Drawing together as a community. Sharing resources. Sharing relationship—not just in our little church circle, but in the surrounding society that forms our city—this is the vision of GreenTree and the work of the Community Center. The sense of a “community church” and “community center” started with our move to downtown Winston-Salem in the spring of 2006, and since then we’ve seen story after story unfold with opportunities.
At GreenTree, we are passionate about getting close and involved in our immediate society and even connecting the people of our region together as we have opportunity. This drawing-together, we have come to believe, is central to the heart of Christ and the vision of the Church. The early church shared everything: their material means such as food and money (Acts 2), and their spiritual resources—encouragement, inspiration, wisdom, and help (I Corinthians 12).
In a little building on Broad Street, with two additional buildings and some land, we are able to share that biblical model and the outgrowth of a long-developing dream. We are now able to know what it feels like to experience togetherness in our city. Not only with one another as a church group, but in our interactions with our community and the neighborhoods around us.
For instance, Beautiful Things, a creative arts sharing group, meets once a month in the café of the community center. Each person in the group is invited to share a creative work (such as a poem, song, painting, drawing, dance, story, etc.), while the other group members offer encouragement and feedback.
Then there are the Zumba classes, taught by Eva Rieco. The parking lot gets filled up quickly every week as Zumba enthusiasts come in for a lively dance workout set to fun music and peppy encouragement from Eva. Chris Weeks, a Kung Fu instructor in our area, teaches a rigorous training class at the community center as well.
Sharing Manna Garden, overseen by Ely Wakefield, sits in a lush, green area in the back of the property, a ready place for all who want to share in the work or resources the garden offers.
Recently, a mental health advocate with a heart for those who have been stereotyped by mental illness labels has found in GreenTree’s community center a place to provide education, assistance, friendship, and encouragement. Laurie Coker, leader and founder for this group for recovery and support for people who struggle with mental illnesses, has now begun to hold meetings once or twice a week.
For the article from North Carolina Health News, with more information about Laurie Coker’s group at the community center, visit the following link: http://www.northcarolinahealthnews.org/2012/07/23/winston-salem-center-will-provide-support-for-mentally-ill/
Birthday parties, GED classes, baby showers, wrestling teams, church meetings, support groups, gardening days, coffee breaks with friends, game nights—there’s no end to the number of ways the people in our town can help one another and work as a team. And since we’ve been blessed at GreenTree with a multi-purpose building that’s useful for many different functions, we have the opportunity to share our space and to see a bit of “community” happen right in our little corner.
That was the voice of Ely Wakefield on Sunday morning, after church, bags in hand, vegetables on the café table; she was doing her Sharing Manna Garden Mentor duty.
Well, not exactly. Really, Ely was just being a friend, at home in the garden, sharing stuff, the thing you do when people stop by and visit. It’s what my Grandma does when I drive to her house in Virginia (although Ely isn’t my grandma’s age). By the time I’m ready to leave, I’m loaded up with jars of Grandma’s famous pickles, plastic bags full of mustard greens, and some cucumbers for my salad. It’s not a duty; it’s love. It’s home.
This vegetables-in-the-café phenomenon has been going on lately, ever since the soil and seeds in Sharing Manna Garden started doing its springtime dance with the sun and the rain. Whenever we’re at GreenTree, we now see something green, yellow, or red on the café tables or counter, and we can’t help but pick up something and turn it over. Wal-Mart bags aren’t too far away, either. That’s because we’re free to grab some things to take with us, because it’s love. It’s home.
I got that feeling Sunday morning when I saw Ely talking with some visitors. A couple of new friends had come after being part of a chess tournament that one of our GreenTree friends had hosted Saturday. There was also a mom with a cute toddler-aged daughter.
“Want some green beans?” Ely asked her, grinning and arranging the beans in neat piles.
“Sure, that sounds good,” the young mom said. “How do I cook them?”
I can’t help but think I’m correctly speaking for everyone at GreenTree when I say that there’s something nice that happens when you see piles of green stuff—food—life—on the tables and counters of a place where people come to see what’s going on with “this church group.” It says that we’re home. It says that it’s not about some kind of program, or a race to see how “successful” we are based on our group numbers. It says that life happens here, that love grows here.
