I was a little bit anxious stepping into my first call as a pastor. This was a big deal. After months of meeting with the search committee and then preaching a sermon for the whole congregation, I was called to be the settled, full-time pastor of San Dimas Community Church United Church of Christ. This was an historic moment for the people of San Dimas Community Church as I was the first settled minister from the LGBT+ community. This was a bit step for a which which had voted to become open and affirming of the LGBT+ community only two years before.
Soon upon my arrival in February of 2016, people began to speak to me frequently about growing the church. Like many mainline protestant congregations, the glory days of the 1950s and 60s were long gone. They faced a visible decline in attendance and, subsequently, in giving which invoked fear in many of the members. I was hired as the young pastor to bring in the missing young people of the community which, unsurprisingly, didn’t exist in vast numbers. The community around them had changed and was growing older and more settled.
I think the congregation understood that growth in the 21st century would mean that some things would have to change, and many people wanted that kind of change. However, with an aging building, the aforementioned decreased in giving, and dwindling financial reserves, time was running out. The congregation had largely spent the last decade or so looking inward to heal from past trauma as a community, taking care of one another, and being a family which they loved. It was time to look outward again, but how?
Most people in the community knew where the build was, but had zero knowledge about the people inside and what they did. To make a three-and-a-half-year story short, we tried very hard to reach outside of our walls, but found that the reason the church was originally found—to be the church for everyone in a time 100 years before where there was no critical mass of any single denomination to form a church in a small citrus town—was a mission which no longer served the needs of the community. It had been fulfilled. So we made a bold decision to name that original mission as complete and to answer the call to take our message that God’s love is for EVERYONE without exclusion or exception to a new community where that kind of message was needed. So, in June of 2019 after 107 years in San Dimas, we sold the building and followed the Holy Spirit on a new mission.
This past Sunday was World Communion Sunday, the annual tradition of remembering that it is the table of Christ which unites us. In the retelling of the Last Supper from 1 Corinthians 11, we are reminded of the words of institution when Jesus speaks of his pending sacrifice. These words we say during communion are how we celebrate the time of remembering when Jesus gathered with is friends, his disciples, for the very last time. At Sacred Place, we believe that God’s table is open to everyone, regardless of background or belief. God’s love knows know boundaries, so why should our hospitality?
I’ve been reading the book Get Together by the folks over at People & Company. They have a podcast in conjunction with the book which is fascinating podcast and deepens the stories around building communities shared in the book. The very first chapter of the book reminds us that when we are creating community, we don’t build our communities for people. I think that’s the patter many churches fall into over time. It’s true of our former church in San Dimas. If we want to truly build a sustainable, thriving community, we have to build it with people, those with whom we want to do this thing called life. That’s exactly the work which Jesus did. We see it in the last supper when he gathered with those whom he called friends. He built this movement with those whom he loved. After he was gone, they were the ones to carry on the message and grow the Christian movement into commutes which spread through the Roman Empire and beyond.
As we follow where God is taking us—to create sacred places in Rancho Cucamonga—we must remind ourselves that we do so not to create a place for others simply expecting them show up. Instead we create our Sacred Place with those who want to build a different kind of Church—a church which welcomes those who have been told they don’t belong in other churches because of who they love, who their friends love, or they think God’s love is for. Our mission to create a just world where ALL are included in the family of God begins with one sacred place; a sacred place where we are trying to do things differently. A sacred place where we make room for people to find family and healing.
In our current political climate it’s easy to focus on the things which separate us from one another. The very idea of creating an inclusive Christian community is, unfortunately, inherently counter-cultural—not unlike what the early Christians faced. No one ever said it would be easy, yet it remains our calling. May we follow the Spirit of God faithfully, building a Sacred Place with those who need it most.
If you want to help us build that Sacred Place, you can join us in person on Sunday mornings, or connect with us online. Details are here on our website or @yoursacedplace on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.