How do you become a church who includes the poor? by Beth McLean Wiest
Mathew 25:40 “The king will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one if the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (NIV)
Imagine what it is like to go to a church service, then to a drop in morning, then get a tour of “Flatlanders Inn” where the moto is ‘Every valley lifted up, every mountain made low…” and THEN to hear about the story of how it all came to be. Wouldn’t you be curious?
I sure was.
My head was reeling from trying to take in Flatlanders Inn. I loved the concept of having a floor of the church building dedicated to transitional housing. But more than just transitional housing, it is a place where some call home for a longer period of time in Intentional Community. You or I could choose to move our families there to help model healthy community.
Their flyer says this: “Those who are transitional stay an average of 6 – 18 months and are usually at risk of homelessness in some way. Those who are part of the community on a long-term basis are the core of the community and are responsible to lead and guide the community. Together they are working to create a supportive environment that goes beyond simply providing a peace to stay.”
Wow. That’s awesome.
Despite feeling pretty full from experiences at Winnipeg Centre Vineyard (WCV), I was thirsty to get some context and background story. I was inspired by WCV. I love the concept of a building that has a traditional church function for weekly services but the rest of the time is a 24 / 7 place for building community. To me, this is what love in action looks like. I’m pretty certain Jesus wouldn’t have been turning tables and forcing the people out of this place… What a blessing to have two of their pastoral staff, John Rademaker and Nathan Reiger, clear their schedule to be able to educate us for an hour.
John Rademaker was our first teacher. He is part of the pastoral team at WCV and has been around since its start. John has a business background and landed in the Vineyard church in the 1990s because he liked what they were doing for and with the poor. Eventually, a man named David Russ planted this church in Wnnipeg. Together they wanted to build a church on the poor that was culturally relevant to everybody.
So how do you build a church on the poor?
They have no money. They are disenfranchised. They are not trustworthy. And they will not go out to church.
Galatians 2:10 “All they asked was that we should remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.” (NIV)
We need to learn from the poor. Don’t offer a program. Build relationship.
So John and David went and hung out in bars- which the pastoral team still does. They were in a couple buildings before finding the one they are in now. Their current (permanent) location is on the most violent corner in Winnipeg. This is the only corner in the city that has two video cameras on the same post. “It took 4 years before the aboriginal population believed that we weren’t going to rip them off.”
WCV has no volunteer program- they just wait for people to come and offer their services. What people who have nothing can teach you about is the heart. They offer themselves.
I found it very impressive to learn that this church, BUILT ON THE POOR, has a $400,000 annual budget and they choose to tithe (give back to God) 30% of that budget! That 30% tithe breaks down as follows: 10% to the poor, 10% to the suffering church and 10% to missions. They follow the biblical principle that the tithe should always come off the top – not from what is left over. Along the way, the authenticity of the church has attracted people from all economic backgrounds.
John then shared a moving story about a lady from their church who he had gone to visit in her home. This lady had given her 10% tithe to John for the church earlier that week. John had arrived with some groceries and milk. He has found that “let me put the milk in the fridge for you” is a way to find out if they have food in the house or not. This lady had an empty fridge. She had no food and was going hungry but she followed the desire of her heart to take 10% off the top and give it to the church. What a lesson in humility and obedience!
I was also surprised to learn that WCV has a sister church in Katmandu, Nepal. This sister church has 20 churches in Nepal. Two or three times a year, people from WCV go over to Nepal. At the time WCV was looking for their current building, their sister church needed $350,000. WCV had the money because they were saving for a new building. So they sent the money to Nepal. I love that. And then they were approved for a grant from the government and that’s the money that purchased the building. God always provides. In mysterious ways.
We asked John how the church had come to have such an arts focus because this church is known for its music and there were paintings everywhere. He attributes the excellence in art to David Russ, the original founder of WCV. David is a talented musician and drew in many people with high artistic giftings. WCV has a rich culture of multiple (7 or 8!) worship bands and artists. The church reflects the many cultures of the city and artistic cultural expression is encouraged. They even have an “art space” as part of one of their floors! It is dedicated to showing art and photo exhibitions. This “art space” can be rented out for events and was one cool room. Currently there is a photo exhibition in there showing the people of the north who have been affected by the Hydro company.
At this point, Nathan Reiger, the lead pastor, arrived to share with us.
Nathan is striking. He is incredibly humble. And he has lost his two front teeth. Up until he came and shared with us, we didn’t know the story behind the missing teeth or Nathan’s background. It didn’t matter. He fit in to WCV as many of the people there are missing teeth.
It turns out that Nathan was a pastor in 3 different churches before he found this one. He was looking for a church that was not upscaling and was less centered on upward mobility. And three weeks prior to our visit, he had been in a bar building relationship with people when he got hit in the face by a pool ball in a sock…
Winnipeg is a city with a mix of cultures. There is a 150-year history of white supremacy to establish Eurpoeen dominance. In order to develop relationship, we have to become part of a listening community where is safe for us to tell our stories. All cultures process pain in our stories. And developing relationship involves risk- even physical risk.
With 80,000 aboriginals in the city, Winnipeg is unofficially Canada’s largest reserve. As a church then, how do you respond?
- Who is my neighbor?
- Who is last?
- Can we put them first?
- How much do we own the vision?
- Will we immerse in a lifestyle that reflects this vision?
“If you have a church with a basic biblical vision that God wants to see, people will come. They are attracted by the authenticity.“- John R.
I was attracted by the authenticity of WCV, by the authenticity of John, Nathan and the others we had met.
Being a fact collector, I also loved that they had a very simple hand out “Core Practices at the Vineyard- 15 ways we are becoming like Jesus”. This is what it says:
“These 15 Core Practices are a description of what God’s called us to do and become at Winnipeg Centre Vineyard. They are our best attempt at describing what being Christ-like in our setting looks like. They are not a set of values nor are they a mission statement. They are simply what we want to practice as we worship Jesus, love each other in community and pursue God’s justice in the world around us.
For a full account of each Core Practice, including scripture references, please see our “Core Practices Handbook.” It’s available at the Info table and also on our website.”
The 15 Core Practices:
- Devotion to Jesus
- The Bible knowing and using it
- Prophesy hearing God
- Intercession praying for God’s purposes on the earth
- Purity of Heart the inward journey
- The Arts expressing God’s beauty
- Generosity giving and sharing resource
- Circles of Sharing to survive, love & to learn
- Relationship being real, being kind, taking time
- Rhythm gather and scatter
- Prayer Ministry healing through prayer
- Gospel God’s Kingdom proclaimed & enacted
- Mercy care for the vulnerable
- Compassion sharing the struggle to gather strength
- Challenge uncovering abusive power
My spirit was doing a happy dance. Everything about this place resonated with me. It was like God was opening my eyes to a community further down the road that he has Harmony through Harmony on. My vision synopses were firing on hyper-drive.
Nathan closed our time by sharing with us the vision they received of a Muskox Circle. When there’s danger, the muskox will stand so that the vulnerable ones go in the centre. The ones with strength go on the outside. They realized this was a picture of the shape of the church. Privilege is here for strength in community. Justice means you don’t have to be strong to be loved. WCV is a space where you can grow your own horns, be safe, not remain helpless. And if you do have some strength, it is for building community.
“God has a shape he wants us to be in. It’s a Jesus shape. It’s not a pyramid.” – Nathan Reiger.
And what do you know, that musk ox shape happens to be… a circle.