Church of the Common Ground, an Episcopal parish for the homeless, will hold its Christmas Eve worship service in Woodruff Park in downtown Atlanta on December 24 at 1:00pm.
Anyone may worship with us on Christmas Eve or at any time throughout the year. All are welcome, said The Very Rev. Monica Mainwaring, pastor of the parish.
Church of the Common Ground was founded 12 years ago this Christmas Eve when a small group of people gathered around a priest in an Atlanta city park and celebrated the Eucharist. They took a leap of faith together trusting that what they had was enough to change the world and all they had was a city park, each other, and God.
Twelve years later this church without walls, without pews, without candles, stained glass, windows, or a lectern, continues to defy all expectations and concepts of what it means to be church.
Not to be a church. Just to be church. To defy all expectations, you first must defy the language used. With all due respect to dictionaries the world over, at Church of the Common Ground, church is not a noun. It is a powerful being verb.
So, what does it mean to make church a verb? It means to consider the trees against a pale cerulean sky as the most beautiful nave ceiling in the world. It asks us to consider that everywhere is God’s common ground and, therefore, everywhere is church. And, we church it everywhere...literally...because God is here and everywhere.
GOD IS RIGHT HERE WITH US
Being church begins in a sturdy white van. It’s not a fancy van. It has no power windows. It seats only two people. But, not unlike Santa’s sleigh that seems never to run out of surprises, our little white van gets around.
It hauls our altar and everything we need for Sunday service along with gallons of coffee cups, creamer and sugar. Need a few chairs for Morning Prayer? No problem. Our little white van brings those and a few tables, too.
This year alone our little white van has brought the supplies to:
Worship on Sundays with guests from more than 15 parishes, youth groups, or other organizations (some of them more than once);
Wash and care for more than 900 pairs of feet at weekly Common Soles foot clinics;
Pour more than 1,500 cups of coffee at Morning Prayer on Mondays and Wednesdays;
Hand out more than 1,200 bottles of water at Bible study.
And, that’s not all. This year that sturdy white van allowed us to be church at a Habitat build with St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, to conduct a foot clinic and worship as part of The Cathedral of St. Philip’s Requiem for the homeless who died in the past year, to sing Christmas carols and share fellowship with those at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Home, to walk the labyrinth with our friends from St. Veronica’s guild, to be church with each other and for others everywhere. We do this because “You must love each other. And Jesus loved us, so we share the love of Jesus [with] others,” as servant leader Jen M. so eloquently puts it.
Whether its Sunday worship, Morning Prayer or Bible study, our little white van brings whatever is needed to show friends, neighbors and strangers “God is right here with us.”
That amazing white van pulling up is only the beginning. This Christmas Eve it will pull up as it has for many years and will signal that something special is happening. Unloading it is a community affair with members of Common Ground pitching in to help establish sacred space. Frank, Richard, Steven and Larry are often first to take the van’s heavy load of altar and supplies.
Jen, our hospitality leader, will haul the coffee and cups to the bench where fellowship hour takes place. Our sexton Annette will unload the brooms and sweep away beautiful but fallen leaves to make room for the altar. Vera will take the Sunday bulletins and hand them to those joining us for worship.
Charmeka and other members of the Common Ground community will wear bright yellow buttons helping first timers know who to turn to when they have questions. And, the choir will warm up and get ready to sing.
With the first gong of the bell to signal the start of service, the pigeons will gently waddle to higher ground giving us leave to be church. This Christmas Eve we will stand on the granite of a city park and marvel once again at the beautiful manger in which we stand.
The world is our crèche, our holy ground, upon which we may all be church and God’s light for each other.
Our celebrant will announce the call to worship:
“God is here.
God is right here with us.
And, this is holy ground.”
Holy, holy, holy...holy common ground.
Church of the Common Ground is one of 116 worshiping communities in the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. For more on the Episcopal Church in middle and north Georgia, go to www.episcopalatlanta.org
More about Church of the Common Ground is at www.churchofthecommonground.org/. Read our blog, Common Stories, www.churchofthecommonground.org/stories. Contact The Very Rev. Monica Mainwaring at firstname.lastname@example.org.