One of the last places I ever thought I would "do" ministry was at Wal-Mart. Over the years I've heard other ministry stretches. Laundromats, baseball games, red light districts, and state fairs (to name a few) are places colleagues have gone in the name of outreach, and ministry "beyond the building."
I'm not against any of the aforementioned places as venues for spiritual connection. Sometimes my imagination limits me in what kind of connection can be made with God and others. Limits on ministry sites have more to do with my lack of imagination than appropriateness of locale. I ascribe to the observation that we don't have many stories of Jesus in the worship space or the education wing of the local synagogue in the Gospels--therefore I try to imagine places outside the church building for connection with God and others. That is the example we have from Jesus. Sometimes it takes a prompt from the Spirit to recognize the opportunity.
When my colleague, Sarah Roemer, from Spirit of Life Lutheran Church (Port Orchard/Olalla) and I talked about response to the shooting in Port Orchard about 1 month ago, we considered hosting a vigil at a church (Or maybe only I really did. Which one?). The church building then seemed like the wrong place to be. Sarah moved us toward meeting at the Wal-Mart parking lot, at the site of the shooting. Pastor Sarah met with the Wal-Mart management for permission, I started getting the word out. Monday night, Wal-Mart parking lot, candlelight vigil. None of the things that made worship comfortable for me were present, and my blood pressure raised. Before long, a few tweets marked by the hashtag #POShooting gave us phone calls from local news outlets, and big portion of the vigil promotion was handled by television.
I had an interesting conversation with a reporter about the frequency of vigils in television news coverage. If you're in this line of work (television journalism)you end up covering a lot of vigils, especially the night shift, he told me. I turned that statement over in my mind all Monday afternoon. One might think that with all the vigils in response to violence, that violence would subside, or that people might question the importance of vigils.
Why do a vigil?
The section in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew with the beatitudes seemed appropriate for the vigil: blessed are those who mourn...
That part was easy, but I continued reading. "You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven (Matthew 5: 14-16 NRSV)."
Light in Jesus' statement is a given for his followers. We ARE the light of the world. The vigil was an opportunity to share light. In gathering together at the sight of the violence, people had an opportunity to overcome their fear and reclaim the space for peaceful gathering and living. Even at a Wal-Mart parking lot. Even when appearances say that vigils don't matter. I know that vigils do matter. My imagination was tweaked that chilly, rainy Monday evening. The time was not comfortable, the place was not comfortable, but it was a common, public space where fear abated and the light of Christ was shared.