Home is where we’re not just polite and only offer customary smiles, or enroll people in fix-it programs and hustle them in like cattle to be added to our herd. Home doesn’t always match the ministry brochures of what a successful church is supposed to look like. Home sometimes looks messy. Home is a place where arguments come up, because the energy it took to be out in the world all day falls away in a big tired breath of relief, and our real selves emerge, and sometimes it’s not pretty. Home is where you rest so that you can face the world again. Home isn’t where you go to get a bulleted list that outlines your life; it’s where you get a hug and a bag of green beans.
If you stop by GreenTree any time soon, you can look directly through the parking lot to the back and see how lush and full the garden has become. Ely and her helpers have skillfully cooperated with God’s natural world and brought forth results as pretty as my Grandma’s ruffled rows in her back yard. It’s not perfect; no home is. There are a couple of groundhogs that are making a pesky nuisance of themselves right now, as a matter of fact. But we hope you’ll look at it and think of home. And please stop inside: we’d love to have a good chat over a bottled water or a Pepsi, and chances are that there will be some zucchinis or tomatoes if you’d like to bag up some to take with you.
On Sunday, June 3, in his sermon based in Romans 12, Pastor Tim challenged GreenTree friends with an important opportunity. This invitation also applies to anyone who hasn’t found his/her niche in a church family and ministry outlet. If you haven’t heard the challenge in the sermon or would like to refresh your memory, we’ve adapted it here in blog form.
I have a question: where are you in relationship to your church? Every now and then we need to stop and draw a map in our minds of where we are in life. I’d like to say some things to three different age groups in relation to our church. These ages aren’t a clean-cut division; these categories are meant more to reflect where you are.
Age 18 to 35.
If you are age 18 to 35, you may very well be single. You may be a student; you may be considering a career or starting a career. If you are married, you haven’t been married for very long. It’s quite possible that you don’t yet have any kids, especially if you’re on the younger end of this age spectrum…or you may have young kids. There’s a good chance that you’re nearly broke because you’ve just started out in life. It’s possible that you’re renting; maybe you’re still living at home, or maybe you are just now buying a house. You’re still asking and answering a lot of big life-questions, especially if you are still in your 20’s: you’re still becoming who you are going to be.
Ages 36 to 55.
There aren’t very many of us in this age bracket at GreenTree. We have more people who belong to the upper and lower end of the age spectrum and not as many in the middle. But if you’re in this middle age bracket, you’re probably married or you’ve been married; maybe you’re divorced or even remarried by this point. You may have a career established. You probably own a home now, if you’re ever going to.
If you have children, they are probably already teenagers or young adults. You could even have very young grandchildren. You’re probably dealing with aging parents. You’re beginning to accumulate some wealth by this point—or if not, you’re becoming very concerned. But all in all, you’re probably much more settled than you were in that 18 to 35 bracket.
You may be re-thinking long-held beliefs; this is a time in life where you’ve already pretty much settled what you believe but now you might be saying to yourself, “Wait a minute; maybe not.” Maybe you’re having a mid-life crisis; you’re starting to wonder, “Am I ever going to amount to anything?”
Age 56 to Heaven.
Of course, an 80 year-old is in a different place in life in life than a 56 year-old, but if you’ll just humor me, we’ll group you into this general stage in life if you fit in this age category. You are established financially by this point, or (as Dave Ramsey says) you’re thinking about buying a copy of One Hundred and One Ways to Fix Dog Food and Like It. Your marriage is in the golden years. Or perhaps you’re a widow or widower. You’re most likely retired, or you’re working and really feeling it. Maybe you’re playing with hobbies, playing with grandchildren, or playing with great-grandchildren. You’re advising your adult children (or trying to and pulling your hair out). You’re not likely at this point to make any big life changes that you’re not absolutely forced into.
The Oldies: Your Great Opportunity
Many of you in this final age bracket have shown great loyalty to me over these dozen years I’ve been the pastor here. And you are, except for a few exceptions, the ones who are giving the significant amount of money that goes into funding the church, and we appreciate that greatly.
