Our year at Eastland Mall was extraordinary in every way. In a move that we thought would only provoke people to point and laugh (and we would have been fine with that), it was our transition to the former theater of Charlotte’s most notorious piece of property that captured the imagination of our city. Not only did every news outlet from the Charlotte Observer to Creative Loafing to every major local tv outlet cover our time there, we were more importantly able to connect with the wonderful community of East Charlotte in a lasting way.
We made the transition to Eastland in 2009, but it was the first half of 2010 where we shared our most memorable experiences in that space. One was our first baptism service there. We were at the tail end of the Orthodoxy series, reflecting every week on the significance of the Apostles’ Creed in the early baptismal rite of the Church. In the early days, led naked into a river or pool of water at midnight before Easter, candidates would affirm the creed before spitting in the direction of Satan and his minions. After sometimes years of training in the ways of Jesus and the Church, they could now be plunged into a watery grave–and raised up with resurrection life. There is something about that act that always reduces me to rubble–the fact that I hold in my arms an actual body that will one day be raised in the resurrection of the body and transformed into the likeness of Christ Himself.
But there was NOTHING like performing this most holy sacrament at Eastland Mall. In the disreputable mall, in the center of what our former mayor called a “corridor of crap”…there where so much prejudice and fear were poured out into one building as a scapegoat for deeper problems in our city, people were being baptized. Identities were being forged in the place where false labels were constantly assigned. Lives were being renewed where lives were supposed to be destroyed. People were coming to life where a guy what shot dead in the food court a few years before. You want to talk about the sweetness of God Almighty? It was all over that baptismal service at Eastland, where so much of the gospel was wrapped up in a real-life parable for the world to see and for us to marvel at. From our wonderful season at Eastland, it was a defining moment.
In May of 2010, we had another defining experience when we took a step of faith to have a Sunday morning healing service. You heard me correctly. Our Church, which has its roots in the Pentecostal/Charismatic tradition but is not exactly the most expected place for prayer lines (at least at that point), devoted a whole Sunday to the ministry of laying on of hands to the sick and broken. It was stretching for those that weren’t accustomed to such an experience. And it was also life-altering for our entire ministry.
Claiming to believe that Jesus actually healed broken bodies and actually rose from the dead makes you strange enough. But claiming to believe that Jesus still heals through our human touch, the hands of Christ through our own broken bodies makes you dangerous. This was a year where we got less bashful about our belief in the very tangible power of the Holy Spirit, and began to trust God for supernatural displays of His power. And we haven’t backed away from that conviction–it has only grown inside us. Like baptism, there was something uniquely powerful about this kind of body ministry taking place in that abandoned theater, dense with the smell of fast food Chinese from the food court and the sweat of sons and daughters looking for a miracle.
To revisit my message from the healing service, “The Healer,” click here.