This idea for CityLove is not really new. There are a number of different churches in the city doing some very innovative things to help people outside the church bubble “taste and see” that the message of Jesus is good. When we started Ren Church in 2003 it was in our hearts to create something especially for artists, progressive thinkers and young adults, because we saw ways in which they could often be marginalized in the church world. We did all sorts of things to make the message of Jesus more accessible to them. In other words, we have always tried to take the love we experienced inside the church and spread it throughout the city in tangible ways.
One way we did this in the earlier years was through establishing a small non profit called westsideARTS. We mostly used the Columbus Theatre and eventually rented a small storefront (next to the Grange). We became a venue for local visual and musical artists to display their work and to connect with one another. We got to know hundreds of beautiful artists in the city. We didn’t feel we needed to preach at anyone. It was an effort to just show love through listening and serving.
Many of the families wept as they felt the love of God expressed in this tangible way.
We’ve also invested time, money and talent into serving local organizations doing good things like the Rhode Island Film Fest, West Broadway Neighborhood Association, Elmwood Community Center, Davey Lopes Center, International Institute, several public schools, Southside Community Land Trust, Crossroads and many others. Our partnering has sometimes been as simple as volunteering to help one of their events and has at other times taken the form of weekly ongoing involvement. We believe these organizations are doing important things in the city.
One project we've undertaken multiple times is an art installation involving about 100 designers, artists and builders. These take several months to put together and the installation is spread throughout our entire 18,000 sq ft space. Each room conveys a different aspect of who God is, using visual art, sculpture, sound, video, lighting and other arts to communicate in a compelling way. These installations were not designed for people already churched but for those who were unfamiliar with the message of Jesus. It's always exciting to see the hundreds of people stream in, and many experience God for the first time during these events.
We’ve also done compassion-based projects like our Christmas Encounter event. With the help of social agencies, we selected 30 families in great need including several refugee families. Very few had any sort of church background. We created a walkthrough experience with various stations including hair, makeup, professional photos, a coffee bar, a delicious Christmas meal prepared by Johnson and Wales culinary professors, live music, art and games for the kids, a pop up clothing store with thousands of items and a shower of gift cards, cash and presents for the kids. Again, we didn’t feel the need to preach at anyone. We just let them know that there’s a God in Heaven that longs to lavish even greater things upon them. Many of the families wept as they felt the love of God expressed in this tangible way.
The roots of CityLove are in this kind of partnering and in the creative work done over the years to demonstrate God’s love to the people of Providence.