The Hutton family has been on quite a journey. For a very long time, it seems, we have moved hither and yon. Some of those moves have been pretty great. Some of them, not so much. We’ve learned a lot. We’ve been bruised and battered, but always God seems to be in the midst of it – the smooth and the not so smooth.
A little more than two years ago we left St. Louis. Our family of five loaded up everything – including our dog, Cash. We were sure of only one thing: our destination – home – Bristol TN/VA. We did not have jobs. We were unsure what we were going to do. We only had the slightest inclination that it was time to go home. For what? We were not sure. But we missed the mountains, the people, our family, and our sense of being where we were supposed to be – according to God’s purposes.
So, we moved in with Becky and James, my wonderful sister and her husband. (Can you imagine having three boys, your brother and his wife – oh and their dog move in with you? That’s how amazing my family is). We had no idea what we were going to do. We tried our best to look to Jesus to help us. At times it was hard to pray, hard to trust, and hard to see what to do next.
But, as Sherry and lots of other Christians will say, “God is good. All the time.”
In the midst of loads of transition for our family, we began to see God at work. He provided a great home in a great neighborhood. He provided a job for Sherry. She is an amazing teacher at Vance Middle School. She loves those kids, prays for them and their families, and gives them the best education in Social Studies possible (she’s awesome). All three of our sons, despite some early bumps, have adjusted pretty well to Bristol. They’ve made friends, and seem to be doing pretty well (despite having me as a dad but that’s a whole other blog entry). And the Lord has opened doors for me, too.
When we arrived, I started serving Windsor Avenue Presbyterian Church, part-time, as stated supply. I was already doing some work for my friend, Matt Burford, at Tactical Faith, but not enough to be much help to him. The wonderful folks at Windsor took my family in and have loved us like we’ve never been loved before. Their love for one another and the Lord is amazing. Windsor has been uber generous to our family and I hope to serve them as long as I possibly can.
But the Lord also opened another door. For the last two years I have served as an adjunct at King University, in the Religion and Philosophy Department. I’ve taught English and Philosophy at Northeast State. That led to taking a few classes in Literature at ETSU – which will eventually add up to a MA in Lit – hopefully.
However, about a year ago I was approached by Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church in Knoxville about planting an EPC church in the Tri-Cities (Bristol). My first thought was, they need to talk to someone else. I’ve got enough on my plate and I’m not sure that Bristol needs another church. And then I started looking around my hometown with fresh eyes.
There are a lot of churches in the south. There are a lot of churches here in Bristol. The majority of those churches are doing great things. They have been for a long time. And they will continue to do great things.
But as I looked around Bristol, all I could see (then and now) is the need. There are so many broken places and broken people. Most churches are already doing a lot and they have their hands full. Perhaps some of the things they have done for years aren’t all that necessary any longer; perhaps their efforts and resources could be utilized in better ways. Over the years, I’ve been fairly convinced that rather than a lot of new churches we need a lot of established churches to go beyond what they have always done. That, however, would require some change – and churches are one of the most change resistant systems known to man. W.H. Auden may have been thinking of a church when he said, “People would rather face ruin than change.”
Back in 2009, I was wondering about two things. First, I was thinking about the broken places and people of my community. Second, I was thinking about something called the Mission of Shalom (thank you Nick Wolterstorff). This idea of shalom is one that suggests that God’s mission in the world is shalom. If it is God’s mission then it stands to reason it ought to be the mission of God’s people as well. I thought I understood shalom – until I met Wolterstorff and read his book Until Justice and Peace Embrace.
Shalom is more than peace. It encompasses this notion that all of humanity will live in the right relationship with God, each other, nature, and themselves. I believe that only comes through a relationship with Christ. But shalom also incorporates all that it means for human beings to live in the sense of fulfillment, flourishing (for lack of a better word or less used one). Wolterstorff suggests that God’s mission in the world – through Christ – is to restore humanity to shalom.
Wolterstorff suggests that the work of God’s people – the church – is the mission of shalom. It involves all aspects of what it means to be human (food, clothing, shelter, arts, music, beauty, health, education, wholeness, justice). We ought to not only work for and pray for and reach out to our neighbor’s salvation, but we ought to be working for their flourishing – for their good as well. It is all part of what it means to love neighbor. To love someone is to long for, work for, pray for, etc,, their good.
One pastor I know explained shalom like this. He said, “If I want my kids to be healthy, safe, well educated, fed – if I want them to have opportunities to grow, to see beauty – then I should want that for my neighbors kids as well. In fact, as a Christian, I ought to work for it.”
