Friday, January 29, 2010

7 Years Later: A Brief History and A 2020 Vision

Hi all. Back from Europe, and from a ministerial retreat near warm sunny Houston, and now writing from the midst of the snow and ice storm here in Turley and the northernedge of Tulsa. Hope the power holds to finish this as we have had some flickers; actually not anymore though than normal in this older area of weak infrastructure. See below for event updates especially in relation to weather and events or call or text me at 691-3223 or 430-1150. I am waiting to hear if worship is on for Sunday morning, Jan. 31, as planned for Hope Church at 11 am at 8432 S. Sheridan Road when I am scheduled to preach on "The Three Rs of The Spiritual Life" being relocation, redistribution, and reconciliation gleaned from the life of John Perkins, civil rights and community development and new monastic movement guru still going strong at 80. If that worship is cancelled we will meet as usual and as we can at the community center Sunday at 10 am at 6514 N. Peoria for our worship or to go worship with another group. As always please pass this on to others who might find it interesting or helpful; thanks for all your support, prayerful and financial, and keep it coming.

This Epiphany season, this January, marks seven years from the first ever gathering of folks that met in our living room when we lived in a new subdivision in the fast growing suburban city of Owasso outside of Tulsa. That group, none of whom outside of Bonnie and I are still with us in our group now, began all that we have become and will become. Such is the way of transformations and legacies. Here are a few landmarks from these past seven years; for those of you who have signed on to our email epistles over the years I hope it provides some background and perspective as we look toward 2020:

Sunday, Jan. 6, 2003, Owasso in Tulsa County, on Epiphany Day, the first meeting to see who was interested in Epiphany Church. I was working then as a hospice chaplain, having been ordained the previous August by Tulsa All Souls and then in October having been commissioned as evangelist by laying on of hands at the annual convocation of the Council of Christian Churches within the UUA meeting at First Church in Salem, MA. That Sunday we had nine gather and we began talking about a new free Christian church to be formed in Owasso; we met in homes on Sundays for conversation and planning and prayer.

Palm Sunday and Easter, 2003, Owasso; we began the launch of our public worship in rented hotel meeting space, and continued worshipping there that way, and once up in Claremore as an outreach, until the fall when we rented our own space in a small shopping area near what is called German Corner in the Owasso and Collinsville area; we continued to meet there primarily for worship on Sundays. In June, 2003 I moved from being hospice chaplain to being, thanks to internet, part time Executive Director of the UU Christian Fellowship whose offices were at that time still located in Massachusetts.

2004 changes: The rent and cost on the use of ongoing space of our own couldn't be sustained so we ended our time at German Corner and after meeting in our home again and in hotel space occasionally, we realized that we hadn't been able to grow from scratch in what is called a parachute drop church plant, and our small group of most regular attenders were coming from other parts of the Tulsa area as well so we turned our attention to where Bonnie and I were planning to move back to, relocating to, this small urban, rural, small town community of Turley in north Tulsa on North Peoria where we had lived as children, where rent was much less expensive and resources could go further. (You can go to my church planting blog at and read all about the learnings and growth curves in posts there about the why of things in my post called Church Plant Killers too). In September of 2004 we moved the church gatherings into rented space in Turley where we had also moved the UUCF offices from Mass. and we put up our signs for Epiphany Church here, a free Universalist church in the spirit of Jesus, expressing God's love for all, for all time.

Changing from Epiphany to The Living Room. In 2005 and 2006, we moved worship from Sunday mornings to Sunday evenings, and we changed to presenting ourselves as The Living Room in order to express a more informal spiritual gathering, a kind of public house church; we were still doing things in and with the community but it was still a sense of a separate us doing things "out there" for and with others, and for our concerts and programs, etc. people still had to venture forth into what was clearly a "church space" regardless of how welcoming the message and spirt of the place, and we knew many reacted against that, especially multi-ethnically. In our conversations we identified various community needs and realized though we might be doing more already than other churches that met in our neighborhood area (I will have to post on my blog soon about the dynamics of church life in our area and how it reflects and aids the fragmentation of the community life as people who live here who go to church often go to churches outside the area, and churches who are based here often do so for cheap rent and people come in from outside the area and they then leave again, and the older established churches have not kept up with the changes and have dwindled in influence and numbers) we still weren't having the effect we wanted to as agents of change. We were still clearly what is called an "attractional" church instead of an "incarnational" or "missional" church.

