When I was young I wondered why my uncle grew corn instead of bananas. I thought wouldn’t it be cool to have a field of fresh bananas? The answer of course is that in Canada you simply cannot grow bananas, they are not suited to the climate or the soil. Canada is too cool for bananas.
In his book “Planting Missional Churches”, Ed Stetzer writes “Most church planters start the church in their head and not in their community. They come with preconceived notions, things they have always wanted to try, and strategies they were never allowed to use. This may make the planter relate better to the church, but the planter is called to reach the community. That requires planting a church into community, a church that is indigenous.”
When I first thought of embarking on a church plant I had in mind a cafe serving the best roasted coffees with a cool jazz feel. The folks would be like me (or as I imagined me) and this would simply be ‘cool church’. I had planted a church in my head that could only succeed in my head or perhaps a university town in Washington State. When it came time to plant Up Town it became apparent that this ideal was far from ideal.
It became clear that what grew here in Uptown Saint John had to grow from the soil of Uptown Saint John. Our original concept was to “Lift Jesus Up and Lift People Up!” so Up Town seemed a natural name. We started off seeking folk’s felt needs and matching those with our limited resources and skill set. We identified that people expressed dissatisfaction with the health care so we opened a “Healing Clinic” where we listened and prayed for people. We heard that people longed for a place to ‘hang out’ that was safe and alcohol and drug free, so we began our Friday Night Drop In. Walking through the neighbourhood I realised that there were few laundry vents in the buildings and we discovered a need for an affordable laundry, so we outfitted a laundry room which has become a hub for much more than just laundry service. As we engaged ever more deeply with our friends we heard that they longed to be unconditionally loved and accepted so we invited them to worship with us Sunday Nights. The service is designed to be in the simple ‘heart language’ of the streets. Each week we listen to “the Father’s Love Letter” and experience the Father’s love. We soon heard that our friends wanted meaningful service (ministry) so we began to emphasize an every member ministry of kindness; this has become a distinctive of Up Town. We learned that many folks had never had a holiday, so we began our annual Deer Island Vacation Trip. Up Town continues to grow, not so much numerically but in depth and in service. I believe the key is that it is a plant that is suited to the soil. I do not want to duplicate Up Town but I long to see these principles applied prayerfully in every community.
I wanted an ideal ‘cool’ church but with Up Town I have what I call the coolest and most real church I know.