I've grown up hearing the word "Amen" but beyond waiting for it at the end of a prayer so that I could finally eat or hearing an elder in the church belt it out during a sermon, I have not given much thought to it...that is, until recently.
On Friday afternoons for the past month, I have been serving hot meals and coffee to ladies (and some men) on the block of Sullivant Avenue where our ministry organization is located. They used to come on Fridays - pre-COVID days - for what is known as "Friday Coffee" where our residential Recovery director would open up our storefront looking building as a safe place for them to come and just "be." Some would come in to use the restroom and rest their head on a table for an hour or so. Others would come knowing it was a place where people would know their name and ask how their week is going. The intent of this time and space was to create a safe place where we can connect with folks and share about our Recovery program. Some have come into our residential Recovery program as a result. But for most, it is just a safe place where you are known, or missed if you haven't come in a week or two. Because of COVID-19, we did not want to completely halt the Friday Coffee until further notice, but had to make some adjustments. So, I have been the "substitute" leader and we have been handing out hot meals and coffee "to go" style out the front door rather than having folks come inside.
This has been a shift for me as I was used to creating Bible studies and going to the prison each week. Handing out hot meals (thankfully, we have awesome volunteers who are outstanding cooks who drop off hot meals) and making/serving coffee are definitely not my strengths. If someone would have told me back in February that I would not be teaching in the prison for an indefinite period of time and would be serving hot meals on Fridays, I would have thought they were crazy, for I'd much rather read, research, and write than have to come up with a menu for 25 people and serve it . My mantra is that I am "domestically disabled!" But...God works in mysterious ways.
Each Friday afternoon, a friend named Kenny who is a neighbor and dear brother in Christ, comes and sits on the front bench. He provides the best advertising for the hot meals. His approachable and friendly baritone voice has a way of drawing people from all walks of life. This past Friday, I was not "feeling it" and was especially restless. It's pretty easy to host your own "pop up pity party" when it's cold and rainy. Our faithful volunteers had just dropped off steaming hot trays of lasagna and I was dishing it into the "to go" containers when I heard Kenny begin to sing. He was sitting on the bench singing the old spiritual song, "Amen." It's amazing how music has a way of lifting one's spirits. That afternoon, more people stopped by than previous weeks. They were cold, wet, and hungry, but so kind. "Thank you for still being open on Friday! I'm starving!" was the common theme. Needless to say, the pop-up pity party quickly dissipated into a perspective shift and a heart overflowing with gratitude.
Throughout the weekend, I have been reading and meditating on the word "Amen." What does "Amen" have to do with me/us now in 2020 in the midst of a global pandemic? What does it have to do with the Church?
Actually, a lot! I came across a devotional by JD Walt. He writes about how we usually associate "amen" with "let it be so" or "we agree." However, Walt challenges readers to examine what prayer is. Instead of viewing it as bringing our requests to God, it is learning "how to speak as God speaks." Walt gives an example of this in Genesis 1:3 as "the first prayer in the Bible when God spoke into the formless, empty, darkened depths, He speaks three words, "Let there be..." or the shorthand way of saying it is "Amen." I love how Walt explains this,
"The world around us desperately needs people with the audacity to speak like God speaks; to speak words in the power of the Spirit into the formless, empty, dark and deep situations. The world needs the followers of Jesus to become schooled and skilled with the creative speech of prayer."
At the beginning of the Lenten season (seems more like Christmas since time has become so fluid), my prayer was to seek what God was saying to His Church in 40 days. What I am finding is that He has MUCH to say! In his devotional, "The Three Most Powerful Words of Prayer," Walt exhorts the Church to be praying Spirit- empowered, audacious prayers. In many ways, I am so grateful for the shakeup that the Western Church is experiencing. In my immediate context, I have witnessed and experienced the Body of Christ moving in my neighborhood and city in visible and powerful ways. I love it when the Church leaves the building! The Church was never about a building, but it has ALWAYS been about the PRESENCE of Christ in the world.
Because of altered schedules (not having to be at appointments or meetings), I have had more time to sit on the church steps and talk with people. I have had more opportunities for conversations with women from the street than before. Some of their stories have broken my heart, but have helped me to truly SEE them and not through them or past them while on my way to someplace else.
"Father, in the name of Jesus, and in the power of the Spirit, as it comes to this situation of... the chains of human trafficking, domestic violence against women and children, addiction of all forms, I say, "Amen, Amen, let there be freedom and healing! Let there be wholeness and holiness! Let there be life and flourishing like Sullivant Avenue and the westside of Columbus has never seen! Let there be family reconciliation and restoration! Let there be marriages restored and strengthened! Let there be a generation where young people see and hear your vision of what the Church can and should be! Let there be a revival that shakes the Western Church!"