We want you to engage the rest of us. I don’t mean nag us; I don’t mean preach at us; but we want you to interact with us. We need some advice. We need some direction; we need, sometimes, even some rebuke. And we want you to show some leadership, while letting us take some leadership.
The Youngers: Your Great Opportunity
You have unique resources here. Those of you in the younger category have incredible opportunity in terms of your church. You have a church, with older people with a unique quality here: they have withstood great changes. Many people in the older age bracket just don’t do it. They can’t take it when a church goes through the metamorphosis that GreenTree has undergone. What’s more, you have a group of older people willing to fund the church and willing to help you move forward. And you have a church that has no debt, and small utility bills, even though it has a small budget. It’s very workable. You have the best of both worlds: the freshness of a church plant and the facilities, people, and structure of an old church. You have a pastor who is willing to maintain a good relationship with the older people while looking forward. You have the opportunity, young people, to make this church whatever it needs to be to reach out to your generation.
But the older group has something to say to you, and they’re saying it kindly:
We want you to get some skin in the game. We know you don’t have very much money; give a little bit. Take some leadership. Show up. Commit to doing some things. Dream up something that you love: bring it to us. We’re willing to fund it for a while if we see you making an effort to take some ownership. Now, we know that might mean we’ll have to put up with some things that are just a little bit “too young” for us. But we’re willing to do it if you will take some ownership. Young people, you have an incredible opportunity.
Now, all of us need to get “skin in the game,” don’t we? All of us need to make some commitments, to make church life what it ought to be. And you have an opportunity to take a small church that’s wide open to all different kinds of ideas, and make it into what will be necessary to meet your needs, to have you involved, and to meet the needs of those that are your friends and your peers.
If you’d like to learn more, go to the Sermons Page and explore with us in Romans 12, learn a bit about the kinds of commitments that God asks us to make. And let’s ask and answer this question, in relationship to your local body of believers: How will your church impact your life, and how will your life impact your church?
From time to time, we’d like to include personal stories from some of the members of our spiritual family who want to share what God has done in their lives through GreenTree. This testimonial is from Ben, who has been with us for several years now and who has been a blessing to us here.
After Jesus had mercy on me, and I was reborn by the power of His blood that He chose to shed to redeem me from the debt of my sin, I struggled mightily. I was a shaking nervous wreck. One morning, having no place to be, I sat alone at Panera Bread. A disciple of the Lord had the kindness to ask me if I was OK. I received the grace to swallow my infamous pride and say, “No. I’m not OK.”
This man introduced me to Tim Gross, the pastor of GreenTree. Instantly I knew myself to be in the presence of a man who passed no condemning thought in my direction. He made no mention of my trembling hands. He did not draw any attention to my near-total ignorance of the Bible. Obvious as it was that I would be a labor of love in his effort to disciple me, still he invited me to church that Sunday.
I have never regretted my decision in these last three trying, wonderful years of growth in the Lord’s capable and supremely forgiving hands.
We are a small church—a diverse church. The unofficial elders of the church are there for even the most difficult person, without reproach or recrimination. These people, trained in godliness, know from decades of study and experience that Jesus came to save sinners, and they are sinners too.
The rest of us have issues, too. Sometimes we get frustrated; sometimes we are hypocritical. But when push comes to shove, it is my experience that the Love that dwells within us wins out over the inferior stuff that every human must deal with. As we grow, we are accepting that we don’t have to be perfect: we just have to be forgiven.
Children are not tolerated. They are WELCOMED as an important part of our church. I think we all learn from these little saints, as Jesus told us to do. We have plenty of kids for our size, and a rising youth ministry.
It is an exciting time to join GreenTree. We are working together to reach out into the surrounding neighborhood. Pastor Tim leads a congregation of willing disciples eager to apply God-given skills and talents in this work. From festivals to Bible studies, and informal game nights and such, God is moving as only God can do in the hearts of His beloved creatures.
I was fit for the eternal fire. Now I am living in God’s grace. He loves me so much that He led me to a church that is a second home and family to me. We would love to meet you.