Saturday, February 27, 2010

UU World Articles; Unitarian Universalism and Change, and What Change A Small Progressive Missional Community of Faith Can Create

There has been a lot of talk again about Unitarian Universalism and change and multi culturalism and multi-class embodying, and reclaiming mission as the owner of the congregation, and how to move from private to public churches. I just had a great and pretty eloquent post on all of this commenting on several of the wonderful articles that have been published in the past couple of issues of the UU World magazine, but I hit the wrong button and lost it all; thank you God for the reminder of who is in charge of the internet and my vanity.

I will try to work up the energy to redo the post, but in the meantime go to and read the articles by Michael Durral on the public church from his great new sequel book on UUism The Almost Church ReVitalized, and from the latest issue Paul Rasor's article and Rosemary McNatt's response, and perhaps even more importantly the article about the Jericho Road project for a kind of start at relocating church mission and ministry, and read Dan Hotchkiss's article on mission driving all things church (rather than churches trying to find and express their mission), and Doug Muder's column on UUism as a message or a culture. I liked them all and they are moving the realm of the important up into the forefront a bit more. But of course they are long on diagnosis and short on prescription. That was going to be the gist of the lost blogpost, and I will come back to it, but if you read this blog you will know the answer; if we want to get out of our head we have to stop analyzing and diagnosing, and start creating new communities in new places in new ways, relocating, redistributing, reconciling. This is how we become multicultural; we live and be the church with the poor. God will take care of the rest. The nuances I will live to when I get up the energy to write it again.

Instead, let me just bring a summary of what's going on here, by a few progressive minded folks commited to a missional community of faith here where we live in the poorest unhealthiest zipcode of our metropolitan area, amidst diversity. I don't blog much or send out email much anymore because it is all so much of a ride we are on. But I will try to do some more often. Enjoy this glimpse of change.

The LivingRoom Church and A Third Place Community Center
History, Mission, Values, Vision

A 501c3 grassroots volunteer-based community development initiative
for Tulsa’s northern-edge neighborhoods

Our Name: “A Third Place” refers to the types of public civic spaces where people used to meet with those who are different in many ways from themselves, for forming community spirit and connections for the greater life of the wider community. The “first place” may be the home; the “second place” may be work or a church or association of like-minded people; the “third place” is truly a diverse, and free, community space.

Our History: In January 2007 a small handful of local residents, having met as Epiphany: The Living Room Church at 6305 N. Peoria Ave. since 2004 in the unincorporated urban-rural-small-town of Turley on the northern edge of Tulsa, decided to transform themselves by moving into a larger rented space at 6514 N. Peoria Ave. and creating that space as a free community center for residents living in a two mile radius, primarily in zip codes 74126, 74130. A Third Place Community Center was born. We began working toward creating a new non-profit community development foundation to sustain the center and its projects and greater mission and vision. Its service area of a two mile radius—from 46th to 86th Sts North, and Highway 75 to Osage County Line---was chosen because it is the area in which our residents primarily shop, go to school, use services, and many work. It is also a bridge area connecting incorporated and unincorporated neighborhoods of great ethnic and age diversity, and one of our core values is working toward reconciliation.

Mission: As a Center, To Change The World Though Small Acts of Justice Done with Great Love. As the Church, to make Jesus visible in the world.

Vision: Creating many diverse kinds of “a third place” centers and connections for the development of community life. As the church, creating an urban new monastic missional setting with many partners participating in different ways.

Values: Welcoming All Who Welcome All. Creating Safe and Civil Space For Building Relationships Across Divides of Race, Age, Gender, Sexual Orientation, Physical Abilities, Economic Conditions, Political Persuasions, Religious Affiliations, and National Origins. Dedicated to Sustainability in our Native, Natural Environment, and in promoting “smart growth”. As a Church, keeping it simple, real, relational, organic, permission-giving, prayerful, mission-driven, sharing leadership.

