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Not Your Father's Kind of Church
or "Church Without Walls"
by Susan Finck-Lockhart

CUB was spawned out of Mission Waco, a Christian-based non-profit organization that provides more than 20 programs to empower the poor and mobilize middle-class Christians. Dorrell serves as Director for Mission Waco, and many of those involved in CUB work for Mission Waco; the two have recently become organically separate.

Jimmy and Janet Dorrell and a couple of others began the church as an outreach Bible Study for the homeless men who slept under the I-35 and south 5th street bridge across from Baylor University. The church celebrated its ninth birthday during a recent Sunday morning service. "Ushers" passed out small vials of bubbles, and as the worship team played, a "bubble offering" drifted up to bless the traffic overhead. Couples have been married and babies dedicated under the bridge.

Lives have been changed here also. Dorrell proudly tells the story of one woman whose prostitute sister died a violent death. The woman herself was addicted to drugs and living with a man. Through loving Christian relationships, she eventually surrendered her life to Christ, but beating the drugs took some time. Finally, she broke free from drugs and married the man she was living with. She and her husband continued to be discipled and grow in their walk with the Lord. They are now small group leaders with CUB.

CUB operates according to nine "Core Values," including being a church based on the revealed truth of God made manifest through the Scripture, illumined by the Holy Spirit and confirmed by the Body of Christ.
Other core values include:

2) being church to the unchurched
3) ministering to the poor and marginalized
4) keeping Biblical justice as an overriding theme
5) celebrating multiculturalism as a foundational pillar
6) de-emphasizing attractive or 'holy' buildings
7) emphasizing discipleship through small groups
8) being an interdenominational congregation
9) affirming the call to 'life together'

Twelve small groups meeting throughout the city, usually in homes, and small group leaders meet regularly for training and accountability. One Sunday during announcement time, Dorrell announced the formation of a new Christian-based recovery group for anyone struggling with drug and alcohol addictions. "We have some flyers on this; if you want one, raise your hand," he invited. Immediately, eager hands went up all around me. "How refreshing to be at a church with this level of honesty," I thought to myself.

For those desiring a deeper commitment to CUB, six "Covenant Community" classes are offered. To be a part of Covenant Community, members must be baptized by immersion, complete the six classes and be involved in a small group. At present, there are "about 40" in Covenant Community, according to Dorrell.

With the exception of a part-time secretary, all leadership at CUB is volunteer. Although titles are not used and Dorrell's name is not listed on any bulletins, he functions as the 'senior pastor.' He and two others function as the 'covenant council,' which Dorrell describes as "the closest thing to deacons in the Baptist church or elders in the Presbyterian church." They are aiming for a ratio of one council member for every twelve covenant community members.

Soon the service will be over. We will all fold up our chairs and stand in line to hand them to the men inside the U-Haul style trailer. Soon that space under the bridges will look just like it did on Saturday night. Church Under the Bridge reminds me that as Christians we are a "pilgrim people" - on a journey with Jesus. It recreates for me the sense of transience and impermanence of traveling with Jesus and his followers. It reminds me of how Jesus sought out "the last, the least and the lost," as my seminary New Testament professor used to say. As a middle class person with an abundance of education and possessions, it reminds me weekly of what is truly important. My 'problems' seem miniscule -- they are put into perspective when I come into contact with folks who are homeless, addicted or struggling to make it.

As worship concludes, I look to my right, at the steeple for the new seminary chapel gleaming in the Texas sunlight. All through church history, great cathedrals and church edifices have been built to glorify God. But in Waco, Texas -- the heart of the Bible belt with a church seemingly on every corner -- it seems to be holy irony that God would show up in such full measure under a bridge each week.

We sing our closing hymn, "Holy, Holy, Holy," as the semis change gears overhead. The traffic to our left turns green and the cars surge forward. I close my eyes and lift my hands. It is indeed holy ground.

Susan Finck-Lockhart is a freelance writer living in China Spring, Texas. She is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and served small churches for twelve years. Susan and her husband Bill, a new professor of Sociology at Baylor University, homeschool their four children.

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