2007-2009: church at and as A Third Place Community Center:. So in January 2007 we signed a lease to move into a much bigger space near us also on North Peoria. But we did so this time not as "a church" doing things for our community, but as a community center with, gradually, a library and computer center and clothing room and gathering space, and then a health clinic, food pantry, gardening center, class space, social work resource center, etc. we have now. We still are known some and present ourselves some as The Living Room Church but we have downplayed that and are more moving toward being not "a" church with organization, to becoming an organic missional part of "the" church at A Third Place, gathering for worship in the space for others we have created, aided by others who are not part of our worship gatherings at least on a regular basis. We worshipped some on Thursday nights, some on Wednesday nights for a while, and then back to Sunday mornings, also worshipping with other churches in our area. Who knows what we might call ourselves in the future...

During this time, we developed our clearer sense that our mission was to make the justice and freedom loving Jesus visible in the world here in our two mile radius, and hope the spirit from this would spread out to others. Where at first in 2003 the vision was to plant different small groups in different areas that would come together monthly for one worship service, now the vision is to simply be as missional as we can in our local region, and look for ways to continue decentralizing and getting outside of ourselves even within our two mile place such as through worshipping in and creating outside third place centers. The more local we go we find ourselves having more of an impact beyond ourselves. Now we hope that we inspire others to come and experience, come and see, what is going on, and to be inspired to do something similar wherever they are and to connect with us mutually in this way, regardless of their religious denomination. We created this past year the non-profit A Third Place Community Foundation which will help us grow and be focused on many of our projects and relationship building, and conversely let "the church" become less organizational and more organic.

2010 and The 20-20 Vision:
Current goings on: Sunday mornings we gather mostly in the center for communion, conversation, common meal, sometimes going to be a part of the church with other groups, i.e. churches; in good weather going to worship at our community garden sites or other places. I would like for us to consider worshipping more often as we have some in the past over at our local park O Brien Park where we could worship as part of a weekly community potluck lunch for all in need as we do now in the center, a way to continue decentralizing ourselves. Maybe holding the potlucks in other places too but O'Brien has the nice children's play area which is a plus; as we build up our own parks and gardens we can do this there too, or wherever homeless and hungry might be gathering, which could be even in our parking lot. Also working in the coming months on special projects such as a Community Academy that will meet and offer free classes here the last two Tuesdays of March and April on relationship and leadership skills, part of our partnership with OU; also will be working with another group from OU on our communications with and by the community through development of a new website and transformation visually of one of our walls; and with another group to work on connecting entrepeneurs here and creating systems for developing the connection of social and monetary capital; and also with OU planning for another summer nutrition and hunger project. As well as working with our partners in the schools, especially through the McLain High School Initiative for greenhouse and gardens and helping students with a variety of skills and mentoring and helping to establish the McLain Foundation, much needed for a school now fifty years old without one, and with partners at the parks and the Cherokee School, and with the Healthy Cornerstore Initiative. And continuing to develop our health clinic space and newly expanded Food Pantry and Giving Room and resource center, and our Saving Pets of Turley and Let Turley Bloom projects.

Coming Soon: To help us sustain ourselves for all that above and all that is coming next, besides our weekly worship, a spiritual retreat for leaders on a weekend; a trip for children to the OKC zoo and science center; trip to Drillers game in new downtown stadium, to the new WNBA team game openings, to other places nearby;

Coming Soon We Hope and Pray:
We are beginning to negotiate for the purchase of the space where two run down abandoned houses and lots are in a great space, a full city block, overlooking downtown where we plan to transform the space into a Living Kitchen Garden Pocket Park, a community space for classes cooking growing events and more. We need 100 people to commit to contributing $100 for seed money for this project, at a minimum, more if you can; donors will be recorded on a plaque at the site for their part in a revolutionary new approach in our area to public spaces in neglected places.

