In the late 70s and 80s, Tony and I lived in the East End of London, an area of London where people ended up when there was no place lower to go. (The PBS series, “Call the Midwife” took place right where our medical practice was. We were there a couple of decades later, but most of the same socially deprived conditions still existed. That part of London has since become gentrified.)
We experienced a remarkable move of God while we were there. It was characterized by community. We lived “from house to house.” Most of us with homes had other people living with us as part of our families. We shared cars and lawn mowers. I never knew how many people would turn up for our evening meal and so usually cooked for around 10 people–it was rare that we didn’t have that many. We had different home groups meeting on many streets in the area–at one time or another, 17 contiguous streets had home groups. When one of Tony’s patients became a follower of Jesus, there was usually a group within a street or two of where they lived to refer them to. You couldn’t leave our house and walk to the nearest subway station without meeting other believers. And people became followers of Christ.
I’ve never experienced community like that again.
Until a few weekends ago, that is.
I had been invited to do a Black Swan Effect round table for a network of house churches called Common Thread in Birmingham, AL. What Tony and I experienced there was hugely encouraging–especially since I’ve been asking the Lord what he’s doing with simple/organic/home churches around the nation, and sensed him telling me to look at the situations where we were invited to speak.
A group of around 150 people live in the inner city, sharing their lives together. Most of those with homes have others living with them as part of their family. They have more than 25 “micro-churches.” Some of these are in homes, others in businesses, others out in the community. They share their faith in an incarnational way on a daily basis. They have started businesses like lawn care and house cleaning to help those who cannot find employment–a great way to disciple new believers. They have homes for single guys who need help getting off drugs. They are about to start a home for pregnant unmarried women. They have a coffee shop, which is now the number one coffee shop in their city, with an associated coffee bean roasting business. They use fair-trade coffee which has necessitated them visiting the coffee plantations in Indonesia, and they are about to send their first “missionaries” to work there. The “Hub” is a shared space for several of their businesses.
Their sense of community is awesome! Although two or three families live in the suburbs, some of them live in the very poorest area of town. They hang out and play football in the local park, getting to know the local residents who now accept them as part of their community.
We felt right at home. An awesome expression of the body of Christ.
And, by the way, the round table went great too.