Over the last few months I have become more and more aware of the development of myriads of experiments around what it means to do mission and so be church. Most of those experiments are purely local in conception and have not been inspired by any wider framework nor are they connected in anyway with broader networks.
Of course there are conceptual frameworks that seek to legitimize experimentation within denominational structures – Fresh Expressions in the UK is the best known of these frameworks. There are also some networks that seek to connect and encourage experimentation at a very local level – The Parish Collective in the USA is one of these.
Just recently I visited a couple of experiments in the Seattle area – two in particular stand out as fascinating attempts to rethink mission and church. I will write about one of these in a later blog but the one that occupies my thoughts at the moment – partly because I am having lunch there today – has taken the intriguing name Luther’s Table.
Luther’s Table is partly a restaurant, partly a coffee bar and partly a regular bar serving a wonderful selection of beer and other alcoholic beverages. That is the visible and very public manifestation of the project. Its actually part of a larger complex that offers housing for women who have been in situations of abuse and who are wanting to transition to different lives.
Worship takes place in this environment, open mic nights operate, evening discussions around theology and life (Theology Pub) happen on a regular basis. Gretchen Weller Mertes is the Mission Developer on the team and this is a conscious attempt to think about what mission looks like in the downtown area of Renton, a community near Seattle.
The story of the centre is that it was originally a traditional Lutheran Church which had declined to the point where it was facing closure. The original building has been taken down and replaced with a new purpose built facility. A team of workers and volunteers give the project a feeling of life and a certain “buzz”.
Its probably too early to say what is going to arise from this experiment. It is under the broad direction of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and locally is connected to another Lutheran church – St Matthew’s Lutheran Church. Visit the site and you will see that at one level they do not take themselves too seriously. I love the menu, check out the sandwiches: The Vicar, The Sinner, The Katy Luther and The Pope. I was a bit disappointed not to see a Melancthon Munchie but there is time yet. The spirit of playfulness extends to various aspects of their work but they are deadly serious about mission. This is an experiment I intend to watch and taste carefully and hopefully often.