My few weeks in Asheville have opened my eyes to how different my hometown is to other places. I was born in Clinton, South Carolina. I grew up in Clinton, and I go to Presbyterian College, which is also in Clinton. I have never really had the chance to experience the world outside of my little bubble, AYM has given me that chance. There is no way that I would see someone walking down the streets of Clinton with a blue mohawk, or witness a scheduled drum circle in the middle of the city where people of all backgrounds are given the chance to be united through music. I needed to see and experience these things, to get a taste of the world outside of my bubble. I have been a member of the same church since birth; I have only been a part of other congregations a handful of times. Since I have been molded in such a deliberate way for so long, it becomes difficult to imagine anything different. I have become trained to believe that the way the things are done in my church is the right way to do things. Which is not always the case.
Since I have been in Asheville, and have begun to work at our different agencies there is one that I always leave feeling spiritually aware, and that is Haywood St. Congregation. The ministry that takes place at Haywood St. can only be described as beautiful. The people represented are from all different backgrounds. On any day, half of the people in the congregation could be individuals experiencing homelessness. The others are people from the community that are compassionate and want to learn about their less fortunate neighbors by sharing in the special worship together. The congregation is an intentional refuge for people experiencing homelessness who are looking to find a Christian home that will never turn them away. The structure of the service goes like this: there is a welcome, a prayer of the people, a Bible reading and discussion, and communion is served. There are also several hymns spread throughout.
The first time I went to Haywood St. Congregation was during the AYM orientation week. I was completely awed by everything that went on. I had my mouth hanging opened for most of the service, just because I had never seen anything like this in my life. The prayers of the people, at my church in Clinton, involves the pastor going to the pulpit and reading the list of people that had been collected that may have gone to the hospital that week, or had recently passed away.
The Haywood St. Congregation does this a little bit differently. Someone from the congregation will get up and lead the prayer. They will then ask the congregation, “Who needs prayer?” and people respond with names, and stories of people that are in need of prayer. After a prayer is asked, we (the congregation) pick up noise makers, which are plastic bottles filled with dried beans, and we shake them profusely. So loud that after we stop shaking the noise makers, we can still hear an echo. When I first encountered this method I thought it was silly, and I didn’t quite understand the point. Then, I started to think about it. When my pastor announces who needs prayer, I’m not sure anyone remembers to pray outside of worship. I don’t think I have ever remembered a name that has been said during a prayers of the people at my church, which is bad, I know. At Haywood St. Congregation there is no need to remember the name of the people for later. At Haywood St. we are all praying right then, at that moment, together, and the person who offered the prayer knows how many people are lifting up their prayer by the sound of the noise makers. This participation of the congregation in the service is something I had never witnessed, and I believe it is wonderful.
My experiences at Haywood St. Congregation have really changed how I think a worship service should be. Up until this point in my life, it feels like I have been doing church wrong. At my home church we always talk about trying to be inclusive, to build a community. I felt more a part of a community in the two times I participated in worship at Haywood St. than I have felt in the last 21 years at my home church. I have heard the phrase “a thin place” where our separation from God is almost transparent, Haywood St. is one of those places.