I went to a one-year-old's birthday party, and I think I was the only person whose first language was English. I was also the only Anglo amongst a group of folks from Nigeria, Cameroon, and India. This was just before the little Chinese kids began running through the room. And not long after the jazz/gospel band finished accompanying the chanting in the Lutheran worship service. I almost forgot that it was Halloween that day.
I and four other people live in an apartment that takes up about half of the second floor of a community center that is owned and run by First Lutheran Church of the Trinity, a.k.a. First Trinity. The other half is a large, open room that is usually called the Orphanage and is the venue of many concerts ranging from folk to death metal. A very imaginative group also uses the space to LARP (live-action role play) every other Friday (think Dungeons and Dragons except acted out). Downstairs is a community clothing closet ("God's Closet") that is open to the public Tuesdays and Fridays. An African heritage congregation and a Chinese congregation meet in the chapel across from God's Closet, which was why I was almost run over by Chinese children while eating birthday cake. An AA group meets weekly in a classroom on the first floor. Oh, and by the way, this is all next door to the actual Lutheran church.
Living in community was one of my top priorities when I learned that I would be moving to Chicago. First Trinity was not truly my first preference, but after being rejected by my top two choices (both of which would have been only 10-20 blocks away from the office instead of 12 miles away), it seemed quite inviting. That welcoming spirit has only continued as I live in the apartment and participate in the life of First Trinity. I've the wonderful opportunities to be serve as a cantor in the chanting of the "kyrie" and as substitute bellringer (being careful to not pull the rope that would release the bat guano). I've made chili for a Halloween concert, and I've learned my fair share of Lutheran theology at bible study.
Of course, this small church community is inside the larger South Side neighborhood of Bridgeport, a community dating from the mid 19th century when Irish, Italian, and Eastern European immigrants came to build the nearby canal. Now Bridgeport is one of the top four most diverse neighborhoods in Chicago with an influx of Latinos and Chinese added to the hardscrabble mix that populates the area. It is not only possible but very likely that as I leave a bar after watching a football game, I will hear Chinese, Spanish, some Eastern European language I can't identify, and of course that great, endearing Chicago accent. Like any neighborhood, Bridgeport has its issues. Old-time racism simmers just below the surface, and the poverty line is somehow geographical as well as federally mandated.
First Trinity could not exist without the quirky inhabitants of the former parsonage and community center, nor could it be without its host neighborhood Bridgeport. I find little space for pretension here, and the authenticity is both comforting and abrasive, sometimes both in the same moment. While my official placement site as a US-2 missionary of the United Methodist Church is with Interfaith Worker Justice, I am finding that Bridgeport and First Trinity is as integral to my small part of missio dei as IWJ.
They are both my home and my mission field.