ, the weak turn out to be the strong ones, the blind are the ones with the best vision, the neglected become the locus of community, and tiny congregations turn out to contain enormous realities.

Dana Cassell is pastor of Peace Covenant Church of the Brethren in Durham, North Carolina. She also writes at danacassell.wordpress.com