Saturday, April 02, 2005

Potters House

(C of S II)

Arise and go down to the potter's house, and there I will let you hear my words (Jeremiah 18:1-2).

About 1960 a coffee shop for spiritual seekers opened a couple of miles north of the Capitol. It was one of the earliest missions of the Church of the Savior, and I suspect a great proportion of the membership were called to the 6 mission groups that operated Potters House.

The mission group constituted the primary unit of membership in the C of S. One joined a mission group and thereby became a member of the church (with some other qualifications of course).

The mission group met generally one night a week. They enjoyed silence together, some scripture and discussion, the spiritual reports were presented to the spiritual director. But most important the Potters House mission group talked about the work ahead for the next four hours: who would wash dishes, who would wait on tables, who would make sandwiches, who would operate the cash register.

This was seen as an opportunity to engage the community, or at least that part of it disposed to eat, drink and talk at our place. There was also a mini book store that many passers by stopped at.

Many people had their first introduction to the Church of the Savior at Potters House. We were interesting people to talk to and to listen to. Conversations often became intense.

I remember Bob McGillivray, an economist from Seattle working at the Urban Institute. He used to come and sit at the same table every Thursday night and read for two or three hours. After a while I 'messed with him'. I soon found he was avid for conversation, but too shy to initiate it. We became close; eventually he moved into our house and began to take part with us in many of the activities of the church.

That sort of thing happened often at Potters House. We shut down at midnight, departed for our (suburban for the most part) homes.

In 1974 I did a sabbatical at the church. I spent a lot of time at Potters House, often ran the cash register, sometimes acted as bouncer, soaked up the ambience (that was a favorite word of Mary Cosby's).

One Sunday an old lady got up in church and issued a call for the Thursday evening Potters House Mission group. I was ready; I said 'hear am I'. It turned out that two old ladies were all that was left of the Thursday night mission group. It had been Gordon Cosby's mission group, and of course attracted many of the luminaries of the church. Then he and most of the mission group departed to begin Jubilee Housing, a mission that was to become much more central than Potters House in coming years (They had purchased two apartment buildings behind Potters House and meant to provide better housing for the poor people who lived in that neighborhood.)

Gordon made an exception allowing me to become an intern member of the Thursday night mission group. Now we had 3. we organized a task force, made up mainly of young people I had met in church, who helped us operate the place. They were not qualified to be in the mission group, but we tried to give them an equivalent experience.

Those were great days for me, meeting so many beautiful people and taking my place with them in creative activities.

As time went on Potters House became less central to the life of the church; too many other things were happening. Members were going off in many directions, most of them mission to raise the general level of life in that inner city area that had gone entirely black (pardon me, afro-american) when the white community made a precipitate exit with the outbreak of the 60's riots.

But Potters House continues its organic life; it's now run by a special friend of ours named Alice. Strangely enough we heard from her the other day, and I expressed the desire that she might read this report and give me some feedback; come on, Alice.

1 comment:

Liz Opp said...

Thanks for sharing such rich memories, Larry. I can practically see your smile and feel your joy, though you and I have never met in person.