Beautiful to be the church

“The more I learned about Christ’s Beloved Community, the more I thought, ‘This is a beautiful thing!

On a beautiful Thursday in October, a small group of us traveled from various spots around the synod to the south side of Winston-Salem. Based on the tiendas and taquerias in the surrounding neighborhoods, we could have easily been in southeast Florida or south Texas. The parking lot was filled with vehicles, folks were mowing the grass and trimming the hedges, volunteers were plentiful throughout the building, music was being practiced in the worship space, and lunch was being prepared. We gathered that day for as current and potential mission partners to hear the stories of Christ’s Beloved Community (CBC)/Comunidad Amada de Cristo.

The Rev. Chantal Morales McKinney is the mission developer, church planter, and founding Episcopal priest who serves this “federated congregation” which is fully Lutheran and fully Episcopalian, intentionally multicultural, and bilingual. This congregation meets inside the building of Christ Lutheran Church. Her work began four years ago when she began asking the neighborhood what they wanted and needed. The community needs included accessible food, childcare, safe places to play and gather, and more.

At our gathering, we heard from Bishop Tim Smith and Director for Evangelical Mission, Pastor Danielle DeNise, about the ways our partnership is essential to mission congregations like CBC. Through Mission Support from both the NC Synod and the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, as well as both of our larger church bodies, we are able to invest $100,000 in this southside neighborhood through the work of Christ’s Beloved Community. Mission partners add to this investment making even more ministry possible. As we gathered for conversation about mission partnership, we clearly saw the connection of the many financial gifts to the tangible gift of food for those in need.

On this food pantry distribution day, about 40 families enjoyed lunch in the church’s fellowship hall while waiting their turn. A steady stream of volunteers and locals pushed carts and pulled wagons filled with food from the pantry to the vehicles in the parking lot all day. As each entered and left the recently renovated building, they passed a mural depicting familiar Bible stories with a more diverse than usual cast of characters. One of the early requests by Christ’s Beloved Community was for “art that looks like us” and, indeed, this welcoming and inviting mural was painted by the community and features members of the community as the Bible characters.

Pastor Rosa Erickson of St. Andrew, Mount Airy, shared, “The more I learned about Christ’s Beloved Community, the more I thought, ‘This is a beautiful thing! I want my congregation to partner with CBC.’ I shared their information with the congregation council and with my Episcopal colleague in town. I’m planning to get a group together to worship with CBC one Sunday afternoon.”

Similarly, Pastor Mike Stone of Mt. Pisgah, Bethlehem, said, “Boundaries of culture, language and church affiliations disappeared in an amazing commitment to be Church together. We have invited Pastor Chantal to come and share with us in March at one of our Lenten services so that we can hear and experience and then participate in financial partnership with this exciting ministry together. We are inspired and blessed.”

Pastor Russell Peek of Epiphany, Winston-Salem, whose congregation has committed over $5,000 to this ministry, shared “The key preposition for me when I think of Epiphany and Christ’s Beloved Community relationship is ‘with.’ Epiphany is delighted to be partnering with Christ’s Beloved Community over the last several years. We have people who volunteer at their food pantry, worship with them on a regular basis, and the congregation supports them financially. The Mission Partner Gathering in October was an exciting time for me to hear more stories about the ways in which the Holy Spirit is moving at CBC and to get a deeper glimpse into life there.”

Thanks to Mission Support and Peeler/Casey Fund grants from the NC Synod (along with funding from the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina), this new faith community is blessing many, yet there are many other ways to partner with them. It is indeed beautiful to be the church with our neighbors near and far! Your mission support connects you to ministry across the synod that is reaching new people, feeding the hungry, and providing a safe place to worship and experience la gracia de Jesus!