When I close my eyes, two scenes come to mind. Each prompts a question.I am standing in the parking lot at the Radiant Inn. The moment I got out of the car a man comes up and asks for some food. He knew we were coming and was hungry. Alvin** is a man about my size, 6’4”, in his 50’s and solid. One major difference is Alvin walks with a cane. When asked about the cane he says “I had a bit of an altercation with the Denver PO-lice.” I got more of the story.  He spent 25 “calendars” in jail, 15 of those “calendars” on death row. I wanted to inquire about how he got off death row, when some other people came up and it was time to wrap up. But I asked if I could pray for him and he said yes.

Somewhere in that interchange he looked me in the eyes and I felt more than a bit frightened by what I saw, but I prayed for him. I don’t remember the details, but I know I prayed for the presence of Jesus and I prayed the truth of who Jesus is over Alvin. I invited Jesus into the space between the two of us. I have no reason to believe he claimed any commitment to Jesus, in fact, I doubt it.  But I am sure Jesus showed up when the two of us gathered in his name for prayer.Here is my question: Is this church?Another scene, also from the Radiant. Diane is with me and we knock on the door of Kathleen**, a person who has become a good friend in the months we have been coming here. She works hard to stay in that room, doing Rockies games and other events to pay the bills. That night her pregnant daughter, Tricia**, is there. She has had some miscarriages and a stillbirth and is petrified that will happen again. The father of the child is in jail and her life dances on the edge of simple survival.  Kathleen is a believer but I am not sure about her daughter. As with the last scene, they too are eager to pray. 

We join hands, forming a circle and we prayerfully invite Jesus into that space between us. I know that Jesus shows up in those moments, huddled together in a seedy motel room on East Colfax.Here is my question: Is this church? I spent 30 years leading what everyone would call a church. Two churches, one in Western Canada, the other in SE Aurora. They were unmistakably what we call church. Worship services, elders, programs, offerings, etc., all the things we associate with church. That was church! But this? Standing with Alvin? Gathered with Diane, Kathleen and Tricia?Yes. I believe that the simplest definition of church is when Jesus says, “where two or three gather in my name, there I am in the midst of you”. The immediate context is that of discipline, but Jesus reaches to a higher principle and says that if only two or three come together in His name, He shows up. And when He shows up, church happens.

By that definition, I had church with Alvin; I had church with Diane, Kathleen and Tricia. In fact, each week we have church dozens of times. We stand in a circle of two plus people and call on the name of Jesus. He shows up. No matter how worn or broken the group, no matter the sin present. We regularly pray with people that have not yet surrendered their  lives to Jesus. We do church with prostitutes, sex offenders, families, the mentally ill, drunks, you name it.We get asked periodically where our church is. I usually say, “Right here.”

“This is church.” Don’t get me wrong. It is not all church is meant to be. I believe in the broader, organized and even institutional church and would encourage any and everyone to find a place beyond that small circle. But I also believe that these small circles are church.For various reasons, few of the people we are around are likely to go to “church” – so we bring church to them.Even as we pray that they will not only find Jesus but will also find their way into broader expressions of church.  We delight in the amount of times we get to “have church” with our friends. It is a gift!

So I say of these tattered gatherings: This is church!