In the article “Tentmaking and the Christian Life,” however, it is suggested that the Acts passage
“is often understood too narrowly…the tent making itself is a real ministry of witnessing to Christ…It is not the case that Paul engages in tent making as a necessity so that he can do his “real job” of preaching. Instead, Paul’s varieties of work in the sewing shop, marketplace, synagogue, lecture hall and prison are all forms of witness. In any of these contexts, Paul participates in God’s restorative project. In any of these contexts, Paul lives out his new identity in Christ for the sake of God’s glory and out of love for his neighbors—even his former enemies” (The Theology of Work Project).”
This broader understanding of tent making is pervasive in the culture of St. Timothy Anglican Mission in Burlington, Vermont, and though it was birthed out of necessity, it has been sustained by God’s design and the congregation’s commitment.
Five years ago, a group of people having left the Episcopal Church in Burlington were meeting once a month for liturgical worship, to share a meal and to pray about what God may have in store for them. The Rev. Alex Cameron had been a priest in Canada for 20 years before leaving ministry to work for GE as a software development manager. When he moved to Burlington, he stumbled upon this group of faithful Anglicans and through time and relationship they become the core planting team for St. Timothy Anglican Mission within The Anglican Church in North America.
Alex stayed on as rector of the church plant, for a season leading while still working full time for GE. Because of this, he could not preach every week. From within a community rich with teachers, he began to train lay leaders to preach, a decision which Alex identifies as one of many “interesting things that were born out of necessity but are of the Lord.” Even though he eventually left GE to turn his attention fully to church ministry, the 10 people that had trained under Alex continue to regularly share with the community. Alex remarks that he has found it healthy for the church to hear from different perspectives and different voices in the community. Encouraged by this positive experience at St Timothy’s, Alex is working hard to see lay leadership continue to develop and move outward to plant new congregations in Vermont.
The city of Burlington, surrounded by mountains and the beautiful Lake Champlain, is a community typical of New England in its fierce independence and large population of unchurched people. St. Timothy Anglican Mission seeks to love the city by making mature disciples who are actively serving the people of Burlington. The collective vision of the church is to “help others grow in love of God and neighbor.” In living out this vision, the people of St. Timothy’s are striving to not centralize their mission work, but rather to witness organically in the communities in which they already individually find themselves. About 80-85% of the congregation is currently actively engaged in service opportunities outside of the church context in a wide variety of ministries from setting up citizenship classes for immigrants to serving at the local emergency shelter.
In addition to relational evangelism and service outreach, Alex has watched with excitement as God’s movement in the church has begun to make St. Timothy’s a place of healing for weary Christians. A burned-out, former parachurch leader found herself at the church to experience a season of rest away from the ministerial and religious obligations in her life. As she continued to attend, it was tempting to ask her to use her gifts to minister to the church, but Alex resisted doing so, and he was able to watch as she experienced restoration through God’s gifts of community, Word and Sacrament. God has continued to bring staff of various parachurch ministries to St. Timothy Anglican Mission. Where parachurches often struggle to provide support, Alex offers mentorship and shepherding to staff, and the church has found itself connected to campus ministries through ongoing relationships with their leaders. Many others have also testified that they came to Mission to be healed, to be released, and to recover. Because of these beautiful stories, Alex identifies the gift of healing as a particular charism of the Holy Spirit in their community.
St. Timothy’s now sees about 55 people each Sunday. They are committed to hospitality, meeting for a communal meal after every Sunday service and their desire is to continue emphasizing wholistic Christian discipleship–building people of depth, health, and character. Having attended many church planting conferences and read many church planting books, Alex has come to believe that church planting is less complicated than it is made out to be. For him, healthy church planting is about slow growth that often happens in a bivocational, “tent making” expression. Though this work takes long years of perseverance, in the end, it is growth that is good and lasting.