It’s a cold-by-California-standards night in December and people are just beginning to roll into our new space on Main St. on the heels of the fog that had rolled out only a few hours earlier. The dimly lit building, still smelling of the mold and mildew that had been trapped in the 50,000 articles the previous tenants packed into this now wide open space, is almost heaving and swelling with new breath as each person enters. No one sees the crumbling plaster on the inside as being unkempt, rather it’s seen as adding “character”. It excites us because it reveals the 100-year brick that supports one of the oldest buildings in our city and the place from which we expect to launch a renaissance of the entire community. Old wealthy men and poor young women walk in together virtually arm in arm. Pillars of the faith and those who are holding onto theirs by a shred make their way with wide smiles into the room who responds with “Ayyys!” and “Woooohooos,” as virtually everyone crosses the threshold. The timidity that accompanies most first-time church visitors, is left at the door, as though it had been wiped off of their feet at the doormat before entering.
This is our Thursday night Church event. Some may call it our second or mid-week service. We just call it church. Virtually every week our lives have the opportunity to rub shoulders with new lives—those who are far from God. And it seems each week more people become regulars though you might call them members. People from a half-dozen or so other local churches come too; a rare expression of church unity today and a privilege that is never taken for granted. Some unabashedly announce that this is more their community than their home church; sharing that if they ever need anything, these are the people they will, and in many cases have turned to. But we’re not all believers. Some people are still searching, even a little mocking because of the pain they’ve been through, too many, at the hands of other churches.
The actual service doesn’t look much different than any other church service, Brethren or otherwise. We welcome people, make a few announcements, have some teaching and preaching, and then an extended incredibly robust time of fellowship. The service takes two hours, and we usually have to kick people out 30-40 minutes after that.
But the stories we get to hear in moments of deep vulnerability fuel this pastor’s heart. When Elaine shares for the first time publicly that her divorce now seems inevitable despite her earnest five-year fight and fervent prayer, she continues to talk and proclaim God’s goodness through the tears; feeling no judgment, or condemnation. She uses her heartache to remind us of what Jesus means when he tells us to love our enemies, and just how radical of a challenge that is. When she puts the mic down, the congregation erupts in somber applause, because we recognize it. We know how hard life is, how often it kicks you in the gut, and people just expect you to dust yourself off. But not the church—we know better. We know that when life is hard, you don’t have to pick yourself up, but that those around you will, in the name of the resurrected Christ, and in the power of his Holy Spirit. So she walks back to her seat, through a virtual gauntlet of hugs and thanks.
Tim, who joined us a year and a half ago showed up as a spiritual mutt. A little eastern stuff, and some new age, and some trippy fiction that slipped into doctrine. But after meeting with one of our pastors for an intensive time of bible study and discipleship, he eagerly accepts the cleansing waters of baptism, and now serves in his local church.
Dante came because his sister was diagnosed with cancer, again, and at the same time he found out that his wife was having an affair, and he had nowhere to go. Being a man who feared a normal church would collapse if he walked in, who is still young in his faith, he has become a fixture at this service and our Sunday expression—he has even gone on a week-long service trip, where he was floored by the love those he was serving had for him.
Those are just individual stories. But again, the power of our church is that our lives rub against one another in ways that only God can organize. The way he provides draws and gathers the right people each week is like a special gift for his bride to humbly enjoy.
At the end of 2019, we did a fundraiser for our local school district to support the nearly 1100 homeless minors in our city. The final service at which we raised funds for this partner ministry, was a virtual chamber of commerce meeting. Each fundraiser sees similar things. People who have influence and resources find themselves face to face with people who have a passion and need. God puts his people in need, in relationships with God’s people of resource! God creates opportunities for conversation and creative solutions through this. The administrators of the school system expected no more than $200 from our still small, but mighty church. Instead, they received over $1000 and one donor provided an opportunity for the ladies in charge to experience some self-care as well and blessed them each with a $125 spa package.
People meet each other—like really meet—and whether they’re looking for him or just the two-free pints of beer they meet Jesus in the process, and I assure you, He’s the reason they keep coming back.
At the Brethren Brew Pub, the powers of darkness in Manteca are being pushed back. People who don’t know Jesus come to meet him and learn who he is by hanging out with his family. Last year alone, we raised nearly $6000 for local charities, connected people in important city-transforming ways, and brought awareness to some of the real plights in our town. In all of this, we go out of our way to make sure that Jesus is the hero, and he is being made famous through shared stories and personal interactions and transformations. 2020 will be bigger and better than ever.
So encouraging to hear how God is at work through your ministry! I love hearing about new approaches to ministry that reach those who are hurting that would not dream of walking through the doors of the typical church.