Community, Today from Yesterday

I just had the pleasure of sitting in on the Sunday Service at August Gate church. I put a new sound system into their building this week, and wanted to be there for the first service. It was a great opportunity to see community being lived out by really wonderful, committed people with a united purpose. As their website boldly states “It is the mission of August Gate Church to be a church community that loves God because of the Gospel, loves people toward the Gospel and restores the city with the Gospel.” Just a few minutes with them and you can see that they mean it.

A few years ago, I worked with them to put together a portable sound system they could use in rented spaces. At that time they were a group of energetic, excited young people looking for an opportunity to serve. What a difference a few years can make. Now they are burning with purpose and conviction to build their community. This is not just some religious fervor, it literally is a fire burning within them. It shows when they greet people, when they sing, and when they speak of their neighbors. Most of all it shows when they share the Gospel.

It is frustrating to contrast this church family with most of those I am familiar with in the suburbs. People become more isolated and protective of their images. They marginalize their beliefs, turn a blind eye to needs around them, and tend to live in a bubble with themselves (or their children) at the center. It is ironic to me that a sense of community can be achieved fairly readily in an urban setting and a truly rural setting, but not in suburbia.

Rural life would be a very lonely affair without neighbors. There is not a continuous interaction with other people but there is a knowledge that if you get stuck, need something, or want to chat, your neighbors will welcome you. This sense of community is strong throughout rural America and is a part of rural existence.

In the urban setting where August Gate Church finds itself, people live in close proximity to one another. You see your neighbors multiple times daily, your family challenges are far more obvious, there is simply a lot of interaction. It is fertile ground for loving people who are willing to serve to make a difference.

The building occupied by August Gate at Sidney & Minnesota in the Tower Grove East neighborhood of South St. Louis is full of history. In the 1800’s it was known as the First German Presbyterian Church and the building has been in use ever since. During the installation of the sound system, I spent quite a bit of time in the building and began to see the community of yesterday. Everywhere you look is quality¬†craftsmanship coupled with warmth and life. This is not a building with just some big cold sanctuary. There is a well used gym, large kitchens, wide stairs and all the spaces were clearly used heavily.

The sanctuary itself blends beauty and warmth. The woodwork up front is amazing in its intricacies. There are beautiful stained glass windows by Emil Frei and a wonderfully designed pipe organ. What makes this sanctuary so inviting is the wide, well-designed access and the feel of the place. Typical churches of this era are very inaccessible and space is poorly utilized. Here, you can move about easily and without disruption.

The acoustics are equally impressive. The entire ceiling is covered in cork which lends a particularly pleasant tone to music in the space. This is a wonderful place to worship and would have been so in 1931 when this section of the building was constructed.

As I contemplated the scene today I simply could not help but see a continuity with the dedication plaques scattered around the building. I believe these servants that are long gone from this earth would have fit right in with the church I witnessed this morning. It is interesting how you can see that in a way a building was built and how it was used.

This heritage today is continued by literacy programs in the local schools, neighborhood Gospel community groups meeting in homes, and service projects. I wonder if there was any contemplation when the building was new that it would remain vibrant long after that generation was gone. It was very clear to me that God’s call is on this current group and I appreciate the opportunity I had to witness it.

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