by New Church Ministries
New Church Ministry met Rev. Debbie Griffin, the Senior Minister of Downtown Disciples, last summer at General Assembly. Since the pastor’s congregation is based in Des Moines, IA, it offered worship services, hosted pre-assembly activities for general ministries, prepared a meal for regional ministers and chaired the local GA mission committee.
All of that as a new church.
What is Downtown Disciples?
Downtown Disciples is a progressive faith community, doing justice, loving kindness, walking humbly together in downtown Des Moines. We are LGBTQ+ affirming, we proclaim Black Lives Matter.
And we’re a new church formed by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the Upper Midwest Region.
Why did you plant it?
I was about to give up on the Church. I love the stories of Jesus, but felt like the Church wasn’t being inclusive and boundary-breaking. Then I served at a small congregation in Council Bluffs, IA that had two queer women in leadership positions. The congregation cooked food for 100+ people every week, no questions asked, opening their doors without pressuring people to be church in a certain way. It was a diverse group of people that came for many reasons. I thought to myself, “if this can happen in western Iowa, which is a conservative place, it can happen in Des Moines. There have to be more people like me, who love Jesus, but whose theology is too progressive for most mainline churches.”
How would you define the progressive Christianity you promote?
When we say progressive, we mean LGBTQ+ affirming, proclaiming Black Lives Matter, and being passionate about social justice. It’s all spelled out on our website because people who’ve been wounded or excluded by the Church scour websites, they need to know who you are. We say it every time we gather because it matters to us.
And we don’t condemn or judge others because Jesus calls us not to do that.
The Pentecost Offering allows Disciples to support new churches. What do their gifts mean to you?
We wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for this Offering. Downtown Disciples wouldn’t have a place to worship that worked for us. We needed to be in a neutral place, because we’re reaching out to people who’ve been wounded and excluded from Church. Also, we wanted to be in an urban setting. That costs money. Plus, we needed a full-time pastor to make this work.
The 2020 Vision prioritized forming 1,000 congregations in 1,000 different ways. What is the “way” your faith community demonstrates that diversity?
We worship in a bakery – we move a lot, so we like to say that we’re nimble and respond to the needs of the community. Most of our people aren’t coming to us through worship. They were coming to us through Bible Geeks on Tuesdays at the local café, or at the laundromat where we would do random acts of kindness. They found us at places that were easy entry points for them, and then once they could trust us, they would move to worship. We also host Like Micah, a podcast where we tell stories of our faith.
What role do new faith communities play in the Church?
They are the heartbeat of the Church right now. I know that in the Upper Midwest Region, other traditional Disciples churches look to us. Oftentimes people worry the new churches are going to “replace” the old ones. I don’t see it that way. I see that we can be an outreach for traditional churches who see in us something that they love, but they can’t be right now.
Do you have advice for church planters?
Don’t do it alone. Listen to the Spirit and to the people who you’ve gathered.
How is your congregation responding to COVID-19?
We worship and gather virtually. We share what type of bread we are breaking together in our homes during communion. We raised $1,000 for PPE, donating those funds to our local hospitals that need life-saving equipment. We continue to deliver supplies to our homeless neighbors, wearing face masks, gloves, and staying at a safe distance. We write cards to our friends who are isolated. We cook and deliver meals, flowers, and groceries to members who are quarantined or at high risk. In summary, we are still a movement for wholeness in this fragmented world.
To read the full interview, visit our blog.
Pentecost Offering, which is divided by New Church Ministry and the Regions in which it’s received, supports new church communities. Disciples can make contributions through their congregations or by using the DMF website. Most churches will celebrate this Special Day Offering on May 31 and June 7.