I chided myself for attempting to “fry” the chicken. No self-respecting Southern woman oven-fries her chicken, and yet there I was coating drumsticks and thighs in flour and then arranging them on foil-lined baking sheets. I had no other choice, though since morning sickness was most acute around fried foods and I so wanted to avoid throwing up—at least just for that night and as long as those boys were over.
This was the first “business meeting” of TCC’s T’shirts, an entrepreneurial venture of the teens of Hollygrove, a dangerous and under-resourced neighborhood of New Orleans. My husband worked at the community center in the middle of Hollygrove and for months he wondered how to combine their natural charisma, interest in the arts, and well…salesmanship on the corner, to channel their abilities into something positive. Having seen that programs only address the surface needs of people in the urban core, he wanted to avoid the allure of starting a new project by inviting the boys over to dream up the possibility of this company and the ways it could fund the neighborhood.
That evening they were coming over for Sunday dinner: fried chicken, fluffy mashed potatoes with melted butter peaks, and Jiffy cornbread with golden nuggets of sweet corn mixed in, all served with tall plastic cups of sweet tea. This was my staple Sunday dinner menu until baby number two and his aversion to all things fried came along. Knowing my condition, my husband suggested ordering a pizza, but I wouldn’t hear of it. No, I wanted to make Sunday dinner. I wanted to busy my hands for hours and be “mama” to those boys for an evening. I wanted to love on those boys with calories and chicken and good conversation.
As they shuffled up to our second floor apartment, some in Hornets jerseys, some dressed in red from head to toe, a few wearing blue rags, and all sporting gleaming white sneakers, I whispered a little prayer that Jesus would help me show his character to these kids. When one of the teens played “cars” on the living room floor with my two year old while I set the table, I thought ‘this is what the Body should look like, young and old doing having fun together’. Later on, we sat around my table passing cornbread, pouring sweet tea, and dreaming of a better future for Hollygrove.
This is how my husband and I did church in the wild of Hollygrove. One conversation, one relationship, one meal, one breakthrough at a time.
This is what I thought we’d be doing when we took up the call to plant a church in the wild of Boston. This wild is rife with systemic injustice, food insecurity, and inadequate education and we want to set up camp. But for a few years now, I’ve been overwhelmed with the business of church planting. Many nights I worried about numbers and budgets and expectations. When we missed the deadlines and benchmarks for a “successful church plant”, I questioned God’s call on our lives. “Did God really?” became my go-to accusation.
Spun out in anxiety and ready to give church planting all together, “No Church in the Wild” by Kanye West and Jay-Z “randomly” played in my Spotify radio. From the guttural, grimy guitar intro, to the vivid lyrics, I was arrested by the truth that in the urban core, there’s so much need. There’s so much brokenness, so much poverty, so much desperation, and my husband and I love the city far too much to let it stay that way. When Frank Ocean sang the bridge, “Your love is my scripture,” the desire I felt nine years ago to love on some teen boys with calories and chicken flooded back to me. I knew how I wanted to brave this wild: one conversation, one relationship, one meal, one breakthrough at a time.
The Holy Spirit used Kanye and Jay-Z to renew my passion for urban church planting by reminding me of my loves for the church and the wild.
I love the church. I love the gathering of Jesus followers to transform a community by just being. Not throwing huge events necessarily, but just meeting, loving, and Kingdom dreaming together. I desire to see the church holistically care for people, by combing both spiritual and physical needs, I love it when people meet Jesus when Christians do the unglamorous job of helping an immigrant apply for a job or a failing student pass a big test. I’m brought to tears every time I think of Jesus and his ministry and I wonder what are the “greater things on earth” we could do here in Boston.
I love the wild of the city. I love the hard sounds of bass from the corner and the movement at every hour of the day. I love the strategy required to find a parking space near the Public Gardens, and I love Fenway in the summer. I love taking the “T” and people watching. Diversity is the red line at 5pm, janitors, scientists, students, doctors, tourists, and the homeless all share space on that crowded car. I love intrusive big mamas and the challenge of earning a single mother’s trust.
I can’t abandon the wild, though. I see the beauty in braving the danger of making ourselves available to gang-affiliated teens and single mamas. I also know that unless God goes before me like the Israelites in the wilderness, this church plant won’t take off, but I want that journey. I want that challenge. I want to be a church in the wild.
So planting in Boston’s urban core just makes sense, it’s simply merging my two loves under the banner of my Ultimate Love.
For a while, this dream felt secondary in light of the necessary measurements of church success: people, money, marketing, influence. I’m not cut out for that wilderness. I cannot brave another day of expectations and metrics.
Going forward, I have to be true to myself. I just have to. It’s true, at times, I don’t understand the complexities of church planting strategy, but I do understand the necessity of community building. I know Jesus came to seek and save the lost, heal the sick, and touch the outcast. He came to reveal the Father and invite us to the table as beloved children. He came fierce and determined to plant His church on this wild, broken earth.
So, I’ll do my part to continue that work and plant a church in Boston. Not with spreadsheets and programs but with mounds of mashed potatoes and sweet tea and yes, maybe even oven-fried chicken.
After all, this is the only way my husband and I know how to do church: one conversation, one relationship, one meal, one breakthrough, one day at a time.