Smells Like Community
In my sermon last Sunday, I shared a story from Father Gregory Boyle’s book, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion. As I have shared in this week’s daily e-mails, Boyle was assigned to Dolores Mission in the late 1980’s in one of the poorest and most gang-ridden parts of Los Angeles. The inspiring story of how this small congregation began to transform the neighborhood around it has been told in Boyle’s writings, documentaries and news stories. They created Homeboy Industries to provide work, education, life skill training, addiction counseling and spiritual direction to young people wanting out of gangs and a better life. Boyle and the congregation did this, because their own mindset changed from viewing the needs in their community as someone else’s problems to seeing the people in their community as connected to the church.
As I shared last Sunday, Dolores Mission began to house homeless undocumented people in their church building. The men slept in the sanctuary and well, the sanctuary began to smell. Boyle addressed the congregation one service and asked, “What does our church smell like?”
Nobody spoke at first, but finally an older man that didn’t care what others thought of him chimed in, “It smells like feet!”
Boyle asked, “Why does it smell that way?”
Someone else spoke, “Because we allow homeless men to sleep here.”
Boyle asked, “Why would a church do that?”
A third person spoke, “Because it is what Jesus would do.”
Boyle asked, “So what does our church smell like?”
The original older man yelled out, “It smells like community!”
Jesus taught us when he washed his disciples’ feet that the Holy Spirit can make stinky feet smell like community. Yet, Jesus’ followers have had trouble from the very beginning right up until the present day remembering our job is to serve others in Christ’s name even when it means things get a little smelly. We have preferred things neat and tidy and built beautiful buildings that become things we serve rather than functioning as tools to serve others. Whether it was healing a woman’s withered hand on the sabbath, his disciples picking grain on the sabbath or overturning tables at the temple, Jesus threw out all religious propriety in favor of caring for people.
Like most suburban American churches, Park Hill Christian Church has done a good job caring for its church building, but it has faltered when it comes to maximizing the building for ministry to its community. Don’t get me wrong, PHCC is better than some churches I could name that treat their buildings like museums never to be disturbed, however, even in non-pandemic times, PHCC has a whole lot of real estate sitting unused a lot of the time. Every church member knows groups, organizations, and non-profit agencies that want to address the needs of the Northland but lack the space to do so. It’s time for all church members to invite those groups to partner with PHCC and for this church to share the fine building it has been blessed with.
Fair warning—opening up your church building to your community means it might start to smell differently. If a congregation of faithful people are open to the Holy Spirit, however, what smells bad at first will start to smell an awful lot like community.
Grace and Peace,
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We're Park Hill Christian Church in KC MO. We seek to follow Jesus by praising God, loving those we meet and serving the vulnerable.