Just a Slice or the Whole Circle?

homelessness : 360 is a ministry project that brings together what belongs together.

Too often we treat ministry like a pizza: a slice of worship, a slice of education, a slice of service in the community… But ministry is more like a circle where all points are defined by the common center.

Our worship, our study, our work, our fellowship, all share a common center in the God who meets us in Jesus Christ.

homelessness : 360 brings together all dimensions of our ministry around just one issue, homelessness. At Vine Street, over the course of approximately four weeks

  • we pray every day, guided by a simple question like, “What do I look forward to when I go home at night?”
  • we visit places like the Oasis Center and Campus for Human Development;
  • we listen to speakers who have left behind easy answers a long time ago, but won’t stop pushing for better responses;
  • we learn together how and why women, men, and children lose their homes;
  • we build little houses for our hopes and our sorrows;
  • we watch movies that help us imagine and understand the reality of not having a home;
  • we bring the little houses we have built and filled with our prayers to worship and we build a city with them;
  • we make beds, prepare meals, open the doors, and invite homeless men to spend the night and tell their stories.
No, we won’t look at the complexities of homelessness from every angle, but we will go full circle in engaging with them: with all our heart, mind, and strength. This is how we love and serve our God. This is how we love and serve our neighbor.

Here's a list of all homelessness: 360 events with more information.

World Communion Sunday 2009

World Communion Sunday is celebrated by congregations around the globe. The first Sunday of October has become a time when Christians in every culture break bread and pour the cup to remember and affirm Jesus Christ as the Head of the Church. On that day, Christians everywhere remember that we are part of the whole body of believers. With this unique focus on the Table and on Christian unity, it should not surprise us, that this day is one of the "High Holidays" of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Whether the Table brings people together in a grand cathedral, a mud hut, outside on a hilltop, in a meetinghouse, or in a storefront, or whether the Table is made of wood or stone or represented by a blanket on the ground – God’s people around the globe gather in response to Christ’s invitation to give thanks for the gifts of God.

At Vine Street this year, we will celebrate World Communion Sunday with our friends from the Congo. Nouvelle Aliance has been worshiping on Fridays and Sundays in our chapel for several months now, and our worship committee and the leadership of Nouvelle Aliance decided to have our first joint worship service on this special day. We will sing familiar tunes with words in English, French, and Lingala. We will hear Scripture read in various languages as well, and our prayers will reflect the wonderful diversity of the body of Christ. All of us, no matter what journey has brought us to the table, no matter what language or culture has shaped us, all of us will come to the table with empty hands to receive the gifts of God for a hungry world, the gifts that make us whole.

It is no coincidence that in the afternoon of that day, we will have yet another celebration. In the fall of 1809, Thomas Campbell published a brief essay, Declaration and Address, a passionate call to Christian unity. That document became one of the key texts for the Stone-Campbell Movement and its vision of the church, and to this day it inspires the ministry of Christian Churches, Churches of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

In celebration of the bicentennial of Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address Christians, congregations with roots in that movement will come together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper on Sunday October 4, 2009. Here in Nashville, we will meet at 4PM at the West End Church of Christ; our own T.J. McLaughlin will direct a unity choir. There won’t be any preaching, only a brief statement about the historical importance of the occasion – both two-hundred years ago and today – and an invitation to what Campbell called “that great ordinance of Unity and Love.”

homelessness : 360

why 360?

At Vine Street, we want to integrate what we do in education, advocacy, service, and worship; 360 is the sum of all angles, and a circle is a beautiful thing (especially when no one’s left out).

why homelessness?

Lack of housing makes all other problems worse; poverty is a systemic issue (and a challenge to any spirituality), and housing is a good point of entry into the complexities of loving and serving the poor among our neighbors. In the future, we will use the 360 concept to address other issues like hunger or immigration as well as our local and global neighborhood.


On October 20, Campus for Human Development commission their new volunteers in a worship service at Vine Street.

In the weeks to follow we address issues of homelessness through education events for adults, youth, and children – including tours, books, videos, and conversations.

Members of every Vine Street household engage in two weeks of prayer: every human being needs a home. Families and individuals have a little paper house – like a coin bank – to collect and offer some of their prayers in writing.

On November 8, Erik Cole gives the 2009 Roger T. Nooe Lecture on World Peace with a focus on homelessness in Nashville. Erik grew up at Vine Street, and he is known in the community for his work on the Metro Council, and specifically for his strong leadership on the Metro Homelessness Commission.

On November 15, individuals and families bring their “houses of prayer” to God’s house of prayer. The worship service celebrates God’s hospitality and challenges us to renewed commitment to participate in God’s mission of bringing all people home; part of that recommitment are our time&talent surveys. Our annual Thanksgiving luncheon adds to the festive character of the day; that night, Vine Street begins a week of hosting Room in the Inn.