All of that was rolling around in my head while I was serving as a pastor. While our church was doing good things, I was drawn to some broken places and people in our community. I thought we could do more. But it would have required some change. Like I said, churches are notorious for fighting against change. So, I studied change leadership. I got a doctorate. I thought I was pretty smart…ummm- not so much.
I tried to implement some of what I learned in a few churches- which ought to explain why we were battered and bruised. Of course, I’m not the most gentle of people. I can be, as one dear elder said, a bull in a china shop. That was accurate – but I’ve learned a lot. And yet, I’m still convinced that God’s people should be about the mission of shalom. We should learn that justice is every much a part of worship as the songs we sing. In fact, perhaps justice ought to be the song we sing.
So, when Cedar Springs started talking to Sherry and I about church planting, I was hesitant until I really began to realize the level of need in Bristol (and beyond). The place where it struck me most was with kids – like those at Anderson Elementary School.
My friend, Andrew Brown -the former principal (now serving in Knoxville) – started a program there called Reading Buddies. I go to the school once a week and help a student (love this kid) learn to read. Andrew and I would talk – meet for lunch – and he shared with me the needs of kids at his school.
I will not go into the issues. They are not uncommon to nearly every city in the US: food, clothes, drugs, family disfunction, no or very little parental support with their education (because mom or dad have very little education and can’t help). Our school system does a great job – but they can’t possibly do it all, which got me thinking. What if a church really took this on out of an understanding of the mission of shalom.
I was asked to pray about planting a church. So, I did. Then I began wondering why not plant a church that out of the gate took this whole notion of the mission of shalom as its starting point? Why not begin with the mission aspect first? Rather than focus on starting another worship service, why not worship by working for the good of our neighbors and then coming together to sing, to read God’s word, to partake of bread and wine (Lord’s Supper), all as a part of working for the good of kids in Bristol. Sherry and I began praying about this. We started talking to some of our friends and family, asking them to pray. We talked to Cedar Springs. And in the end we’ve felt the Lord leading us to begin the process of planting a very missional, outward focused, mission of shalom based church.
We will remain at Windsor – helping those wonderful people – serving as their minister – as long as we can – all the while working to establish a new EPC congregation we’ve named All Souls Bristol. Our hope is that this church plant will be and do effective ministry – reaching the broken places and lives of Bristol with the love of Christ and the power of the Gospel. We will very much be a church focused on the mission of shalom. All that said, I’m not totally sure what it will look like.
I’ve got some ideas. They are rooted in this understanding that God’s people ought to be known for the good we do – out of our love for Christ and our love for neighbors. You can rest assured, however, that one idea has to do with coffee.
All that said, we are getting things off the ground. We don’t have a website yet – but we do have an amazing logo – thanks to my friend Greg Breeding at the Journey Group in Charlottesville, VA. We do have a few folks that are in this with us – which is great. But – I’m looking and praying for people who are like minded – people who want to do stuff and worship together. In fact, this Sunday (Sept 11 at 4:30) some folks are gathering at my house to pray and to talk a little bit about the vision for All Souls. If you live close by and want to join us – just let me know. We’d love to have you. I posted that on my Facebook page yesterday (which reminds me All Souls will need one of those, too).
I’m excited about our meeting and hopeful for where the Lord may lead us. Cedar Springs has been amazing. They have provided some start up money – which is always good. We have more to raise, of course, and I hate that. I’ve never liked that part of doing ministry. I don’t like asking people for money, which is part of why I like working for King and ETSU for additional income. But, the shalom focused, mission focused church will need money to run. So, I want to ask folks to pray that the Lord will provide all that we need – including courage, faithfulness, a willingness to risk for the sake of the kingdom, for people, for opportunities to do good in Bristol and beyond, and the financial wherewithal to do the work. However, if you want to support us financially we’d appreciate it. We are not set up to take donations yet (we don’t have our 501c3 but we are working on it). But you can send a check to Cedar Springs in Knoxville with the memo reading All Souls Bristol (make sure you put Bristol send it to Cedar Springs 9132 Kingston Pike, Knoxville, TN 37923 Attn: All Souls Bristol). It’ll be tax deductible that way.
Speaking of taxing, this is the longest blog entry ever recorded – at least on my blog. Apparently, I had a lot to say. And, since this is my blog, I get to say it. But if you have stayed with me this long, I appreciate you reading it. Thank you. There will be more later, but hopefully the next entry will be much shorter.