“Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” -Genesis 12: 1
The first time I sit with these people, it is on an old wooden pew in the middle of a sticky, Portland July. It is standing room only for anyone who arrives a few minutes late or has trouble finding parking in the hilly neighborhood that surrounds the white stucco building. Smashed next to friends and strangers, we sing songs I’ve never heard and everyone seems to mean their worship as smiles fill faces glistening with sweat—or maybe it’s the Holy Spirit. The hum of the fans in the aisles blowing warm air over hot bodies are drowned out by voices singing praise to the Lord Most High as multicolored sunlight filters through stained glass.
It is last Wednesday evening, and people are spread out along the purple and pink speckled pews, and the fabric is scratchy on my legs as I sit among familiar faces in the air-conditioned sanctuary under vaulted ceilings. It is our clothes rather than our sweaty faces and fan filled aisles that now belie the warm July weather waiting just outside the heavy wooden doors. Children, elders, pastors, and their families gather on stage as anonymous words of full of gratitude and story illuminate the pallet wall behind them. The band plays familiar songs, volunteers pass out maracas, shakers, and drumsticks to the kids, and voices, faces, and hands are lifted high.
My voice catches in my throat, trying to sing familiar songs, as I think of the years before the Old Laurelhurst Church, years unfamiliar to me, but I have heard the stories. Years spent in living rooms, basements, chapels, and a middle school marked by stories of not enough room, children’s ministry doubling with the addition of just a family or two, and a consistent and shared passion for Love and Grace lived loud in the middle of this city. I think of the years at Franklin, exile, is what Rick called them. Exiled far from the heart of the city by a city that didn’t really want us around, so that we could build a relationship with that same city. So that we could Love Portland, so that we could conspire together each Advent, so that we could grow individually, corporately, not just in number, but in faith.
I look over at the children piled in the front pew and sprawled on the floor, shaking their maracas and making joyful noise. Most are too young to remember the boiler room in Old Laurelhurst. Most won’t remember the colorfully partitioned gymnasium at Franklin crammed full of kids whose parents came and gave weekly to a homeless church far from the center of the city their Savior had given them a heart to love and serve.
Did Abram ever sit outside his tent as his barren wife slept inside, looking out at Canaan, imagining a land filled with his descendants, more numerous than the stars? Wondering at the course, even as he believed. Did Moses ever get tired of roaming a desert that should have taken Israel weeks, rather than years, to cross? Would these scratchy pink and purple pews be as comfortable if we had never known hard wooden pews and auditorium seats covered in profanity?
The journey to this building is beautiful, it is long, and each one of us can, if we choose to take the time, look back and see the ways in which God has used the journey of this Body to mark and shape our individual journeys. It is not the building that makes this moment in our history significant. It is the individual acts of faith that each one of us has lived out. It is the corporate act of faith lived out in showing up and participating each week, regardless of the location of the gathering. This moment in our history is significant because it reminds us of the One, and of the faithfulness of the One who called us to this Body, which now calls this building home.
*This post was written by Haley Cloyd, Imago Dei Community church member and high school ministry leader. To learn more about Imago Dei Community’s history in the city of Portland, check out this sermon by Executive Pastor Luke Hendrix.