Defining experience of 2010 #4: Becoming our grandmother’s Church (with Geoffrey Wainwright, Rickie Moore, and Jacqui Smith)

I’ve never been fond of the trite “new church” language of “We are not your grandmother’s church.”  I can be charitable enough to understand the sentiment–it’s often a way of saying we  have a culture and style that will be outside your expectations of institutional religion.  But even given that, I hate the phrase–it is rotten eccleisiology.  If we are any Church at all, then we are our grandmother’s Church.  If there is no continuity between us and our fathers and mothers in the Lord, we are probably in deep trouble.  The sense of rootlessness and individuality of our culture–the ruthless attempt of social and technological forces to convince us that we can be story-less people who are making it up as we go, is a posture not for the gospel to adapt to but to oppose.  A pivotal line of the Renovatus Manifesto says “We ARE your grandmother’s Church.  And your great-grandmother’s Church.  And your great-great grandmother’s Church!”

2010 has been a year where we have come to understand more deeply that we have to know where we’ve come from if we are to know where we are going.  We spent the first half of the year in a series called “Orthodoxy,” mining the riches of the Apostles’ Creed.  Like Paul did for a young pastor named Timothy, we have been reminded that our faith is not a private possession but a gift from a godly mother and grandmother.  Already, our community has been marked by our adopted 78 year-old grandmother Margaret Gaines (the very first guest speaker we ever had at Renovatus–quite strategically).  Already our community has been marked by the life and legacy of Sister Nellie Martin, my biological grandmother, who died long before Renovatus ever began but whose work lives on (since her fingerprints are all over my life and ministry).  But this year, we got a little help from our friends–actually, from some more grandparents in the Lord.

There were 3 in particular who came to Renovatus and made our connection with the Church’s story richer and deeper–Geoffrey Wainwright, Rickie Moore, and Jacqui Smith.  Geoffrey Wainwright, an elder statesman of the Church and one of the most influential Methodist voices of the last century, was a professor of mine at Duke.  If he felt out of his element speaking in the old movie theater at Eastland Mall to a bunch of allegedly new-fangled young Pentecostals, he didn’t show it.  As he preached with shirt and tie and traditional Methodist liturgical garments, he was stylistically the anti-Jonathan (i.e. he was still, calm, dignified, and preached less than 30 minutes).  But how he refreshed us with his life and witness, both in his wonderful message and the cherished time we spent with he and his wife that weekend.

The second was Dr. Rickie Moore, a former professor of mine at the Church of God Theological Seminary and current chair of the theology department at Lee University in Cleveland, TN.  A mentor and friend who has shaped my story over the last 10 years, Moore came and preached my favorite sermon delivered at Renovatus in 2010, given with scholarly precision and prophetic clarity.  Not only does he embody our value of the elder generation speaking into the younger, but he spoke into it directly–helping us to understand our journey (specifically to Little Rock) in light of God’s greater design to bring generations together.  It was a defining Word that summarized and confirmed much of what God had been speaking in a very clear, tangible way.

The third was my rambunctious other adopted Grandma, International Evangelist Jacqueline Smith.   I suppose her style was as different for Renovatus than Dr. Wainwright’s was, albeit in the opposite direction.  Bold, pointed, and full of Holy Ghost attitude, she brought the Word and she brought the fire.  And she brought another part of our tradition and heritage that we deeply need, the contours of African-American Pentecostalism, in a beautiful way.  Specifically, the night she ministered for Pastor Teddy and Dust was one of the most poignant personal experiences of God’s presence I had this year.

Each of these 3 grandparents in God brought us closer to the desperately needed character of our grandmother’s Church by their obedience to the Holy Spirit.  Because of their investment in Renovatus, we learned how to carry their legacy with greater care and greater unction.

To revisit Geoffrey Wainwright’s sermon on Pentecost and the Apostles’ Creed, the finale of our Orthodoxy series, click here.

To revisit Rickie Moore’s message, The Land: Generations, click here.

To revisit Jacqui Smith’s entry in the Your Grandmother’s Church series, Trust in God, click here.


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