In the fall of 2011, Christ Church Vienna, Virginia, began meeting in an elementary school “cafetorium” (a combination cafeteria and auditorium not uncommon to American elementary school architecture).
A cafetorium is the sort of place where doing church is likely to look a little different. It felt odd at first to be singing of God’s “Amazing Grace” or contemplating the implications of Jesus’ confrontation with religious leaders when cartoon carrots and apples are offering their own messages all over the walls. However, it was also fitting for our expression of faithful Christianity.
Christ Church Vienna is an Anglican church plant that celebrates weekly communion, using an order of worship that dates back to the first century and prayers that are hundreds of years old. We are also a missional church located in the 21st century Washington D.C. area where those outside the church are incredibly successful, highly educated, and very skeptical of both Christianity and churches. We’ve regularly looked for ways to bridge the gap between the timeless Christian message and the post-modern cultural mindset; to break down the walls between the secular and the sacred, and to bring the gospel into the places people occupy day in and day out. In that sense, celebrating Word and Sacrament in a local elementary school cafetorium served well.
Before we launched our church, we codified our vision and values, including our commitment to be “externally focused.” As an externally focused church we are concerned for those who have left the church or never entered one. We want to be aware of the person who may walk in the doors on a Sunday morning, and who hasn’t been in a church in decades or longer. A few folks who have started attending shared the fears that accompany going to a church for the first time: not knowing when to stand up, or the words to the songs, or the “secret handshake” and its accompanying dialogue. We’ve tried to be aware of the challenge facing the de-churched and un-churched as they enter a worship service on a Sunday morning.
One of the ways that we sought to do this was in how we took up our collection. After an offertory sentence, the music team leads us in a hymn, those who’ve baked the unleavened bread bring their “offering” forward to be used as the Eucharistic meal, and the ushers pass around woven baskets for members to give their monetary gifts. However, before the first Offertory note is struck, we often give newcomers an out: “If you are visiting, don’t feel obligated to give. But if you do decide to give, know that every week, any “loose offering”—cash or coins—will go to the Anglican Relief and Development Fund (ARDF). ARDF provides relief in disaster areas and resource development projects in some of the poorest locations around the globe. Any ‘fivers’ or ‘Andrew Jacksons’ you give today will go out of this church and provide for some of the most under-served people in the world.”
One of the most common critiques of the Church by outsiders is that we are only concerned about their money. I’ve had friends share that they feel like every time they do go to church the leaders are always talking about money. It’s a turnoff for many who are on the fringes of Christianity. To be able to let a skeptical visitor know that if they do choose to give, all of their offering will go to ARDF, has been a win-win for us. We have made it possible for newcomers to give toward the sort of work that even the most skeptical are glad to support. At the same time it has enabled us to back up our talk of being externally focused and mission minded, while it helped us hit our outreach goal of giving 20% of our income.
In other words, committing our loose offering to ARDF has been good in every way.
In 2013, Christ Church Vienna moved over to a nearby high school and its larger auditorium. Many of us miss the pontificating vegetables and milk cartons on the wall, but our church’s values haven’t changed; we want to be an externally focused church where the gospel is heard and the gospel goes forth. A “fiver” here and an “Andrew Jackson” there can add up to a lot of dough for those in greatest need, and it may even serve to break down the cynical walls of the most skeptical outsiders.
-By The Rev. Johnny Kurcina