FUMC Rocky Mount has hosted a “Monday Morning Community Breakfast” for the past five years. Every Monday at 7 a.m. homeless people, housing-challenged individuals, working poor, and members from FUMC gather for a hot breakfast, fellowship and devotion. We sing, pray, share, listen, and experience God’s presence. Over the past year, one particular church member has been very intentional about bringing her six-year-old daughter, Annie, to sit and interact with those gathered.
In September of this year, FUMC had a “Discipleship Weekend” that focused on what it looks like to become an apprentice of Jesus Christ—someone imitating the ways of the Master. To our surprise and delight, a dozen individuals who normally only come to the Monday Morning Community Breakfast came to this retreat. At the closing lunch on Sunday, several of them were sitting together at a table. But they weren’t the only ones at that table for six. There, sitting by herself with them, was six-year-old Annie. Across from her sat Tom, a middle aged-man with a long, white beard. Beside her sat Debra, an African American grandmother and her granddaughter. Across the table diagonally sat Richard, who had just come out of the homeless shelter, and Bob, dressed in jeans with holes in the knees. There was no sense of insecurity, no look of discomfort on her face—just joy. Annie sat there at that table like it was the most natural thing in the world–making conversation and smiling at her friends as they all ate together. It was one of those “Kingdom moments”—the kind I imagine brings a smile to God’s face. This was just the beginning.
A few days later, I received an email from Annie’s mother. It said that later Annie had asked her if they could let some of her new friends stay at their house where they “could be warm during the winter. “ After some back and forth conversation in which her mother had to explain to a perplexed six-year-old why they couldn’t have everyone live with them, Annie decided that she could help by collecting warm blankets, jackets, and socks. Annie then shared her idea with her elementary school teacher. The elementary school teacher was so moved that she invited the whole class to be involved. In the teacher’s lounge, that teacher shared what her class was doing. The principal was so moved that the whole school decided to participate in the drive. “Can we set up a bin in the church to collect?” the email concluded. How incredible! From a six year old sitting at a table making friends…to a classroom…to an entire school and church!
It is amazing what God can bring into being from just having the courage to develop relationships with people—especially with those different from you. Part of what drives a missional community and a missional church is the persistent effort to develop relationships with people. It sounds simple and obvious, but relationships lead to new and relevant ideas. We often try forcibly to manufacture an idea and hope that it leads to relationships, growth, or a desired outcome. (“If we build it, they will come.”). Instead, they can miss the mark because they are not grounded in the reality of the neighborhood or the community they are supposed to influence. Annie’s story reminds me that it often works better the other way around. We are, after all, a sent people. When we first develop relationships with people with nothing more than an agenda of just getting to know them and befriend them, God uses those developing relationships as a kind of fertile ground to grow ideas and vision. Who knows where this blanket and sock drive will lead next? It has certainly united a church and a school around a particular mission. What if more churches operated on a large scale like Annie did? What missional ideas and visions might sprout from the fertile ground of relationships?
Author, Tyler Williams is the associate at FUMC: Rocky Mount. He is a participant in the New Faith Community’s AXIS Learning Community for Spiritual Entrepreneurs.