Sunday, August 12, 2012

church (outside the box)

Church Under the Bridge, Waco, TX
(guest post)
By Jimmy Dorrell
Marriage Counseling at the Gas Station

With a church congregation like Church Under the Bridge (Waco), there are plenty of issues and challenges that seminary never could have prepared me for. 

Besides our wide range of constituents who worship with us who come from addictions, prison, unemployment, homelessness and mental illness, there are also the challenges of being a multi-cultural, mixed-class, and outdoor congregation, any of which could cause a new pastor to return to his former job as a real estate broker. With weekly set up in the dirt and gravel,  18-wheel truckers roaring overhead and inclement weather that swings from very hot to very cold, it was clear my theology classes never addressed the unconventional “ecclesial” logistics where other kingdom stuff happens.

For example, several in our worship services talk while I preach, dance when we sing, and smoke during the service. (Why would I ever want go back to my boring middle-class piety when so much is going on that I don’t want to miss?) Not so long ago, one of our new Christian musicians who grew up outside the church, sang a Beatles song for his special music. I never got that in my home church. As a kid growing up in the 60’s this seemed to have some resonance with us left-over hippies. After all, “Lean on Me” is pretty good hermeneutics! (Not so much “Stairway to Heaven”).

Interruptions in traditional church happen when someone sneezes loudly. Not so under a bridge. With sirens blaring, more than once we’ve had an ambulance rush into the middle of the service when one particular woman laying on the ground was sure she was having her end-of-life heart attack. By the third time it happened, no one even looked back as they sang and worshipped. She is still with us these many years later.

Even the living metaphors during our worship services are ironic. Two weeks ago, while I spoke about non-violence, the children in our church were hammering away on a piñata a few feet away. I honestly think I would have been with them instead of listening to my own boring sermon, especially since there’s candy at the end. 

A couple in our church, planning their wedding, asked me to counsel them so I would perform the wedding. (We’ve had over forty weddings under the bridge, but that’s another story!) Like others, this counseling session had a few hurdles to overcome. He only speaks Spanish and she only speaks English...(don’t start asking me for details!). And since he works from 7:00-7:00 every day of the week, just finding a time to meet with them created difficulty. So this morning, bright and early at 6:15a.m., with a translator alongside, we met on W. Waco Drive and stood in the parking lot of the Fina gas station to do marital counseling. It was a powerful moment as we talked about God’s transforming love and how necessary it is for healthy marriages. 

And as I stood there in the dawning sun with mosquitoes eating me alive, between translations, I silently laughed at the whole experience. I never imagined that saying “yes” to God  many years ago would include so many out-of-the-box adventures of loving people who seem so different in many ways, yet really so much the same as me. 

Far from the padded pews and steeples I grew up around, I have found joy in parking lots and under bridges which have become the intersections of life among so many who desperately want the same love and respect we all do. I have discovered sacred places in bars and housing projects. I have watched the Spirit reconcile relationships, convict of sin, and bring tears of joy in places I never imagined. Whether jail cells or strip joints and in dark places, Jesus seems to show up... even in gas stations early in the morning. What a God!

You are welcome to attend the wedding. It’s under the bridge after the worship service.

(The Dorrells are the real deal. To learn more about this work or to encourage them with your prayers or a financial gift, go here.)