By Rosy Robson, a student at Union Presbyterian Seminary.
Last week, a small group of us traveled on roads less traveled to the Wild Goose Christian Community, located in Indian Valley, VA. Indian Valley is an area of Floyd county, and is perhaps the very definition of rural. Roads wind through wide swaths of land that blanket the Blue Ridge Mountains. We left behind the sounds of Richmond (as well as traffic lights!), and enjoyed a few hours soaking in the peaceful vistas, blanketed by a blue sky and warm sunshine. Indeed it was true what Pastor Edwin Lacy later shared with us:“worship here often starts on the drive out.”
The Wild Goose Christian Community is part of the 1001 New Worshipping Communities initiative and is about 4 years old. The Wild Goose takes seriously its context- rural, Appalachian, Christian- and this is reflected in all that this community does.
The Wild Goose worships together on Tuesday nights, coming together for what they call “Uprisings.” Uprisings begin with a potluck in the back yard. Not only do goose-goers share a meal together, but this is where elements of community are fostered that lead goose-goers into worship a little bit later. Pastor Lacy describes the potluck as “a community-forming event” that enables goose-goers to “move into worship as a community.”
As I sat in the backyard pavilion, my tablemate, John, shared with me that he also attends a different church on Sunday mornings (which is typical for about 40% of goose-goers, while the other 60% come from un-churched backgrounds). I asked him why he comes to the Wild Goose, too. John responded, “The food is good.” He then went on to say, “It’s the people, the community…It’s more participatory than what we do on Sundays.” John’s sentiments were evident as he pointed to the chocolate cake I was eating and said, “That cake there? That’s my birthday cake. The lady over there made it for me.” John then advised me to make sure I “rocked a lot during worship.” John is certainly a fan of the relationships and rocking chairs at the Wild Goose.
We moved from the pavilion to the sanctuary, greeted with strums of a guitar and banjo, a circle of 30 or so rocking chairs, and a simple table in the center. When this 75-year-old church building became the Wild Goose, the carpet and the pews were taken out. When the carpet was stripped away, a beautiful hardwood floor remained. However, if one looks closely, one can see in the wood where the pews used to be. The pews were replaced with rocking chairs. Each chair varies in size, shape, and style, and was donated by a different church in the presbytery. The former pew’s shadows on the floor and the circle of rocking chairs serve as a beautiful visual reminder of the interconnectedness of the body of Christ.
Worship begins with communion each week, thus tying together the potluck and worship service. The tables in the backyard serve as extensions of the Table in the sanctuary’s center.
The remainder of the worship service is divided into four parts- “We Gather Together,” “A Time of Prayer,” “A Discussion for Thinking Christians,” “A Celebration in Song,” and “We Go Forth.” While this order of worship initially looked quite different than what one would expect on a Sunday morning in a Presbyterian church, I found the Uprising felt quite familiar. The Uprising reaches back to times a far, with tinges of house church meetings, monastic meditation, Appalachian song, and Celtic spirituality. For example, we gathered together singing “I Love to Tell the Story,” we prayed a prayer from Iona, and we spent a few moments in silence. Following the scripture reading, there was no sermon. Instead, everyone in the circle was invited to discuss. On this particular evening, we read the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) and as one can imagine, there were a vast array of opinions. Yet, what was so beautiful was the way in which each person was free to express his or her opinion, regardless of differing interpretations or viewpoints.
At the end of the Uprising, everyone stood up and held hands, while singing “We Are One in the Spirit.” The song ended with the line, “Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” As we left the Wild Goose, I could not help but think about how accurate that line encapsulates both the ministry of and the Spirit’s doing at the Wild Goose Christian Community. The love shared between those who are new to church and those who find an additional church home here. The love of Floyd County and Appalachia. The love that creates a space where all people are welcome and encouraged to participate. The love of sharing a sacred meal at table. The love of the old and of the new. The love of Christ’s light, guiding goose-goers to Uprisings and then back out into the world.
PS. If you would like to learn more about the Wild Goose Christian Community, visit their webpage, where you’ll find an awesome video that tells part of their story.