As the multiple challenges of 2020 lengthen and deepen, and the pressures on pastors and church boards proliferate, it is helpful to hold onto some Biblical and theological truths and then follow those truths wherever they lead. Here’s one such truth, supported by creation accounts and the gospel witness: God loves the world more than God loves the church.
We would readily agree that God loves the church just fine. But “God so loved the world…” is a bedrock verse for every faith community. An important implication of this truth is that we are set free to look for God’s wisdom – and crucially, God’s activity – outside the church as much as inside. If we as churches continue to be self-referential even as we seek to re-introduce ourselves to our hurting and confused world, we won’t get very far. God loves the world more than God loves the church.
With that in mind, this week we take you to a Kansas diner.
The headline of the Washington Post story about Meg Heriford, owner of the Ladybird Diner in Lawrence, Kansas, read: Meg’s Choice: She could reopen her diner. But what about the hungry people she’s feeding? Like many other restauranteurs, during the first months of the pandemic Meg repurposed her closed diner to feed the homeless and hungry of her city and found an urgent clientele. Now, as her area has begun a cautious reopening, she is left with an agonizing choice. Re-opening the diner she has lovingly nurtured into life, and serving her long-term clients who are eager to return, would mean turning away from those coming for free meals in a county that reports 9100 people out of work and homelessness on the rise.
As the article describes:
In Lawrence’s downtown, nearly a third of the restaurants have either delayed reopening, reopened and then scuttled indoor dining — or closed altogether.
Heriford faced an agonizing choice — should she try to reopen Ladybird Diner as it was, and if so, what about the people she’s feeding — the newly destitute families who come shyly, pushing their masked kids to the front of the line? Or Jerry, the local busker who treats her to a slightly off-key serenade every day?
She’s been a small-business owner and a fixture in this Midwestern town for years, but now the pandemic had changed everything. And changed her.
“This is noble work, feeding people. I don’t want to cheapen it, to try to cram as many nickels as I can into the piggy bank,” she said.
But she also had her own family to feed.
Between Meg’s dilemma and her solution lies a challenging, riveting story that we commend to you. It is the story of how the Ladybird Diner Community Kitchen and Market – a combined community kitchen with a store selling produce and meals – is coming into being, even as Meg and her legion of followers are living through the grief of saying goodbye to the diner as she – and they – knew it.
She decided whatever rebirth would happen for Ladybird had to include Jerry and the rest of the hungry people she’d been serving.
“I can’t write them out of it,” she said. “Maybe it will work, maybe it doesn’t. But it definitely feels like it’s worth a shot.”
She went home and broke the news to her family over dinner and then emailed her staff.
“It’s time to say goodbye to what we were, at least for a while,” she wrote. Already, “I miss ‘us.’ ”
The way forward looked hard. There was not a five-year plan. There was not a six-month plan. Thirty days was all she could do.
A hard truth in this, as is noted in the conclusion to the article: There was no time to mourn. Outside, the regulars were lining up at the door, and they were ready to eat.
How is this story a parable for your congregation’s experience right now? How is it not?
How is your congregation re-writing its own story, in light of the current crisis?
What re-writes are currently on the table for consideration? How will you choose?
Who have you ‘written into’ your congregation’s story lately, that wasn’t in that story before?
Who have you chosen – or been pressured or even forced by circumstance – to “write out”?