(Fresco of a Love Feast Banquet from the catacombs in Rome.)
"If a church provided people with a new kind of family, that would be such a gift to people in Oakland."
That's what our ex-Christian neighbor told us as we described what we intend to create in our city.
We weren't expecting these words to come out of his mouth, seeing as he had left any semblance of Christianity a long time ago. But Jessie told us that "so many people in Oakland are coming from broken homes, or homes that are non-existent," and that's why churches need to become a new kind of family for people around here.
It's moments like these when you feel like God is dropping some serious hints - through the mouth of your neighbor - about what kind of space you're called to create.
When the Apostle Paul was writing letters to the first Jesus followers, the most frequent image he used to describe them wasn't "the church," or "the saints," or "the body."
Again and again, he called them "adelphoi."
Or... "brothers and sisters."
From the beginning, the gathered people of God were meant to function as a family.
It was needed then just as much as it's needed now.
Back then, Roman society was organized according to class and hierarchy.
If I was in a lower class than you, then when it was meal time, I ate last.
Every time I ate a meal with you, I was reminded of how much more important you were than me.
But this was not the case for the first Christians.
Their gatherings were marked by a revolutionary practice of a common table, where all of us were brothers and sisters.
Higher class people would wait on the needs of their new family members.
Lower class people ate at the same time as those with more privilege and advantage.
Regardless of where you and I stood in society, when we gathered around the common meal and our Resurrected King, we were practicing a different kind of economy and social order.
Even while Christianity was a minority movement, it was these kinds of practices that eroded the broken social systems that kept people beaten down and ignored.
Oakland is a diverse place, where each district has a unique micro-climate.
The haves are mere blocks away from the have-nots.
There's not enough space for everyone to live here, and many people find themselves "priced out" of their childhood neighborhood.
Many people come from highly competitive work environments.
Others come from broken or non-existent families.
Into all of this division and stratification and isolation, the church - gathered around Jesus - provides something that gives life and equality. Something that gives people a new family.
It is needed now just as much as it was needed then.