Thinking Out Loud

July 6, 2020

Pages from a Church-Planter’s Diary

Review: Why Would Anyone Go to Church? A Young Community’s Quest to Reclaim Church for Good by Kevin Makins (Baker Books, 2020)

Kevin Makins has assembled the story of planting Eucharist Church in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada so vividly, that there were times I felt I could actually smell the buildings and hear the floors creaking in a succession of five inner city locations.  Eucharist Church is located in the urban core of a city that is now part of what is called the GTHA — the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area — and the book is packed with insights and practical lessons for anyone who wants to do ministry in the inner-city. Learn more from the publisher about the book at this link. Follow Kevin on Twitter at this link.

As I mentioned here just days ago, the period post-2000 brought a bounty of church growth books and no end of people making the attempt to create alternative church experiences that would make it past the critical five-year mark. It had been a long time since I’d looked at this particular book genre, but after some superficial email exchanges with Kevin about book publishing and distribution, something drew me to ask the publicist if any print copies were still available.

I’m so glad I did.

Why Would Anyone Go to Church? arrived on a Tuesday, but I didn’t pick it up until Friday. Before suppertime on Saturday I had consumed its 192 pages. The chapters are somewhat equal parts story and teaching and the story also resonated because my youngest son now lives in Hamilton, where he’s involved with two very different churches in the urban core so it was somewhat easier to picture the environs where the story takes place.

The story is told with generous amounts of humility. That the church has existed in five different locations in ten years offers one indication how it would be hard to proceed otherwise. But Kevin and his wife Meg also demonstrated great resolve and self-awareness as to what projects to accept and which ones to pass, as various opportunities arose. Their giftedness for such a church as this is evident, even if a ‘professional’ team of church planting experts didn’t agree.

Eucharist Church clearly lacks the homogeneity you see in the sprawling suburban churches conveniently located at the intersection of two freeways with a massive parking lot for Becky and her husband to park their van and take their well-dressed 2.4 children to a very age-specific Christian education program tailored just for them.

Rather it’s a mix.

Kevin writes,

Part of our family is toddling. They help us not to take ourselves too seriously.

Part of our family is married. They practice love together for the sake of the community.

Part of our family is single. They strengthen the bonds of friendship.

Part of our family is contemplative. They model how to listen.

Part of our family is faith-filled. They urge us to keep hope alive.

Part of our family is doubting. They remind us that skepticism has its place.

Part of our family has immigrated. They carry in their bodies and culture a different side of the Imago Dei.

Part of our family is queer. They remind us that God is found uniquely among those who don’t fit neatly into our societal boxes.

Part of our family is building its career. They teach us about the importance of work and hustle.

Part of our family is retired. They remind us that there is life after work.

That list just scratches the surface.

It includes people who technically speaking, don’t actually come, at least to weekend services. It includes people who only show up after their latest relationship has crumbled, stop at the church for a reset, and return when the next relationship has collapsed.

The cycle of any given year might include a children’s ministry for which no children show up. Or a Sunday service where everyone stretches out on the pews and shuts their eyes and snoring is absolutely permitted.  Or perhaps a Sunday where, instead of a longer sermon, everybody just shouts out the name of the denomination or type of church they came from, and the list becomes quite lengthy.

It includes potluck dinners which are almost sacramental in nature, a statement I make in this context realizing it could be the subject of a whole other book.

Finally, it includes laughter; it includes tears. Sometimes a lot of tears.

This is church in the margins, the type of church I truly believe Jesus would choose to attend over the mall-like complex in suburbia; and this is a book about a team of people who were willing to risk and willing to get their hands dirty to make it happen.

I used an excerpt from the book last week at Christianity 201. I won’t say this is a typical passage, as I had to choose something devotional for C201, but I wanted to create further awareness of the book. You can read that section at this link.

To recommend a book like this and just continue to go on with Christian life as usual isn’t possible. I have the good fortune of being married to someone who herself demonstrated a great heart for people on the fringes and now serves a church that could hardly be called upscale. Before we got married, I spent several winters doing street ministry in nearby Toronto. Maybe that’s why I get this book.

You don’t need to travel to Africa to go to the mission field. My guess is there’s one not far from where you live.

A copy of Why Would Anyone Go to Church? was generously rushed to me by Graf-Martin Communications – Providing Integrating Marketing in Canada.

Additional media:

November 25, 2011

Unlike Keyboard, Piano Story Probably Not Black and White

I can already hear the cries of, “But, Paul; you don’t understand the big picture; there’s another side to this you have to consider.”

So let’s begin with the facts.  St. Andrew’s Church in downtown Toronto, Canada recently paid $100,000 for a Bosendorfer grand piano. 

Actually, that’s not fact, either.  The price of the piano was at least $100,000, but the exact amount is protected by a non-disclosure agreement by both the church and the vendor, Robert Lowry Piano Experts, also of Toronto. 

But can the church keep the secret?  By law, sometime in the spring the church has to have an annual meeting; copies of the budget need to be distributed and the purchase price of the piano should be there, in black and white for all to read.

Unless it’s buried in another budget item.  Last month, a Toronto Star piece on this musical spending spree noted that superior instruments of this caliber (or calibre as we spell it here) can go for up to $240,000. 

Some context:  St. Andrew’s is not a megachurch.  A survey of 1,000 churchgoers in the greater Toronto metropolitan area might, if we’re lucky, reveal 50 people who could place the church on a map or among a list of church images. 

Unless we asked a specifically downtown crowd.  The church is located in the heart of the financial district and also just a block from Toronto’s gallery of live theaters (or theatres, as we spell it here; noticing a trend?) on King Street West, not to mention across the road from Roy Thompson Hall.  Perhaps both arts-minded and wealthy business patrons require excellence in their musical instruments, and this church does host the occasional concert, and wanted a piano that any self-respecting pianist would desire to play.

However, walk a mile in almost any direction from this church or any other downtown church and you’ll find examples of poverty.  Two miles and you’ll find shelters and missions and soup kitchens.  The question is not, “How could the church spend $100,000 on a piano?”  There were after all donations as part of a two-year fundraising campaign.  The better question is, “How can a church justify having a $100,000 piano in the present economic climate?” 

It just seems a little out of touch with times we live in. But then this strikes at the heart of times we live in; where examples of grotesque wealth of the few exist side-by-side examples of gross poverty of the many. 

You’d think someone would see this and stage a protest or something.

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