A week after I graduated from Westmont College, I drove across the country to start a new job as the Director of the Karpeles Manuscript Museum in South Carolina. Mr. Karpeles had purchased St James Church in Charleston SC and I was commissioned to (ironically) transformed a church into a museum. After an extensive remodel, ripping out all the pews and adding display cases, I found myself looking for community. Charleston is a beautiful historic city with A LOT of old traditional style steepled churches. I visited a number of churches and came to learn that there were some understood “norms” in this very Southern society. If you were from English descent then you probably attended the Anglican church, if you were Scottish, then you went to the Presbyterian Church and so on. When I would inquire about good churches to visit, on more than one occasion I was directed to the local Jewish synagogue (because of my last name). This was all very strange to me.
I finally found a modern-looking church in a business park. They had great contemporary music that I was familiar with, they were a young church and the pastor even wore a Hawaiian shirt… I felt like I had finally found a home. I knew I needed to put myself out there and make an attempt to plug in, so I attended their young adult bible study. There was a good thirty people there and I met the “friendly” pastor who ask me about myself and where I was from and had some awkward conversations with a few of the other young adults. The Bible study started with some introduction and the pastor introduced me “this is Joshua Kipa aaa lipa ski?.... He’s an outsider from Los Angeles ...” Needless to say, I never went back.
The reality began to set in, I was a foreigner in a foreign land, an “outsider from Los Angeles” and they did not have a slot to put me in. I was really quite discouraged because I love to go to Church! And I NEED to worship or else my week is not the same. My secretary could sense that I was down and I confided in her. She invited me to her church.
Me, a SoCal boy who grew up in the contemporary Vineyard worship culture found himself worshipping at St. Marks in Charleston, the first church in America that was built by free black hands. It was an Episcopal “high church” style, basically a Catholic mass without the Catholics. I had to learn the sign of the cross, when to kneel and stand and kneel again… It was all very strange to me. After a LONG and boring mass, we would go down into the fellowship hall and eat for the rest of the afternoon. There were other “foreigners” from states like Florida or New York, some single moms and a few mixed racial couples. Then it dawned on me, “I’m going to the church for outsiders” and in that season, those people loved me. What I learned is that the Body of Christ is not only diverse, it breaks down cultural boundaries and can even challenge our preconceived notions of what community is. My church in Charleston did not have the contemporary worship style I was used to, the people didn’t dress like me, or look like me, but I needed them and they needed me.
You have been created for a great commision and only you can do what God is calling you to do. In order to truly step into our commissions we MUST be connected. In the season that you find yourself in right now, ask yourself, “am I clear on my calling? And am I connected to the Body of Christ?” If you took the time to read my story I believe that you need the the church “body” in your life, but equally important church needs you in this season to fulfil her great commission.
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