We are beginning to negotiate with the bank that owns the historic but closed and running down more every year from mold and neglect 10,500 square foot Turley United Methodist Church former building that was built in the mid 1920s. Here we will create a natural center focusing on the body, mind, and soul. It has three connected but separate main areas: one would house the clinic and office space better, perhaps a fitness center all focusing on the body's health; the other side of the building is the former Fellowship Hall and kitchen where we could focus through our library internet center community gathering space giving room art gallery and new kitchen and healthy cornerstore market on the health of the mind and building community; the middle space is the former sanctuary that is still in good condition with original stained glass, a perfect place for regular daily worship and meditation and prayer, a place for the soul, spirit, heart; outside there is a place for play, there is place for another of our community gardens right next to the building; and below in the basement are the former Sunday school rooms that fixed up would make good rooms for people to come and stay as they work with us as temporary residents, or as needed as a shelter for those engaging with the community. It would become an urban monastery, based on progressive ecumenical Christian ways, in one of the abandoned places of the American Empire. It is near Cherokee School too on north Peoria and would be great access for any partnership on after school events and programs; there is an old parsonage that could be used for office or child care or other uses. All will require a gift from the bank or others to go along with a loan we would take out, and grants down the road to help us sustain and staff and grow, all the while keeping the culture of a third place center which sets us apart from other more "services-centered" organizations.

It is hard to imagine except it is hard to have imagined how far and how different, yet at core driven by same mission, that we have come in the past seven years. Part of the beauty is being open to the permission giving culture that will help us become something unimaginable because the person who helps us to make their dream a reality, making their dream our dream, hasn't yet walked in or contacted us yet, or it will come from one of our own leaders or participants who hasn't let themselves yet dream their passion for themselves and with us for the community.

But now is the time to plant seeds, not only for our gardens and orchard we began last year already, but for the 20-20 Vision, just ten years away, just as those souls who gathered in our living room in Owasso seven years ago this month planted seeds of something they had no way of knowing would take root and bloom as it has and is among us now even though they are not among us still in body.

Finally, this was brought home to me when I was in France earlier this month and toured through the Notre Dame Cathedral. I haven't been much of one for cathedrals and all that building expense while the poor go dying in the shadows of the cathedrals, but I came away with a deeper understanding and a calling for helping our world experience cathedrals of a newer but just as impressive and needed kind. When Notre Dame was first imagined and the work begun on it, by those whose lives were often lived in dire straits, in bleak conditions, with no visible signs of art and of hope around them, those who themselves dug down into the ground for the foundations of Notre Dame knew that they were laboring long on something that several generations of their own families would not see completed; they had a 300 hundred year vision. That's what we are doing here where we are. Except our cathedrals, for our time, should not be the skyscraper mega-church competing with the business world type of cathedrals; we are called to build cathedrals that reflect the alternative society needed today; what people today in similar situations to the cathedral builders of old need are not reinforcements that the good life, the life of the spirit, is found in large ways of consumption and convenience, but is found in small ways of great depth, great relationships, small acts of justice done in great love; our cathedral foundations must be communities that are flexible, adaptable, decentered, and built on the 3Rs pillars of relocating where the poor and the oppressed and the least of these are, of redistributing our time and talent and treasures among them and receiving the same from them, and of taking that leap of faith needed to seek reconciliation with others, especially with those most different from us, and those still outcast, hurting.

It has been a while since I had the time to sit down and write of all that goes on; to follow more check out and the blog mentioned above. Come by and chat with us; I am open to go talk with other groups about it all. And wherever you are and whatever your calling is, let this season be one of growth for you and yours.

Thanks, blessings, and more soon,

Type rest of the post here