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Where Portland Church Planters Fear to Tread

Where Portland Church Planters Fear to Tread

MaryLou and Rusty Bonham, founders of Springwater, commit to the forgotten Lents neighborhood.

Not all of Springwater's neighbors have welcomed them eagerly. The Bonhams, their daughter, son-in-law, and grandson were administered a loud death threat by one troubled fellow for befriending some of the homeless people. " 'This is my neighborhood, not you people's. I'll slit your throats!' is what he yelled," Rusty recalls.

How to respond? "Pie diplomacy," suggested by another neighbor: The Bonhams brought the young man's family a home-baked pie and extended a desire to listen to their concerns. The family accepted the pie, and has since helped out at several block parties, working alongside the Bonhams to raise money for a local homeless shelter.

This ministry of reconciliation in a crime-torn neighborhood has emerged as something like Springwater's charism. "When you live in a world splintering into a thousand factions, you need some glue, not scissors," says Paul Sparks, co-founder of the Parish Collective, a loose network of place-based churches and practitioners in the Pacific Northwest. "Glue-ish groups like Springwater are a delightful slow surprise to a broken neighborhood. By … learning how to rely on God for listening and love, they demonstrate that it may be possible for neighbors to fit together for mutual flourishing instead of fighting and fleeing from one another."

Reconciliation is not just something Springwater does between neighbors. MaryLou says, "Being this kind of people can only happen as we are actively practicing reconciliation with God and between one another. We'll burn out, bury wounds, and won't make it long in Lents if we can't give and receive forgiveness as God's family." Thus, Springwater spends much of its Bible study, prayer, and teaching on themes such as inner healing, forgiveness, and mutual discernment.


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Displaying 3–7 of 15 comments


November 22, 2011  4:55pm

Charitas, read what they said about messianism in context. They're not talking about guarding against Jesus as messiah, they are guarding against the urge to go into a place with a lot of issues and see ourselves as miniature messiahs to everything that hurts the neighborhood. This community is doing a lot of cool stuff and harboring a lot of conversations. It's sad to see the amount of vitriol expressed towards it in these comments. As somebody involved in a faith community a couple miles down the road, I'm glad to know those mentioned in this article and to see the work they are doing.

Jeffrey Allen

November 15, 2011  12:56am

Thank you for this article. It is good to remember that the church not only has a function toward those outside the fold, but it is charged with ministering to those who are being perfected in Christ's image - that is to say, those of us who profess faith in Christ. Springwater, and similar groups who are faithfully attending to the King's business, have helped me to draw near to Christ, to live within his grace, and to encourage me to participate in kingdom activity. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to experience God's grace through your faithfulness.

Diane Fowler

November 14, 2011  8:24pm

I was so delighted to read this article about Rusty & Marylou, our friends from 1979 in Goshen, Indiana, where we attended the same church and helped facilitate their wedding. I'm not at all surprised by their ministry to "the least of these," after knowing them as sincere followers of Christ way back then.


November 11, 2011  8:01pm

Etymology and logic requires that if you are not "Messianic" you are also not Christian. How odd this article should appear in Messianity Today.


November 11, 2011  7:40pm

"To guard against that messianism"? Wow now I know that I am a Messianist, one who looks forward to Christ coming in His kingdom. I always thought sharing that good news (gospel) with others was my duty along with helping in their practical needs. Now I learn that is to be "guarded against". Incidentally I know the Lent district well and can assure all the readers that the police are quite welcome and that they are not "afraid" to go there. In fact it is a rather reasonable place to live, there are with regards to security far more dangerous places be in Portland. There are also within reasonable walking distance about a dozen Churches each having their own form of community outreach and styles of worship.


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