In The Beginning: What Name to Live By

From Warren

It was 10 years ago now and we had not yet met more than a few times as a forming church body. In these very early months we were meeting every other Sunday morning in Josh and Ari Smith’s living room. We were convened that evening around our dining room table. There were only about 10 of us (including Josh and Ari, Sonia and Kurt, Charise and Josh, Janet and Warren, Heidi …??), but in those early months, these individuals were a large proportion of the entire church. We were already sufficiently involved with one another and attached as friends that, despite some important work to be done, I remember this as an enjoyable evening characterized by freedom to say strange stuff and to laugh.

Our primary order of business was to decide on a name for our church. One important part of our discussion had to do with whether or not to include the word “church” in our name. Of course, we were all a part of this church-plant adventure precisely because we deeply valued church. However, as we discussed it that evening, we felt like there was a certain amount of semantic and experiential baggage that accompanies the word “church” that we wanted to avoid if possible. Nevertheless we sincerely hoped to embody what we understood to be the essential value of church. What we wanted to avoid were things like rigidity of forms of life and worship, hierarchical relationships, and the larger-than-life entertainment style of worship. Somehow “church” seemed to us to signal too much of this, at least within our social and cultural context.

We choose instead “communion” because that is what we hoped to become. (I think it was Sonia who came up with this alternative). This was expressed as a goal for our new church, as much as a obviously present fact. Along with our hope for communion was an expressed comfort in it being OK to be small. “Church growth” was not something we valued for its own sake. We wanted (in my words at least) to “do well what you can only do when you are small.” In this respect, we were hoping for a highly relationally attached group of persons who were willing to live, worship, and work together over the long-term, come what may, while striving as a body to grow more like Christ and to become more deeply involved in God’s reign on earth.

In another essay in this volume (see Josh, “Church Plant”), the story is told of how we were given a statement of mission that has become something like a challenging mantra at Mountainside: Micah 6:8, “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.” As we met that night, this passage was already becoming central to our understanding of our selves. It signaled to us something about communion and community, but more importantly it challenged (and challenges) us to a life of hospitality and service to (and with) the community that surrounds us…most particularly, the City of Monrovia.

But “communion” by itself obviously did not say enough. It did not locate us in any way geographically or conceptually. My recollection is that this part of the discussion was also hard work. We thought of things like “Foothill” and “San Gabriel Valley” and “Monrovia” since Monrovia is a city in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, and located in the San Gabriel Valley. In the end, the name “Mountainside” began to emerge. What most grabbed our attention and imaginations was the link we made to the Sermon on the Mount. We were drawn to the idea of being a group of persons that gathered on a mountainside, listened to the teachings of Jesus, and, in light of this teaching, tried to live together as a community of justice, kindness, and humility within our city on a mountainside.

So, we have been known now for 10 years as Mountainside Communion. Despite the idealism of our early years reflected in our discussions about our name, we continue to challenged by the values expressed in coming to a name to live under. We continue to try to live into the challenge and grace that, in our minds at least, Mountainside Communion represents.