The Church-Based Marketplace

Church as Marketplace from The Episcopal Diocese of West TN on Vimeo.

A reflection from the Canon for Sustainable Ministries. 

I’ve been trying to imagine what the ideal relationship between a church and the neighborhood where it is located should be.  I’m not sure that I have landed on the perfect answer, but I have been struck lately by thinking it can be more.

I had one of those moments a few weeks ago when I walked out onto the porch and there were three amazon boxes including books, shoes, and another article of clothing, and I had a moment of panic about what our society is becoming.  I love the quick access to my consumer choices, but I worry that the desire for immediacy is driving me to be more disconnected from other people.  I see the hope for the church to be the community gathering space or the “Village Green” where people gather and interact with each other.  Our society desperately needs more of these spaces.

If the church is the new “Village Green” how can the church aggregate its resources to cultivate a new economy or marketplace that directly impacts the health and viability of the neighborhood where our churches are located?  I wonder if the key to this question is seeing the faith community as a resource for creating market-based solutions and connecting people to their consumer actions.  If giving of our financial resources is a spiritual discipline, then maybe spending money should be as well.

My friends Adam, Roger, Mike, and Margery have been dreaming of a bakery in the St. Mary’s Cathedral / Diocese of West Tennessee neighborhood.  They live in the neighborhood, sometimes with others, who are housing insecure.  Just behind the cathedral, my friend Mills and I, and now one of the neighbors, Joe, have been building an aquaponics farm to grow lettuces, beets, greens, and tilapia.  My friends Eyleen, Madge, and many others have been working hard to create a production and business to empower survivors of trafficking.  They have a garden a few miles away.  The Bring it Food Hub, located a block away, aggregates food from local farmers in a 150-mile radius.  Dennis and Mark have a farm forty-five minutes away, but are parishioners of the cathedral.  These are viable businesses, many that are a response to people’s faith, that are connected to the community where the cathedral is located.

My friends and I are dreaming of how to be community.  Last weekend, we all decided to host a pop-up market just outside the parish hall of the cathedral.  As people left the Sunday church service they were invited to purchase romaine and oak leaf lettuce from Episcopal Aquaponics Experiment and spice rubs and tea from Thistle and Bee Enterprises.  People purchased beef and eggs from the Oaks at Winfrey Farms.  People bought jams from the Sisters of St. Mary’s Monastery and squash and beans from the Bring it Food Hub.  The bakery sold all 20 loaves kicking off their business.  The congregation found a new way of investing in the neighborhood of St. Mary’s. Consumer choices helped foster relationships with the people who live where the community worships.  People built relationships with the people who grew their food.  And maybe even more importantly, the local businesses and neighbors networked, shared stories, and dreamt of how they might work together.

I have always imagined that the kingdom of heaven looks just like a diverse worshiping community engaged on Sundays going forth into the world. Yet, I wonder if we haven’t fully lived into the breadth of possibility.  Could a marketplace be part of the kingdom, the direction the church should be moving in? Maybe there is more that we can do to live into a holistic and transformative community?  Maybe the kingdom is the “Village Green” where stories are shared, partnerships forged, lives empowered, and goods and services exchanged.

First published at http://openingourdoor.blogspot.com/

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