New church explores intersection of community values and Christian faith
Christianity is a hard sell in Collingswood, a borough 10 minutes outside Philadelphia. “People are hostile to Christianity but open to spirituality,” says Jim Angehr, pastor of a new RCA church called liberti collingswood.
It’s one of a network of liberti churches, the other five of which are located in Philadelphia. “Collingswood’s affinity with Philadelphia made it a good fit for the liberti model,” says Angehr. That model, he says, is “ministry that witnesses to Jesus, but welcomes people of any or no church background and invites them into dialogue.”
Angehr describes Collingswood residents as mixed income and highly educated, with many employed in government or the non-profit sector. He adds that the church also welcomes people from areas in South Jersey.
“This is a community that’s experienced a renaissance over the past years, Collingswood especially, which is a walking community with lots of community activism, artists, shops. It’s active and dynamic, open to newcomers, which makes it an ideal location for planting a church.”
To connect with people, says Angehr, “We show ourselves to be good neighbors, interested in the common good, attaching ourselves to activism in the community. We offer a connection point for service and cultural activities.”
One example is Parents Night Out: “We provide childcare for an evening. It’s open to the whole community. We do background checks for our childcare workers, and parents drop their kids off and then go meet at a local restaurant and share a meal together. It’s not a church thing, but a community thing.
“We also help sponsor the local, award-wining farmers market. There’s a music festival we help support; it’s a way to support local culture, a genuine good thing to do, and everywhere in town that these are advertised the church’s logo and name are there.”
They also hold targeted studies and “question nights” to address people’s hard questions about Christianity. A December question night asked: Can we trust the narratives about Jesus’ life?
Liberti also sponsored a beer tasting. For a $10 donation, people sampled gourmet beer, met neighbors, and got acquainted. “There’s just a short intro that connects the event to God’s good world, and thus the church. Then we’re open to questions afterward, but not pushing it.”
They organize “story slams” and invite everyone in the community to come tell stories. “We applaud them, and select the best story.”
In addition the church invites people from the community to join in Urban Promise, an after-school mentoring program in nearby Camden. “People may be skeptical about Christianity but have a huge heart for children.”
Liberti rents space in a community center for church activities. Angehr describes their worship services as a balance of ancient and modern. “For secular people a more traditional liturgy actually can be a way to draw people in and help them make sense of Christianity.”
Bottom line, says Angehr, “We try to be up front. We don’t want to fool people. We’re trying to become part of the warp and woof of life in the community, so if someone is curious at some point about Christianity, they will think of us.”
Recently he’s discovered one more way this might happen: he’s been in conversation with two universities in Camden about serving as campus minister. Angehr invites anyone who has a heart for reaching young people with the gospel to get in touch to learn more.