This scene in Mark’s story of Jesus (Mark 5.21-43) finds the New Human Being and his disciples back on the west, or Jewish, side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus has shown his power over a storm and a legion of demons, but what will he do when he encounters two persons, each in their own rapidly descending journeys toward death?
First, let’s grasp the idea of ancient Judaism as an honor culture. One’s status determined to whom one could speak and how to interact with others, regulated social rules and transactions, and circumscribed mobility and access to others within the system. In this part of the story, Jesus once again disrupts—and therefore challenges—those very dynamics, rules, and roles. For example, women were not to be assertive and synagogue rulers were to engaged with bowing and scraping, kowtowing deference. But (again) Jesus subverts the status quo in order to create new possibilities of human community. And once again we look at ourselves: our honor code system is not identical to this one, but in what ways does Jesus challenge ours, and therefore, call us to resist and transform it?
Jesus has returned to Jewish territory and is approached by a member of the Jewish ruling class (Jarius), but while in a tightly-packed crowd, he is interrupted by a woman who has been hemorrhaging money and blood for 12 years. She has paid doctors over and again to be healed or saved from this physical ailment (in Greek, “healed” and “saved” is the same word)—and the social alienation, loneliness, and shame it has brought her. The doctors have taken her money but not helped her. Jesus heals her for free. This woman, poor and outcast, shamed, exploited, alone, comes to Jesus. Hiding and hoping, she makes her way through the crowd, wanting to touch, if nothing more, just his clothing. When Jesus notices and accepts her highly inappropriate touch (according to the honor culture), she falls at his feet (.33).
Moments before, it was Jarius who fell at Jesus’ feet (as he asked for the favor of his daughter’s healing). An important symbolic reversal is being demonstrated. Jesus puts this woman’s need first, above the needs of the synagogue leader and his innocent 12 year-old daughter. The woman is from the bottom of the honor scale, Jarius is at the top of it. But by the end of this scene, she becomes the “daughter” at the center of the story. Jesus then tells her, “My daughter, your faith”—her sheer audacity!—"has saved/healed you, go in peace and be of full health, free of your scourge” (.34). Her faith is honored by Jesus—in contrast to his male disciples who are “without faith” (4.40).
Jesus then exhorts Jarius (a leader of the synagogue!) to follow the example of this lowly, shamed, unclean woman! Jesus tells him: “Do not fear, only believe” (.36). But when Jesus tells him that the girl is not dead, but only asleep, the remorse turns to derision, which of course, is a signifier of too little belief (i.e., trust).
Mark shapes this story to juxtapose the two extremes of the Jewish social scale/honor system. Presumably, the girl has enjoyed 12 years of privilege, yet is now “near death” (.23). The woman has suffered 12 years of pain, destitution, loneliness, and shame by way of a purity system and its (religious and medical) doctors. She could not enter a synagogue and participate in religious rituals, could not have sex with a husband, could not be touched by others. She was violating taboos when she squeezed herself into that crowd.
Ched Myers concludes that “The object lesson can only be that if Judaism wishes ‘to be saved and live’ (.23) it must embrace the faith of the kingdom: a new social order with equal status for all.” At the end of the story, the narrator observes that the girl is 12 years-old, added as though it were an afterthought. But of course, there is intentionality here. The number 12 links the woman and the girl, the two “daughters” of Israel to the 12 tribes of Israel. Perhaps the woman represents tradition-bound, “mother Judaism”—unclean, isolated from the world, oppressed by a myriad of laws and honor codes—but saved by the New Human Being, the Anointed One (“Christ,” in the Greek). Perhaps the girl represents the New Israel, offspring of the synagogue and its Pharisaic heritage, on the verge of bearing children and thus, bringing new life into the world. Resurrected from the dead, saved/healed by Jesus, she can now fulfill her calling and destiny.
Notice that Jarius asks Jesus to do nothing more than just touch his daughter and that the woman believed if she just touched even his clothes, she would be healed. One way to hear this part of the story is to judge with ideas shaped by modern science, and a set of modern and contemporary prejudices that holds such child-like, magic-like faith in contempt. How naïve, childish, unsophisticated! But are we to imagine that God will only meet us, touch us, and respond to our needs if we approach God with a sufficient level of philosophical, theological, and scientific knowledge and sophistication? As Dan pointed out in our discussion, isn’t it the case that whoever reaches out to the Christ, however educated, knowledgeable, and sophisticated—aren’t we are simply seeking, more or less, to just touch Jesus… and be healed?
Thanks for reading,
Over the past several months, we have engaged in sermon series called Semper Reformanda — the Church reformed, always reforming. In light of the challenges we face as a community, we have had an ongoing conversation about the future of our church.
This proposal is being put forward by the RFC Board and pastors following a summer of reflection, prayer, and conversations about the future of Riverfront Family Church. We will consider this proposal further at our special meeting on August 27.
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. - Acts 2:42-47 (NIV)
Our vision, as the board and pastors of Riverfront Family Church, is to transition to a church model centered around weekly home gatherings (both in person and online) with monthly larger community gatherings (which will be hybrid to allow all to participate).
