Tonight marks our second annual Bloom all-church Thanksgiving dinner. At 5:00 tonight, we’ll gather for worship, share a short teaching, and then feast together on turkey, potatoes of various kinds, stuffing, gravy, pies… the works. Somewhere in the middle of the feasting, we’ll open up the microphone and let people share stories of God’s faithfulness to them over the past year. Table by table, we’ll then take communion, sing a hymn, and close the service. My heart is swollen with anticipation…
…and gratitude. For a lot of things, but this morning, at this moment, most especially for this community. Bloom. The “little flock” that Jesus loves. The little flock that should be dead ten times over. The little flock that’s been spared over and over again. The little flock that’s had to bite and claw and struggle for her survival. The little flock that really has no business being alive…
…except that – oh how clear this is to me now, three years into this journey – Jesus loves Bloom. And He has willed her survival, in the face of great odds. And it is a joy to be standing where we’re standing right now. “We went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.” Yes. And we are – I am – grateful.
Two years ago this Sunday marks a crucial turning point for our community: Bloom held its last service in the upstairs sanctuary at First Baptist Church in downtown Denver. We didn’t know it at the time, but that moment would prove to be a watershed for us. We were a struggling community. Struggling for vision, struggling for leadership, struggling for a sense of identity… it was not at all clear that we would make it.
The week prior to that Sunday, we had a conversation with Michael and Lisa about where Bloom was at that would prove to be decisive. I’ll never forget the penetrating, deeply illuminating question that Michael asked: “So what if we were the first Christians in Denver, and there were 100 or so of us, and we had a place to gather each week? What would we do to stay spiritually, emotionally, relationally, and missionally healthy?” SO illuminating. Even a bare bones evangelical “liturgy” (songs, announcements, worship, etc) can become pretty rote. If you don’t have a clear sense of what the “bullseye” is when you gather, you’ll gather for all the wrong reasons. Christians gather as a family to connect with each other and God in the “beauty of holiness”, being formed together by God as a people called to “bless” the city with the love of God. Whatever GETS you to that, or serves that goal – DO THAT.
And that’s what we did… we decided to take Bloom back to its roots. Get out of the big, ornate sanctuary. Head to the basement. Set the chairs up in the round so that we can see and hear each other when we sing. Put the “Table” at the center. Make the gathering feel more human, more humane. Create space for people to connect. To greet and be greeted. To center ourselves in our common identity in Christ Jesus. Eat together. One of my favorite Bloom gatherings of all time comes from Advent of 2010 (a couple weeks into the new experiment). We had people make soup to share and bring bread, and decided that – even with 100+ folks – we’d try to eat together not BEFORE or AFTER the service, but DURING the service. Like a family. So after worship, we dismissed folks to get their soup and bread, and then come back into the “round” to eat while I preached. It was and remains one of the most fun and “normal” feeling preaching moments I’ve ever had. “You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing…” Yes. With soup and bread. With Word and Sacrament. Nourished at the “Table(s)”.
From that moment on, we really began to recapture a sense of identity and momentum as a community. And I regard the last two years’ worth of ministry and mission as a “fleshing out” of the core intuitions of the turning point just described. “What does it look like to be a family on mission with Jesus?” That question is the North Star of our ministry… an endless probe that takes us deeper and deeper into the heart of God.
My God in heaven, I am thankful for this community.
Michael and Lisa – I am grateful for you guys, for your friendship, for your vision and passion, for thinking highly enough of us to let us share in this work with you. Here’s to many, MANY, more years of friendship and building a work that resonates with our deepest convictions…
David and Elise, Patrick and Charity (our elders) – My goodness. What would Bloom be without you guys? Thanks for sticking in there with us and believing in what you saw, even when we had trouble seeing it. Your presence and leadership in our community means the world to me.
Rusty Gates – It is impossible for me to tell you how much your friendship has meant to me, say nothing of your service in the community. And no one will ever be able to calculate how much of an impact your friendship and our early conversations had on the development of our DNA as a church. You have left an indelible impact on us, and I am grateful for you.
Jamie and Bre – You two, your friendship, your presence, your leadership, your love, are like the pure warmth of a crackling fireplace on a winter day. Like being wrapped in a gigantic down comforter. There is an expansiveness to your love for people that’s really like nothing I’ve ever seen. What a strength you are! Thank you for jumping into the story with us!
For our department leaders (Amy and Marietta, Aaron Purdy), and our house church leaders – Bloom grew approximately 0% under the stellar vocal and musical stylings of the Gungors and the truly exceptional preaching of Andrew (ahem, ahem) until all of you folks started stepping up and owning the ministry of this community with us. I – honestly – wake up daily with gratitude in my soul for you guys. You make pastoring this community a far – FAR – lighter load than it should be. It is a joy to serve you, to serve with you.
For everyone who calls Bloom “home”, who sacrifices even a little to make this community happen. I think that I get to pastor the coolest people on planet earth. I love seeing your faces. I love getting to do what I do with you, giving the best of what I have and can give to you. Thank you for your continual support of and encouragement to me. The little notes you drop here and there, the emails, the text messages, the tweets (although I don’t tweet anymore 🙂 ), and any other of the myriad of ways in which you’ve communicated love to me… YOU WILL NEVER KNOW HOW MUCH THEY HAVE MEANT TO ME AND MEAN TO ME STILL. I love you.
And to Mandi, my love – No one sacrifices more on a daily basis for this than you. You make our life and ministry here possible. Your friendship is of inestimable value to me. Your strength and capacity are absolutely immense, and I am constantly amazed by you. It is a shame to me that no one really gets to see all this – albeit in glimpses. But I see it. You have all of my respect. I LOVE life with you. I am HONORED to be married to you. And I am SO grateful for you.
So this Sunday morning, in the year 2012, before Thanksgiving, I can say honestly that “my cup runneth over…”
And He JUST KEEPS POURING.
Thank you, Father.