The Greenwood Towers Initiative was mysteriously planted in a derelict rundown motel in Port Hope Ontario a couple of years ago. Ruth Wilkinson and her band were looking for a place to practice, maybe have concerts. So a friend connected them with the manager of the Greenwood Towers motel, a weekly/monthly accommodation for folks who can't afford first and last, deposit on the phone, credit check etc. He let them use the room for free. Partly because there are no washrooms or other running water, other than the brown stuff that comes in through the roof.
Residents of the motel would come to the concerts, but they realized they weren't getting to know them at all and started praying and talking about alternatives.
Short version: In the fall of 2006 they started having pot luck dinners once a week, serving between 25 and 40 people. Since then their Dinner team has grown from 3 contributors to 12, including people who live there and people who don't.
Their new friends are all very low income and the motel is, for many, the last alternative they have to the street. The building is badly neglected and deteriorating.
They have church on Sunday mornings, with brunch once a month, and Dinner on Wednesdays and it's awesome.
Recently, someone asked her how the church was doing....
So now that I have one (a 'ministry', that is), people keep asking me how it's going. I say it's going well. And it is, but I have absolutely no definable parameters on which to base that. I say it's going well because I think it is, and it feels like it is, but the tricky part is I can't explain just what it is that we're doing.
We're not trying to get people to 'pray the prayer'.
We're not trying to increase attendance.
I know a church where, every year, they have a bar graph in the Annual Report, representing the number of water baptisms this year, compared with the last few years. We're definitely not trying to do that. I'm not even sure what that is.
So, when I say things are going well, what do I mean? I don't know. None of the standard evangelical measures apply here.
I know that people keep coming to Dinner, more and more. I know they're staying longer and longer after the meal is over. I know they're teaching me some music and card games so we can have more fun together.
I know we (those of us who live there and those of us who don't) have more in common that I realized at first and that we have things to speak into each others' lives and that 'blessing' is a two way street.
I know that those of us who have the superpower of middle class white respectability have had opportunities to advance the interests of those who don't.
I know we all have more friends now than we did two years ago.
I know I'm becoming less uncomfortable around circumscriptions of behaviour, language and morality other than my own. I'm more confident of what I believe, while feeling less need to defend it.
I know that, in the broader community, word of what we're building is spreading and that we're gaining a reputation for good.
I know that we who don't live there have been called "true Christians" and told that we're not like "religious people". That "Jesus is only here when you guys show up."
I know that one guy - who said that if he ever went to church, the building would spontaneously burn to the ground in shock - comes faithfully every Sunday morning and contributes to our worship and prayer.
I know that thousands of hot, nutritious home-made meals have been served to people who found comfort and enjoyment on a styrofoam plate. That each plateful was one less food bank can opened and heated in a microwave.
I know that some who have needed the voice to speak up have found it.
That some who needed the courage to free themselves from addictions have found it.
That some who needed to make things happen to move out of the motel have made it happen.
That some who needed prayers added to their own received those prayers.
That some who needed a listening caring ear and a shoulder to cry on got it.
That people who just needed to get off the property for an hour or a day got that.
That countless small needs have been met by new friends time and again.
All of which is pure gold, but all of which is impossible to bar graph. And it's impossible to know whether it had anything to do with our being there.
It still doesn't add up to what my evangelical brain equates with 'successful ministry'. It's something I'll probably keep struggling with. How do I know I'm accomplishing anything? That I'm contributing to the Kingdom?
We've been conditioned to look for a 'harvest', with scythes and combines and big barns, but so far, and so far as I can see down the road, that's not happening. What's happening is one heart, one friendship, one prayer at a time. It doesn't look anything like the flannelgraph.
And so I just keep doing the thing that's been given to me to do, because it's what I've been given.
Keep planting seeds. Trust God for the harvest.
I think that is the hardest thing I've ever done. ( Ruth Wilkinson )