Here is some of what I learned about “how” they do things at The Refuge. I don’t share this with you so you can copy it in your context, but simply to show you what others are doing around the country.
Their “main meeting” is on Saturday night at a grange hall which they rent. The building is rather run down, but that is okay with everyone, since following Jesus isn’t about having nice buildings.
Since I was not able to attend one of their main meetings, I asked what they were like. Everybody told me that they were never the same. Sometimes they sat in rows. Sometimes in chairs around tables. Sometimes they sang songs, but not always. Sometimes there was a sermon, other times a group discussion.
One thing they do every meeting is communion. But even this is out of the ordinary. Those who come take turns providing the “elements.” In most churches, the elements consist of grape juice (or wine) and an unleavened wafer. But at the Refuge, the elements can be anything. They have used coffee and donuts,coke and pretzels, chips and salsa, and milk and brownies.
Frequently, after the meeting, many of the people get together for a meal, but I didn’t get any details on how this works.
Weekday Houses of Refuge
They currently have two Houses of Refuge, which function like a house church.
They meet in a home, and consist of a meal and some sort of group activity or discussion. The night I was there, we had lasagna. There was also coffee and dessert.
After about an hour of eating and chatting, we moved to the living room and sat on couches where we introduced ourselves (for the several new people that were there), and then discussed that the way of following Jesus was not upward mobility, but downward mobility, into the muck and messiness of life.
The discussion was facilitated by Kathy Escobar, but she is not always the facilitator. As with most everything else at the Refuge, leadership is shared. I was told that they often pick a theme to discuss, and then take turns over the next several weeks or months leading the discussions.
Near the end of the discussion, Kathy also passed around a sign-up sheet for people to bring food for the future gatherings.
Leadership at The Refuge
Currently, there are four co-pastors at The Refuge. They do not believe that there should ever be a single “senior pastor.” These four co-pastors do receive a tiny, tiny income, but nothing that anyone could live off of. I don’t know amounts, but I doubt it comes to much more than an average honorarium.
And the co-pastors are not “pastors” in the way most churches think of them. They seem to be closer to organizers or administrators of the church. When someone has a need, rather than call around asking everyone for it, they call a pastor, and the pastor organizes a way to help meet that need. Certainly, they also provide vision and spiritual direction to the church, but they are not the only ones who speak, or do ministry in the church.
Ministry at The Refuge
Many of the people I talked to spoke of the community they have fond at The Refuge. Most have never experienced any sort of community like what they have found here. I saw this first hand and sensed it as I watched them interact. In many ways, they are family. They are not perfect, but love each other anyway. They laugh together, cry together, and live life together.
As such, this is their ministry, and it is a compelling ministry for those who see it. I know I was drawn to it.
They also provide opportunities to reach out with love to other hurting people in the wider community. I heard some people talk about a service opportunity in a low-income apartment complex, and a few other things, but ultimately, their ministry seems to be each other.
When you are real with each other, as the people of The Refuge seem to be, this ministry is more than enough, and also draws other people in who are longing for communal love like this.
What do you think about all of this? Is it still too “churchy” for you? Are they not “churchy” enough? What do you think about how they have communion and co-pastors? Are there any other questions you might have?