I spent most of my life in Upstate NY. It was a place full of farms, orchards, vineyards, and corn fields as far as the eye could see. I grew up in a village next door to where Thomas Welch built his first grape juice factory and simply had to hop over our back fence to grab all the concord grapes I could eat (or use in a grape war against my brother).
My first job was working in a local vineyard, and when I read Jesus’ parables about vineyards, they made sense to me.
In 1989 I moved to Albany, NY and went on staff with a church there. I was leading a discussion at one of their singles group meetings, used one of those vineyard parables, and they all just started at me as if I was speaking another language. They did not have the same familiarity with grapes that I did.
I had left the county with the most vineyards outside of California, and moved to a county with none. (At least as far as I can tell.)
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what grows best in what type of soil. Probably because we recently had the first really good corn-on-the-cob since we moved to Ireland. (Corn doesn’t grow in abundance here, it needs to be imported and it just isn’t as good as fresh off the farm.)
But I’ve actually been focused more on church than on fruits and vegetables.
Our desire since we arrived in Dublin has been to start churches in the villages and neighbourhoods across the city of Dublin. We never wanted to simply start another church in city centre and encourage people to leave their neighbourhoods regularly. Our hope has always been to help people build and develop communities of faith where they live.
When we first arrived we were looking for a ‘model’ that could thrive in these various and diverse communities. But what has become clear over time is that we’ve needed to think about this more organically than organizationally. Rather than “what model works?” we are asking, “What would grow best in this soil? What about that soil over there?”
Something that could grow and thrive where we live in Clontarf, might not do well at all in Howth, Ballymun, or Finglas, yet might be a great fit for Malahide, Terenure, or Castleknock. And while we are learning more and more about the neighbourhood where we live, there is simply no way we could invest the time and effort necessary to understand or embed multiple neighbourhoods across Dublin. Yet within each neighbourhood, there are people who love and know that place, and intuitively know what would do well there.
So back to my planting analogy. Rather than trying to plant the same type of seed everywhere…our hope is to discern with people who live in these areas what grows best there, and then plant that. I think in some areas that might be a network of home churches, in another, it might be something that looks a bit more like a traditional community church and in another, it may look like something we haven’t even conceived of yet.
That seems pretty exciting to me.