CHURCH OFF THE CENTER-redefining the idea of church, Mission Clusters

A Symbol of Our Faith

The church I serve belongs to a denomination named, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  Others may have another way of expressing the nature of this denomination, I say that it is a Main Line, Liberal church.  If you know little about the Disciples, as we refer to ourselves, there is ample information  online that you can look up.

This year our Christian Church of Northern California Nevada Region has begun operating under its new by laws.  These by laws change local church fellowship from Geographic Areas to what is termed, Mission Clusters.  A significant change in the way we do our business as church and how we fellowship with one another.

Because we could no longer do church-as-business-as-usual, it became clear to me very rapidly that this was a grand opportunity to totally re-think the idea of church.  Knowing two of the other pastors in the old Geographic Area, Christine Tomascheski, of Eureka, CA,  and Cherie Marckx, of Ukiah, CA, and further understanding how our particular needs overlapped, I suggested that we form a Mission Cluster based upon our own unique and specific needs.  Several conversations with them and board Meetings in our respective congregations, we agreed upon a course of action.  I was given the task of coordinating our need, interests, conversations, ideas, and shared direction.

Below you will find how we expect to function as a Mission Cluster, but more, how we are seeking new ways of defining/understanding/doing church.  I have included the proposal as well as three defining poem-like statements.

October 12, 2011
To the Regional Office CCNC-N

Hi All,
This is to inform you of the intent of the Geyserville Christian Church to be part of the Mission Cluster, “Church off the Center.”  We see this as an opportunity to move forward in our fellowship with the Region, and with the other two churches with which we are joining in this endeavor— First Christian Ukiah and First Christian Eureka.

In truth, I have long thought that the Geographic Area Model was long over and done, so this is a very exciting and new concept.  It is a kind of design-your-own-community model that lets us truly have it our way.  Thank you for that!

This Mission Cluster was conceived out of conversations among Cherie Marckx (Ukiah), Christine Tomascheski (Eureka), and Hilary Marckx (Geyserville). Basically this is a starting point for what we have garnered from our conversations. These are talking points, a place from which to begin. We are not about any one individual or person having THE answer, but about discovering a vocabulary and syntax through which small-church might be re-understood in practical and workable terms. We have heard “small church” defined as around 100 persons, and “micro-church” to be in the vicinity 25-50, but our churches are spirit-filled communions of from 4-20 worshipers and the wider church often seems befuddled by us and to have little to offer us (I will term this size of congregation, a Mini/Micro-Small Church.  At issue here is that our congregations seem to thrive spiritually even while we struggle financially, with few resources to both build upon and/or fall back on, but it is sometimes exhausting feeling that we are out here alone.

We see this Mission Cluster as a place for us to perhaps become our own answer – a place of mutual resource, where there may be no absolute answers, but many possibilities. It is not intended to be a voice, but an ear, not a beacon but an open heart. We see this Mission Cluster to be one of mutual support, insight and prayer.

(doing progressive/liberal ministries
in sparsely populated
and religiously conservative areas)

What does it mean for a church
with few resources,
to do church like it has never been done before?
Ask Jesus!
Jesus looked at church in his own time
and challenged its center of being,
and its being in the center,
in a way that is still shaking the earth.
The church in the center
is a church of much comfort

little challenge, and much tradition.
The Church off the Center
is a church re-defining “small church”
without using numbers as a watermark,
and asks hard questions of itself,
while reaching out in unconventional ways,
and living it’s life looking from the edge inward.
This Church off the Center identifies with those on the margin, and seeks  not so much balance, as justice,
choosing life a guided by Spirit and faith
over the safety of convenience.
A Church off the Center
worships in new ways at different times and days,
and follows Jesus’ lead as it asks itself,
What will it mean to be future church
and not past or present church?


So what kind of church shall we be?
Each week we arrive.
Each week we come in the door.
Each week we sit down.
And we pray, worship, sing, praise
in a church that has come to us
from past generations of people
almost just like us, but not quite.
This church has been formed out of, and by,
accidents of antagonism and victory, and faith and love.
The question is always this:
Will this church, any church,
continue to allow its change
to be accidental and random,
or will it seize this moment and
replace the accident with purpose
and the random with intentionality?


A Church Off The Center
Matthew 13:33-34
© Hilary F. Marckx

What is a Church Off the Center?
It is a church not expected,
not worshiping out of some misplaced
vision of the norm, and
not doing its business in the same old way.
A Church Off the Center
recognizes its roots and heritage
but neither worships its own history
nor its present or future–
A Church Off The Center
finds its Off-Center in
Christ who has never been
at any culture’s center.
It glories not in its mission or
programs or activities or its pastor,
but in the One who has called it into being.
A Church Off the Center does not
seek to elevate a vision of Gospel
that finds refuge in the social values,
community mores, and conveniences
of a religious story of safety
and the communally expected.
A Church Off the Center
is a church of challenge and of parable.
This church not a safe place for
those who seek protection for their
prejudices and biases in their religion.
A Church Off the Center is, itself,
a story told as Jesus did in his parables—
one that ends with an unexpected twist,
and becomes leaven to the bread of our lives.
This Church Off the Center is a church of surprises.
Common knowledge holds that church
cannot thrive with so few members,
such little income, and yet it does.
Out of the reach of the bright lights of the
main-stream neon, glossy, franchised churches,
on the verge of the chaos of life,
and in the midst of flabbergasting Mystery,
this Church Off the Center,
warts, bumps, and all,
and with few resources,
finds its strength in its smallness,
and thrives.


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