At Circle of Hope, we have the advantage of being small (over 50 cells – circles of 10), medium (5 congregations of 100-200 people), and large (we get together several times per year). Some of our expressions happen when people form Compassion Teams (we have 20 right now) that lead the church in an effort according to the passions, gifts, and limits of the folks who lead. Our most recent Love Feast, where people from all cells and congregations gather, was an expression of the Holy Spirit breathing life into all levels of the body.
We held this summertime expression in a new park, Pennypack on the Delaware. As the name implies, this park is along the Delaware River, the namesake of the watershed of our church, along with 15 million other people. It begins in the Catskills of New York State, and includes 216 tributaries giving life also to parts of Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey before entering the Atlantic Ocean. Back in 2008, this beautiful public green space became the first former industrial site to transform into a public park as part of Philadelphia’s Greenway Plan. When completed, our 18 mile stretch of bike path and park system will connect us to the 3,000 mile East Coast Greenway from Maine to Florida. This particular park is also tucked away behind three prisons. To enter it (unless you come by kayak or boat), you have to turn at the edge of the largest of the prisons and drive along one of the others before seeing the park or river.
Our Love Feast was about making public declarations of faith, identifying with the death and resurrection of Jesus through baptism in the Delaware River. One of our pastors spent a few minutes cleaning up Gatorade bottles and other refuse that the river carried to the shore. It’s the same waters that one of our leaders brings teenagers to sail the wooden boats he teaches them to build. Its health reflects the health of our region. It also became the location for life and death through visceral spiritual witness.
As we gathered to worship and receive new members of our covenant (we don’t have church membership), two compassion team leaders led us through litanies of place. When Kristen proclaimed “on the banks of the Delaware River, we pray…” we all responded with “You are alive and moving – join us into your Movement.” She mentioned facts about the waters, ecological dangers, spiritual metaphors, and how the people of our place called it Lenape Wihittuck for “the rapid stream of the Lenape people.”
As our battle ramps up against the fracking and pipeline projects known as the “Philadelphia Energy Hub,” we draw strength from the Great Water Protector. Andrew, one of the leaders of Circle Mobilizing Because Black Lives Matter, led us to consider what it means to worship in close proximity to three prisons. He gave theological underpinnings about freedom and captivity and made clear the school-to-prison-pipeline. We responded with “Deliver us, Lord, from every evil!”
We gathered around Christ’s table sharing in the communion meal. As we worshipped, we enjoyed another sense of place – the Holy Spirit located in us and our life together. The rest of the afternoon we shared a potluck meal and played games, other common practices as life in the Body. There are still more people out there who want to join this Movement, where joy and transformation are palpable and aplenty.