Throughout the process, participants write about their experience at

God Moments

There’s a brand-new feature on; it’s a microblog called God Moments.

It works very much like a community bulletin board. Members write brief paragraphs to share those unexpected moments in the course of a day when God becomes more real than anything or everything else around. They write about beautiful encounters that inspired them, or situations that shocked them into noticing the previously ignored. God Moments is about all kinds of daily encounters with the Divine.

Vine Street members and friends are familiar with a beautiful night ritual to lift up a day of work, play, and fellowship: one person asks, “Where did you see God today?”, and some or all members of the group respond by sharing their stories.

The microblog God Moments is very similar. The one thing that’s different is that the focus isn’t so much on seeing, but on being found. The opening question is, “How did God find you today?”

The God moments members share will appear at, Vine Street’s social network for members, as well as at Vine Street’s new website (will go live in early September). There, they will give online visitors an opportunity to see faces and hear voices that introduce them to the people of Vine Street (and not just to the staff and/or webmaster).

mission explorers

We are in the planning stages of a new project. With Tallu being in Nicaragua for a year, working in several community development programs (thanks to Church World Service and Week of Compassion), we want to explore possibilities of an ongoing relationship between Vine Street and Tallu's partners in Nicaragua.

After Christmas, we will send a group of approximately seven women and men (youth and adult) to meet some of the people Tallu has been working with, to listen, look, and learn.

I can't tell you how excited I am about this project and its promise.

Midweek Sabbath

It's Sunday morning on Vine Street, and the church buildings are full of people of all ages. There's chatter and laughter on the steps and in the hallways, singing, prayer, and music in the sanctuary - lots of energy, from early in the morning until the last after-worship conversation over coffee has ended. Sunday is a day of worship and learning, nurturing relationships and making new friends, a day of celebration and sabbath rest.

A few weeks ago the Elders created a sanctuary of a different kind, a window to sabbath rest in the middle of the week. We used to use our chapel only for worship on Sunday morning and on occasion for a small wedding or funeral. Now we gather there every Wednesday evening at 5:30 p.m. for Evening Prayer, led by one of our Elders.

The chapel is especially beautiful at that time of day. The sun is low, and the mild light pours through the windows, bathing the entire space in a warm glow. It is wonderful to just sit there and enjoy the peaceful silence.

Evening Prayer is a brief service, lasting only about thirty minutes, of responsive readings from the book of psalms, a reading from scripture or a short meditation, the Magnificat, a. k. a. the song of Mary from Luke 1:47-55, prayers of intercession, and the Lord's Prayer.

You could wait for a particularly hurried week to come by the chapel on Wednesday evening to immerse yourself in the peace of God, or you could just come next Wednesday to sit and rest, to pray for the church and the world.

Sometimes I cannot participate in this midweek Evening Prayer, but whenever I do, I leave enveloped by that light, and with a sense of deep joy.

The Adventure of Life

Miles and I joined the Mission Trip to Nashville group last night to watch "UP."

It's a great animated movie, and if animation makes you think, "Hm, kid stuff," you're on the wrong track.

This is great story telling, great animation (with amazing attention to detail), and great fun.

The journey to Paradise Falls (the name alone is a lovely variation on an ancient theme) is a beautiful meditation on the things that give us the courage to live.

Go and see this movie. Borrow somebody's kid if you need an excuse.

Journey Home - A Model

The new addition to Room in the Inn's facilities began with a vision and years of planning and fundraising. Last Thursday was the groundbreaking.

I wanted to share a portion of the program with my readers; a paragraph that describes beautifully the work and vision of Campus for Human Development:

This expansion to our facilities and programs will enable us, using Mayor Karl Dean's words, "to complete the Campus." What this means is that we will be able to open a path for a person to make the "Journey Home," from living on the streets to securing a permanent apartment all under the guidance and support of our Room in the Inn community. In 1995, we formed the Campus for Human Development, becoming the city's only single site of services, offering an array of both emergency and long-term services. Today we stand on the brink of a new chapter in our long story. Specifically, what we will be able to create is a larger Campus that includes increased medical, educational, and day service space; and, for the first time, 38 affordable housing apartments. In short, we will expand and complete Nashville's comprehensive center for the homeless.

I hope the Mayor will remember this development - a single site with comprehensive services for the homeless - as a great model.

Nashville has a variety of services, both government-based and through non-profits and congregations, that address poverty in the city. Unfortunately, the system is very difficult to understand and not easily accessible. In many cases, multiple appointments with various agencies across the city are necessary. This is very time-consuming and potentially frustrating, e.g. for people who depend on public transportation or who can't afford to take an entire day off of work to meet with just one or two agencies.

