Heidi A. Miller, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Christian Worship and a Leader at the Missional Wisdom Foundation (MWF). In this Encounter, she speaks to the way the MWF does community.
Amidst a decline in attendance, revenue, and buildings, the church has leaned toward an ever-increasing emphasis on budgets and programs. However, a fresh wind is blowing within and beyond the walls of the church, opening doors of new recognition. In a recent conversation across table with John Drane, theologian, writer, and church leader from Scotland, he reflected, “We have lost our sense of being community, even within our churches. We used to live in the same community in which we went to church, now we commute…even our pews keep us from being in community as we sit and face the front, in our own private world with God.” Another retired and prominent leader from within the Mennonite Church, said,
“I used to pray that God would protect us from what was around the church building and grounds. I think I got it wrong. Instead, I think I should have been praying that we listen to God and the community around us in order that something new can happen.”
His humbling confession has stayed with me to this day. It offers a doorway, not only for what I have been sensing for years, but also how the Spirit of God has been on the move, calling the church towards deeper engagement with one another and with neighborhoods around us.
The Missional Wisdom Foundation (MWF), is a nonprofit organization which experiments with, lives into, and teaches about micro-communities as a way of being church in the world.
Just as God became incarnate among us as Jesus moved into our neighborhood, so we embody the way of Jesus in the neighborhoods around us.
Within the MWF, this embodiment takes the form of the network of micro-churches called New Day, a cluster of new monastic houses called the Epworth project, pilgrimages, coaching, spiritual direction, partnership with Anchor churches, asset based community development, full empowerment for all expressions of disabled and non-disabled, community gardening, re-visioning the congregation and the building of the church through opening its doors to co-working spaces and beyond. We also provide long term and short term teaching programs that equip clergy and laity to start and lead these kinds of communities.
These are the greetings you may receive as you enter the doors of the Amani House, (translated as “peace”) an intentional community apartment of the Epworth Project in the heart of a refugee settlement in Dallas, Texas. Each Sunday, throughout the year, The New Day community gathers for a meal, worship, prayer, and communion of support, resourcing, and as the community says, being family.
What undergirds these communities? A Rule of Life, a commitment to a way of being in the world. This kind of rule is not meant to be a checklist for how you are measuring up. Rather, a rule is a tug towards a way of being in the world that tends to a holistic way of life patterned around love for God, love for neighbor, and love for creation. Based on the United Methodist baptismal covenant, the Rule includes: prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. This draws us to live out, again and again, our baptismal covenant to and with each other within community.
This stands in contrast to the illusion of connectedness that we have in our society through talking, texting, and social media on our cell phones, even as we sit across the table from someone in a coffee shop.
"We are bluffing," Jacque Ellul says, "bluffing with our technology, giving the illusion that we are in community." This is why we begin with prayer and presence in the Rule, calling us towards a contemplative, receptive awareness towards God, and which opens the door of our hospitality within the neighborhood, even in coffee shops!
Written by Heidi A. Miller, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Christian Worship
Leader, Missional Wisdom Foundation