As Acts 2 tells us, while this is a “new” model for us, it is not a new model in a historical sense. Gathering in homes is the way the church started and the way the first followers of the Way did life together. It is also not a new concept for Riverfront, as the original intention behind Huddles and 242 Groups is quite similar to our vision for future home gatherings. In many ways, we are merely going back to our roots.
Our dream is to be a community of People of the Way, following Jesus our Lord, dedicated to serving Hartford and the surrounding communities, committed to radical inclusion and justice, gathering in various forms, locations, and capacities, doing life together, prioritizing belonging over believing, united by a shared mission and purpose.
What Would and Wouldn't Change
We use the term "home gatherings" intentionally to reflect that these gatherings will not replace Riverfront Family Church, and they will not take on all or almost all the functions of the church. To emphasize, we do not envision forming house churches in the sense of carrying out all or most functions of a traditional denominational (or non-denominational) church, or disbanding Riverfront Family Church and replacing it with house churches.
This is a programmatic change, not an organizational change. The following aspects of Riverfront, in no particular order, are not changing:
The overall institutional structure of Riverfront Family Church.
The leadership of the church (co-lead pastors, teaching pastor, officers, and Board).
The financial oversight and accountability of the church (Ben, Dave, the Board, and annual meetings).
Our denominational affiliation (ABCUSA).
Our affiliations with various networks and ministries (AWAB, GHIAA, etc.).
Our statement of faith, common purpose, etc.
Our existing small groups (Huddles, book group, Bible study, interfaith dialogue group, etc.)
Our approach to pastoral care and relational ministry. In particular, our pastors will remain available to provide pastoral care to all members and attenders of the church, regardless of when and how they participate in the new model.
What would change is our approach to weekly worship gatherings.
Purpose & Goals
The home gathering model is meant to achieve four major goals:
Financial stewardship: Riverfront is running at a significant deficit and has been for some time. This deficit is primarily driven by the cost of our (underutilized) physical meeting space and related expenses. While we have enough reserves to sustain the church for some time (i.e., this is not an emergency), we believe stewardship in this season means letting go of the meeting space. The new model would allow us to continue to gather as a church in a more financially sustainable manner and redirect our resources into relational ministry and community partnerships.
Variety of times, locations and formats of worship: There are many individuals and families who are still part of the extended RFC family, but for one reason or another, the traditional Sunday morning gathering no longer meets their needs. There are also numerous individuals in Hartford who would be interested in attending church but the Sunday morning time is a barrier (e.g., people who work in the hospitality industry). The smaller home gatherings would give us flexibility to explore additional times, locations, and formats to meet people where they are.
Dedicated online, in-person, and hybrid experiences: We are committed to continuing to offer robust online and in-person worship experiences to serve the varied needs of our community. Thus far, we have accomplished this goal by offering exclusively hybrid worship services. However, hybrid services come with significant drawbacks. There is always a sense in which the online attenders become “secondary” to the in-person experience, and there are also significant audio/visual challenges that affect accessibility and inclusion. The new model would give us more flexibility to create dedicated online and in-person experiences that embrace the unique strengths and opportunities of each modality, while continuing to offer hybrid services for the monthly gatherings and other major events (e.g., annual meeting) that in turn embrace the unique strengths of the hybrid modality.
Sacred engagement: We believe in the potential of a small group approach to sacred engagement with the world, with the church serving as a facilitator of connections, belonging, and fellowship among congregants, and serving as a means of pursuing worship, contemplation and action stemming from imagination, creativity, and openness to the Spirit, through individuals acting together. We believe that gathering in small groups, in homes and in the community, and doing life together has transformative power. At the same time, maintaining the larger structure of Riverfront Family Church will put our combined resources, time, and talents behind the broader purpose of engaging in mission with community and regional partners (such as GHIAA and Billings Forge) as we continue to engage in ministry outside our congregation.
Here’s what it could look like.
Weekly Home Gatherings
We envision starting with at least three home gatherings: two in person and one online. Each group will meet three weeks per month (with the remaining week dedicated to the larger hybrid community gathering).
Each group would include a host (or co-hosts) responsible for providing the physical meeting space, as well as a leader/facilitator (or co-facilitators) responsible for leading worship at the home gatherings. These could be but need not be the same person.
We would shift the focus of home-based church gatherings towards fellowship, meals together, scripture teaching/discussion/application, faith-sharing, spiritual care for one another, and the use of arts in worship. We would encourage active participation in discussions, sharing of experiences, and insights in both physical and online groups.
We envision the home gatherings having a high degree of autonomy. There will be training for leaders and some degree of structure offered by the church leadership, but the groups will be free to pursue the style and direction of worship that fits their individual needs and goals.
Home gatherings would be open to all, and members, attenders and guests alike would be free to attend any home gathering in any given week. That is, these are not huddles, which demand a degree of commitment, but rather open gatherings.
Hosts and facilitators would be expected to commit to one quarter (three calendar months, or one meteorological season). Backup hosts and facilitators would also be identified to ensure continuity and protect against burnout if a particular host is either unavailable or exhausted and needs a break.