It would be a significant step in the right direction, if we could combine those services in a network of neighborhood-based, single-site access points. One social worker could work with an individual or a family to help them understand all the resources available to them and assist them with completing the necessary applications. Non-profit organizations and neighborhood congregations that work on related issues like substance abuse, adult literacy, parenting skills, budgeting etc. could be partners at these centers.

Head Start Centers or community centers come to mind as potential sites for more comprehensive services for Nashvillians battling the causes and consequences of poverty.

Falling Over

On Sunday, KK and the kids talked about things we do with our hands in worship and ministry. Clapping, shaking hands, holding hands, hugging - they came up with over forty things we do with our hands to share God's love with one another!

At one point, KK was shaking her hand in a way that reminded me of dusting the furniture. "This is something Thomas does a lot," she said. I was confused. "Dusting?" I asked, and she started laughing. "Not dusting, writing! Thomas writes a lot!" and there was the motion again. I fell over backwards on the carpet, laughing.

Then the kids led the congregation in what TJ calls, "Jazz hands!" a.k.a. applause in American Sign Language, thanking me for five years of ministry at Vine Street.

Carol Doidge, John Marshall, and Greg Bailey added words of thanks and Greg handed me an envelope with a thank-you gift.

I didn't open the envelope until after our worship service - and I almost fell over backwards again! Thank you all for this wonderful gift, and for the relationships, the conversations, the prayers, the songs, the meals, the work, the laughs and smiles and tears of the past five years.

Thank you, Vine Street!

For the Peace of the City

Requests to the church office for housting assistance have been going up steadily since October 2008. In these difficult times, more individuals and families need help so they can stay in their homes and pay their utility bills. At the same time, funding for local non-profits that focus on helping Nashvillians stay in their homes (or assisting them in getting back into permanent housing) has dried up: many charitable foundations have lost 40% or more in assets in the current economic downturn.

I am happy to report that Vine Street Christian Church decided to meet this critical moment with a strategic move. The Official Board voted on Monday, May 18, to invest, in addition to current outreach commitments, $30,000 in local agencies who address the need for housing from different angles. The details of the proposal had been worked out by Julia Keith, Chair of Local Outreach, and Hope Hodnett, representing the staff.

Checks for $10,000 each will be sent to

  • Disciples Village, a retirement home in Nashville that opens its doors to low-income elderly in our community;
  • Room in the Inn, a ministry that assists people without housing with essential services and help to find permanent housing; and
  • Rooftop, an organization that provides funds to individuals and families in need of emergency financial help with the goal of preventing homelessness and providing hope.
I am grateful for the work of this church, love in action for the peace of the city. I am grateful for leaders who step out boldly when tough times call for bold action.

Now the Story

The little boat has served us faithfully.

We got on board in the spring of last year, and the Spirit of God blew across the sails – gently sometimes, forcefully occasionally, always pulling us forward.

We gathered in groups of various sizes, heard presentations and shared comments, and then we met in groups of three for one hundred days. How surprised we were to find this portion of the journey to be the single most rewarding!

All the insights and discoveries, all the thoughts, hopes and dreams were harvested – no, not to be stored in a pretty barn. Like grapes become wine and wheat becomes bread, the harvest of our conversations and prayers has become a story. Are you curious?

On Sunday, April 26, during our Spring Luncheon, we will present “Vine Street 2019,” our future story. This is not only a premiere you don’t want to miss; it is a sacramental moment: it is the embodiment of our work and prayer of an entire year, it is the call we have heard.

Tallu in Nicaragua

On Monday, April 20, Tallu will fly from Nashville to Managua/Nicaragua to work for one year in a community development project coordinated by Church World Service, Week of Compassion, and CIEETS.

Tallu is a member of Vine Street Christian Church in Nashville; we are very proud of her, of course, and we look forward to this opportunity to build relationships with the people she'll be working with. I hope she'll soon have her blog up!

For today, have a safe trip, Tallu, and God bless your adventure in ministry!

Nouvelle Alliance

On Palm Sunday, Nouvelle Alliance Christian Church gathered for their first Sunday worship service in the chapel at Vine Street Christian Church.

The members are all recent immigrants from the Democratic Republic of Congo and their children. The worship languages are French and Lingala, and the sermon is also translated into English. Celet Nkobe is the leader of the new church, and we pray that Nouvelle Alliance will thrive and become a home for French-speaking Christians in Nashville.

On Good Friday our congregations will worship together, and on Easter the youth will serve pancakes for both congregations.

The Book

Yes, Polar Star Press published a sermon series I preached in the summer of 2008, "Affirmations."

The book is a collection of reflections on the Disciples' affirmation of faith - it's a beautiful confession, but we call it, somewhat over-cautiously, the Preamble to the Design.

This We Believe would be such a lovely statement, but we're a long way from anything like that ...

Anyway, your purchase of the book will support the work of the Disciples of Christ Historical Society. Thank you!