Church Under the Bridge and Transformative Community

Church Under the Bridge

Church Under the Bridge

Dr. Jimmy Dorrell who teaches Christian Community Development Course (WMMIS 5122.111) as an adjunct professor for B.H. Carroll Theological Institute also happens to be a Troll. No not the fairytale villain who lives under a bridge (though there is a bridge involved in this story) and not the more recent kind of troll that only exists with the invention of the internet and our cultures fixation on thinking anything and everything is appropriate to post as a comment somewhere on the internet. Dr. Dorrell is pastor of Church Under the Bridge in Waco, TX and Executive Director of Mission Waco.

Recently Church Under the Bridge, or CUB for short, was part an academic research study and paper released in the Journal of Research Service that found CUB was “having significant impact on values, social structures and stimulating social action.” 

From the CUB website :

“Church Under the Bridge attempts to avoid denominational, cultural, economic, or racial distinctions. We are a multi-cultural church committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the unity of His Spirit. We welcome folks from wide and diverse backgrounds to love God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with all their heart, soul, and mind, and to love their neighbors as themselves.

Church under the Bridge meets under I-35 in Waco, Tx and has been doing so for 20 years. What began as a Christian couple meeting, eating, and dialoguing with a few homeless people has turned into a beautiful representation of what Church is supposed to be and a glimpse of the Kingdom Jesus ushered in and Paul described sociologically as “There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” in Galatians 3:28.

Some of the findings that the CUB staff found most meaningful to them to come out of the research were observations such as:

  1. Unlike most dominant religious practices which “conveys symbolic meaning  for ‘who is valuable’, in contrast the church overcomes the experiences of inequality and stigmatization. 
  2. CUB’s servicescape is unique offering a platform to “come as you are” and “typifies anti-structural space where people can be liberated from normative social structures, thus promoting open space for reflective thinking about life and energy to pursue progressive journeys of social confidence and self-worth. 
  3. The diversity is striking and offers “boundary crossing” where people encounter others very different from themselves. Those attending find alternate paradigms of empathy and overcome natural tendencies to seeing differences to “seeing oneself and others” in a new, unified way. 
  4. Despite the organic nature of rituals and traditions, the spirit of ‘this is messy,’ ‘lets have fun’ and not pretend to ‘have it together’ undergirds the community. 
  5. The service mobilizes ways of “understanding, saying and doing things” with others, creating “intersubjective transformation” through reflection, new global meanings of life, and progress in the areas of identity and community. “In moments of transcendence” CUB inspires liminal experiences wherein the individual’s social world can be temporarily dissolved.
  6. The CUB experience not only creates valuable hedonic outcomes of dignity and peace, but also capabilities associated with self-efficacy where individuals feel transformed to cope with the challenges of their hardships. 
  7. Community stakeholder revealed how the CUB has had progressive and transformative impact on the city. One of the most striking illustrations to the social impact is that CUB has stimulated urban revitalization. “ 
  8. Findings highlight how roles of holistic value propositions, an anti-structural servicescape, and communal service practices transform dominant social structures and stimulate social action. 

The CUB breaks down barriers to socioeconomic intermingling and in turn breaks down stereotypes and starts to eradicate the feelings and thoughts of “otherness” and replace them with a greater definition of humanness and “oneness.”  The CUB brings together people that normally otherwise would most likely never intermingle therefore never giving the opportunity to confront their preconceived notions and break down stereotypes.

If you would like to read more about the findings you can read the full 18 page academic research published in The Journal of Research Service here as a pdf or a shorter blog version here at The Center for Service Leadership blog.

What are some service organizations you know that are transforming their community and have a substantive effect on the culture of their city?

What are the elements of mission that tear down stereotypes and prejudices?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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