Much like our current church services, we would hope for these home gatherings to have coffee, tea, and perhaps some light/simple snacks available, but nothing elaborate (to avoid burnout and miscalibrated expectations).
Monthly Community Gatherings
The hybrid monthly gathering would be an opportunity for all of our groups to come back together, whether in-person or online, to share insights, victories, prayer requests, and so on, and to celebrate and worship together as a community.
We envision the monthly community gatherings would include the following elements, as a baseline:
A lesson or sermon
Sharing of testimonies, victories, and challenges
Communion (unless the members prefer to do this at the home gatherings)
Sharing a meal together (catered or potluck)
Having these gatherings once a month (as opposed to once a week) will leave more space for creativity and flexibility regarding the content of each gathering. Our pastors and lay leaders will have additional time to plan and implement additional content that may either augment or replace elements of the standard monthly gathering.
At Riverfront, we have always believed that children are not only the future of our community, but an integral part of the present. While we are still working through the details of how children’s ministry would be integrated into this model, some of the components we have in mind include:
Having at least one home gathering specifically designated for families with children.
Integrating youth into the home gatherings in some capacity (e.g., reading Scripture, hands-on activities, music.)
Having volunteers facilitate discussion and activities for children and youth.
Providing childcare at the monthly community gatherings.
We intend to have a separate meeting specifically with parents and children to ascertain their needs and refine the details.
We will utilize all of our current channels of communication to keep our “scattered” community on the same page, including:
The weekly email newsletter
Our public Facebook page
Our private Facebook group
Our YouTube channel
The monthly large gatherings will be broadcast online, similarly to our current services, to offer interested observers a low-stakes way to “check out” the church. We are also exploring creating additional written, audio and video content to share on our online channels as we invite more people into this community.
If this proposal is approved, our pastors will engage with Immanuel with regard to continuing to use our current space for the monthly gatherings, at an appropriately reduced cost. We have several alternative locations in mind as well, if that is not possible.
In addition, we will need volunteers to come forward, including:
There are several members of our congregation who have already come forward and expressed willingness to volunteer. However, we need all hands on deck, both to provide a diversity of leadership and perspectives, and to promote sustainability and prevent burnout.
Our goal would be to implement this new model in October 2023.
This has been a difficult season for our church and a difficult process to explore. However, while there are times when we have been frustrated and exhausted, we are also tremendously excited to see what the Spirit will do in our next season as a community.
In recent years, the North End of Hartford has been grappling with a relentless challenge: flooding. While the water levels rise, so too do the voices of the community, calling attention to the systemic environmental racism that exacerbates these issues. As Christians, we are called to be stewards of God's creation and advocates for justice. In this blog post, we will explore the intersection of flooding, environmental racism, and environmental justice, and discuss how we, as believers, can play a crucial role in leading the way towards a more just and sustainable future.
The North End of Hartford has been disproportionately affected by flooding, with its predominantly Black and low-income population bearing the brunt of the consequences. Flooded homes, contaminated water, and disrupted lives are just a few of the challenges that residents face regularly. This situation is a glaring example of environmental injustice, where marginalized communities are disproportionately burdened by environmental hazards.
Environmental racism refers to the disproportionate exposure of minority communities to environmental hazards due to systemic inequalities. Whether through historic redlining practices or the placement of polluting industries, communities of color have been unfairly burdened by environmental risks. This contributes to the cycle of poverty and health disparities, further perpetuating systemic racism.
As followers of Christ, we are called to love our neighbors and care for the world around us. Our faith compels us to address the issues of flooding, environmental racism, and environmental justice head-on.
The Bible reminds us of our role as stewards and advocates:
Genesis 2:15: "The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it." We are entrusted with the care of God's creation.
Micah 6:8: "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." Our faith calls us to pursue justice for all, including environmental justice.
Isaiah 1:17: "Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow." We are called to advocate for those who are marginalized and oppressed, including those affected by environmental injustice.
Learning and Awareness: Educate ourselves and our community about the history of environmental racism and its impact on marginalized communities. Seek out resources, documentaries, and expert voices to deepen our understanding.
Advocacy: Raise our voices in support of policies that address environmental justice, such as equitable infrastructure investment, improved flood prevention measures, and stricter regulations on polluting industries.
Community Engagement: Partner with local organizations and community leaders to support initiatives that empower affected communities and advocate for their needs.
Personal Action: Make intentional choices to reduce our environmental impact, such as conserving water, reducing waste, and supporting sustainable practices.
Prayer and Reflection: Dedicate time in prayer to seek guidance on how God is calling us to address these challenges. Reflect on how our faith intersects with environmental justice.
Addressing flooding, environmental racism, and environmental justice requires a collective effort rooted in love, compassion, and justice. As Christians, we have a unique responsibility to be leaders in this endeavor, striving for a world where all communities, regardless of their background, can thrive in a healthy and just environment. Let us remember that our faith compels us to care for both our neighbors and the planet we call home.