Walking south down 14th Street in the Old North neighborhood of Saint Louis takes you past the infamous Crown Candy Kitchen, where a line is likely out the door. Inside people gather for delicious milkshakes and tasty, greasy fare while squeezed into tiny spaces. These minuscule gathering areas serve as a reminder that the building that houses the great little restaurant — like the others around it — are a century old.
One block south — just walk toward the Arch; it’s visible downtown — is another tiny space. On Sunday morning it, too, is jam-packed with friends. They don’t hold milkshakes in their hands but Bibles. They sit shoulder to shoulder in the borrowed art studio their community of faith calls home. They are a unique church — not quite odd enough to feel indie and not quite normal enough to be mainstream. They value authenticity much more highly than polish and production, and to gaze around the room reveals these folks are not just fellow congregants.
They are friends.
The sing, they talk, they listen, they pray, and they commune. It won’t strike you like a normal church. People don’t rush in and out the door. They linger. They all chip in. They aren’t stage centric or ruled by a single personality. Things come across a little sloppy, but like my high school basketball coach used to lecture us when we attempted fancy finger rolls like we saw on television — pretty ain’t productive.
And Pursuit Communities is producing.
All over the city — from the north in Florissant to South City and from the metro East to western parts of the region — God is using these people to transform communities. There’s a garden on a poverty-stricken block where gunfire and slinging dope are the norm. Out of the dirt, wedged in between two abandon buildings just about to tip over from age and neglect, rises fresh vegetables and fruits for the neighborhood to share. But not just food is springing up out of the ground.
Hope is springing up, too.
The people don’t gather to pat each other on the back for all the good they’ve done. This is not a Christian sub-culture that smugly celebrates their superiority. It feels more like they’ve all limped in after a week of doing battle against darkness and despair, just in time to lick their wounds, lean on Jesus and one another, and then scatter to do it all over again.
In their midst is a man in a wheelchair who was thought to be mentally retarded for his first several years of life because he didn’t talk very much. He has a couple masters degrees now. There’s a man who was addicted who is now clean, and a couple young men whose only male role models in life are standing in the room. They minister to single moms who have been abused, business people in the city’s loft district, and refugees from all over the world.
One young couple lives in a camper as they save and raise money to move to Kenya. Their vision is to minister to the least of these in the slums of Nairobi. That’s just how people at Pursuit think. There’s no boundaries for their calling, no limit to their passion. They’ll go anywhere and do just about anything.
Whatever it takes to introduce people to Jesus.
I talked to one guy who is in the beginning stages of constructing a mobile shower truck to drive around the city so homeless people can wash off. I laughed and brainstormed and celebrated his idea with him. I pictured a down-on-his-luck homeless man who had just about had enough on a hot and humid Saint Louis afternoon, maybe even considering taking his life. Then the shower truck pulls up and reminds the man that someone cares. God hears his cries for help, and sends his people to help.
Do you see it too?
There’s a line outside Crown Candy Kitchen just about every day at meal time. And there’s a crowd down at Pursuit Communities’ gathering on Sunday, too. And someday there will be a line behind a shower truck as folks wait to take their turn. Right in the thick of it will be the people of Pursuit Communities. Laughing, talking, and loving their neighbor, just like Jesus said to do.