I was driving to church today as I do every week to get ready for the service, my mind swarming with tasks and responsibilities for the day. I approached the downtown connector from I-20 as the trees and billboards cleared and the city skyline opened up. Low, dramatic clouds framed the tall windowed structures, and a stately golden dome atop the capitol proudly stood out in front of them. My swarming thoughts dissipated for a moment as I turned to look several times at the panorama which was especially captivating today. The thought occurred to me: I love this city.
I grew up just outside Atlanta, about 20 minutes from downtown and 10 minutes from Six Flags. My first ventures into the city proper as a kid were with my Dad to the IBM building where he worked. I remember inconceivable heights and indecipherable roads. I went to a few Braves games growing up, at the old Fulton Stadium. I went to the ’96 Olympics. I went to The Varsity. I started getting to know the city a little better going to shows at the Masquerade, The Roxy, The Tabernacle, Variety Playhouse, and The Earl. But I was always venturing into the city for an excursion, never calling it my turf.
Over the past two years, however, I’ve been on a mission to plant a church in the city. The road to that reality was something I wouldn’t have guessed, and I attribute it completely to God. I’m now part of a community that has begun a ministry in Atlanta, The Church of the Advent. Right now that ministry is small and consists of weekly worship on Sundays, a study and discussion on Thursdays, and helping people in need whenever and however we can. My participation in the ongoing presence of this praying, working community in the city has made me intimately familiar with what I used to just drive past with determined disregard. Atlanta has definite need of a sacramental presence of Christ, prayerfully and practically helping those in need.
The tremendous need for help in the city is always present, but so is a trove of beautiful sights, smells, and tastes. In fact, those in the most need are often the most acquainted with and appreciative of the jewels Atlanta has to offer. The city is a mixture of needs and abundance. Learning to appropriately enjoy the beauty in the city while never being blind to the needs around you is key to sustained relevance and usefulness. Read about Jesus enjoying food with people one moment and healing people the next. The two are not only compatible together, they’re necessary together. You find those opportunities very frequently in the city.
Since the church planted, I’ve gone from feeling a mere desire to help the city to actually beginning to love it. It’s an affection for the buildings, the neighborhoods, the parks, the restaurants, the venues, the pace, and the people. It’s all of these things collectively known as “Atlanta” and sometimes fully represented to me by a passing skyline vantage. I’m excited to live and work in this city, and plan on being here for a long haul. I hope I and my church can be the hands and feet of Jesus in a city that needs healing and rescue, as well as true joy and fellowship.