Those who help make house churches thrive share a few of their secrets
October 5, 2020
Congregations looking for ways to be the church together during and even after the pandemic might well find what they’re looking for in the early church practice of house churches.
How Presbyterians in house church settings are ministering to one another was the topic of a recent 1001 New Worshiping Communities webinar, which can be viewed here. About 50 people participated, including a handful of pastors and other leaders with house church experience to share.
“As we gather people online, we can experience deeply in small groups,” said the Rev. Taeler Morgan of Gather Tacoma in Washington state, a community that’s used to meeting around dinner and worship.
A house church “is less of a location and more of a style,” she said. Recently worshipers have gathered in creative places where they can practice social distancing, including parks. “In this time, even in the first phase of (state-approved) gathering, we can help people be the church in that small gathering,” Morgan said.
Families gather in their homes for dinner, then join others at Gather Tacoma for online worship and discussion. Morgan or another leader often asks discussion-starting questions, such as, “What is God doing in me, around me and through me?”
“They can use that tool,” she said, “as they engage other Jesus-seeking people.”
The Revs. Aaron and Ayana Teter of All Saints Community of Faith in Pittsburgh said they send weekly liturgy to their house church people “so that they can do some of that work,” Aaron Teter said.
“I am much more oriented to being a facilitator, trying to create an experimental environment that will provoke healing conversations and interaction” among house church participants, he said. “I stir the pot a little to promote creativity.”
“I’ve been an administrative pastor. At All Saints, in practice it requires a different level of intimacy with my folks,” Ayana Teter said. “We are trying to facilitate conversations of healing and grace. We try to be a loving and healing presence in the world. These are difficult conversations we are having” during the pandemic, she said. “You are in the moment with people’s real and raw emotions.”
Pre-pandemic, the Teters welcomed All Saints folks into their home for meals and deep discussion.
“We are modeling intimacy and vulnerability every time we gather together as a community,” she said. “We are inviting people to love one another. This is the kind of vulnerability that Jesus is inviting us into.”
If we truly believe in the priesthood of all believers, she said, “that means laying down some of that sense of always having the right answer” and instead “working with people to help them find their own theological voice. It is hard and humbling, but it’s beautiful to see people taking up that work, in our context at least.”
The Rev. Elmer Zavala, pastor of the Presbyterian Hispanic Latino Ministry of Preston Highway, in Louisville, said the dozens of household gatherings he helps facilitate “are anxious and eager to return to the houses. That’s how we desire to be together as a community.”
“We can’t be with them in their houses, but we are trying to figure out how to be present,” by, for example, meeting with the house church host while garbed in protective masks and standing a safe distance apart in the yard or on the porch.
“For me, (the pandemic) is like a blizzard. As long as it’s happening, you stay home,” he said. “Once it passes, you go back to doing things like you used to. And after this, I am sure the body of Christ will have new tools to walk forward.”
The Rev. Keith Gunter, pastor of New Creation Church outside Nashville, said that a series of rotating house groups “worked wonderfully before the pandemic. It was a beautiful way for the community to gather.”
Each small group has what Gunter calls “a lead question-asker” who serves as a facilitator. Someone else is appointed as timekeeper to make sure everyone has the chance to speak.
“You would be shocked by the amount of compassion they show one another,” he said.
Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service
Today’s Focus: House Churches
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Tina Peters, Administrative Services Group (A Corp)
Jason Peterson, Presbyterian Investment & Loan Program
Let us pray:
Eternal God, in the midst of a world that simply won’t stop, or even slow, its relentless changing, grant us a deep and abiding sense of your sovereign power and steadfast presence in our lives. May we walk the way that is set before us in faithfulness to our calling in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.