Like many cities in Canada, our city has a thriving farmers’ market. In fact, we have more than one. For many years, I was a vendor at our Saturday morning market. I got up early and set up my booth. I enjoyed the early morning camaraderie that exists between vendors and customers. I greeted my fellow vendors and customers alike as old friends. People came to our booths, not just for the fresh produce and local products, but for the community.
Our city also has big box stores. Both serve a function in our city and our economy. We would all be the poorer if we lost either one. City residents make choices every week about which place they will shop. And although I am a dedicated market shopper, I also buy some items at the big box store. If you are like me you shop at the box store because you “need” to and not because you love the experience. I love shopping at my local farmers’ market!
The market itself has a personality. It is probably the most diverse, and at the same time, most local place in our city. Farmers sell produce that is grown on land their father farmed. Just a few feet away, a new Canadian would be introducing the cuisine of their home country to new fans. Dutch bakers, German butchers, Lebanese vendors, Indian samosas, French pastries, all jostle with each other in a friendly competition.
People who, outside of the market, might never meet each other became friends here. We give each other gifts when new babies are born, sing Happy Birthday to anyone “lucky“ enough to be born on a Saturday and join in the celebration of each others’ success, just as we share in the sorrows.
The vendor committee doesn’t just set policy and govern the business, but it also organizes social events so that we can join each other “after market”. And it was at one of those potluck/business meetings that the first seed of our church was planted.
As vendors took turns addressing issues of concern, one person rose to speak about something other than the usual topics of parking, hours of operation and booth size.
This woman said that the market was important to her not only because of the income that she earned but because of the role that it played in her life. She said “This market is my church!” She explained it this way “It is the place that I go every week and I know people care about me.”
Her statement floored me. As a Christian and an active member of my local congregation, I had taken for granted the sense of belonging and community that flow from that. I knew that if I lost my job, people would pray for me. If my kids were sick someone would stop by with a casserole to make our day a bit easier. If I needed a babysitter someone would usually be available.
It had never occurred to me that for many people these kinds of relationships and this degree of community just doesn’t exist.
A few years later when we started the Bible study that grew into our church plant, I had an idea. I wanted us to meet in the Farmers’ Market.
For a church plant, the meeting space says a lot about the group and about the philosophy of ministry. What does the farmers’ market say about us?
First, we meet downtown. We are planting a church in our city. That is where we should meet and worship. Suburbs might be nicer, and industrial areas may have cheaper rent, but downtown is the heart of any city. We want to capture the heart of our city with the gospel.
Second, we wanted a public meeting space. When Jesus and the apostles entered a new city, they began their ministry in a public space. Our mission is to make Jesus known in our city. We began by meeting in the most public space that we can find.
Third, we wanted a missional meeting space. Jesus used culturally and socially appropriate places to teach his revolutionary message. He went places that people naturally went as part of their everyday life. He preached to them an otherworldly message of repentance and faith.
Finally, we wanted an organic meeting space, a meeting place that was a natural extension of how people led their lives, not an artificial add-on to an already busy week, but a place to worship God that fit with where we already lived our lives. Early Christians met in homes, in storerooms, and in other spaces. These places were where they lived their lives and earned their living. On Sunday, that was where they worshiped God.
Meeting in a farmers’ market has given our church a distinctive personality. It reflects the nature of the farmers’ market itself. Our congregation is diverse. Dutch, Korean, Mandarin, and French are some of the languages that our members speak at home. More than half of us were not born in our city, and like the crowd that shops at the market on Saturday, those that worship on Sunday are younger than the average Canadian church member.
Most weeks, the fellowship time is longer than the service time. Now that I think of it, that’s how people shop at the market.
Our regular attenders work and shop at the market on Saturday. Although I am no longer a vendor , I am at the market every week. I visit members, and network with newcomers to our community. I try to build new relationships and maintain old ones. I pray with people, and share the gospel. And I get a bit of real- world apologetics done while talking to some adherent of the many religious represented. I am only half joking when I tell people that this market is my parish.