Guiding “4Rs” Principles: Retaining Residents while developing community life. Re-location (of people, families, services, businesses, etc.) into our currently abandoned, neglected, underserved, low-income areas. Re-Distribution of Justice, Health, Goods, Spirit, Hidden Resources of Strength. Reconciliation among separated people, families, neighborhoods, religions and other groups. The 3rs of relocation, redistribution, and reconciliation come from the Christian Community Development Association standards; the 4th R of retention comes from seeking to avoid gentrification (though that's difficult now to envision) so that current residents can enjoy the creation of new community life and not be forced to leave, even as now they are often penalized from the attitude that if you can move to a "better area" you should and if you can't or don't then you deserved what you get where you are.

Current Projects and more come and go and new ones come all the time:
The Community Center Meeting Space For Making New Friends and Dreaming New Dreams
OU Community Medicine Clinic
Community Resource Information
Our Own Library
Free Internet Center
Food Pantry, including dog food
Giving Room for clothing and other items
Art Gallery
Music Coffeehouse Concerts
Community Meals and Feeding and Nutrition Programs
Children's Area and Library
Television watching and Game Playing
Community Festivals and Holiday Celebrations
Community meetings
Nutrition Class, Diabetes Class, other classes
Sewing Project
Arts and Crafts Gatherings and community Projects
Let Turley Bloom community gardening and community orchard and roadside beauty
12 Step Recovery
Saving Pets of Turley
Community Academy of free classes supporting persons and the wider community

Current Partnerships with:
OU Graduate School of Social Work
OU Community Medicine
Cherokee Elementary School
OBrien Park
Turley Community Association
Healthy Cornerstore Initiatives
McLain High School Initiative
North Tulsa Economic Development Initiative
House District 72 Community Coalitions “from Turley to TU”
TU SEED Law Clinic
OU Tulsa Urban Design Studio
The Living Room Church (as the founding group, we still meet together within the center we created, on Sundays and at other times throughout the week for worship or service or other events)
Turley United Methodist Church
The Lighthouse 12-Step Recovery
North Tulsa Farmers Market

Our Dreams:
1. Purchase ($100,000) and renew the historic but abandoned 10,500 square foot Turley Methodist Church building and additional properties near 59th and N Peoria to expand into and create a Community Center for Body, Mind, Spirit, moving our current projects into this newer better space with room to grow new projects connected with our community gardens and food justice work, expanding the clinic and revolutionizing the concept of health clinic, creating a center for service-learning with campuses and partners, and the buildings would also be the hub for “de-centralizing the center” as we move our mission into public and outdoor spaces as well; The Living Room Church would coordinate the sanctuary space for regular times of prayer and meditation and worship and other spiritual events as an integral part of the new Center.

2. purchase ($25,000) a hilltop acre at 60th and N. Johnstown overlooking downtown, a “city block”, with two abandoned dilapidated homes and transform the space into The LivingKitchen Garden Pocket Park for growing, cooking, teaching, feeding, celebrating, bridging two neighborhoods, one incorporated and one not, with somewhat overlapping but different ethnic groups though sharing a common bond of poverty;

3. create one or more “healthy cornerstores” in our center and in other areas of our service boundary;

4. create additional A Third Place Centers, either in physical buildings of its own such as in the McLain Shopping Center, or existing businesses and groups, and in non-building spaces as part of our community gardens or other public spaces…..

… every neighborhod has a free community center within walking distance, and has volunteer trained neighborhood community health associates and designated resource responders within walking distance.

This is what a group of five to ten mission minded people can set in motion within three years. With no official denominational support. With few finances. With no staff.


Friday, February 05, 2010

The closing of community centers in Tulsa...

...And how to recreate them. Here below is the text of a letter I sent to the Tulsa World news and editorial staff. Hope to pass it on to others in the broadcast media soon. Go to to read the story about the closing of community centers and parks, especially in our north and west areas.

"In response to the closing of the community centers in Tulsa ("Centers' Groups Scramble", Feb. 5, 2010), I would like first to offer our non-profit A Third Place Community Center, 6514 N. Peoria Ave., for any groups who might find our space suitable to their needs and mission. Facilitating their missions for improving community life is our mission.

Secondly, I would like to offer our model for creating a non-governmental community center as a way to recreate truly grassroots community centers. Without grants so far, though we are working toward some for the growth of our work, and just with donations of money and materials and volunteer time from community residents, we have for three years now created a space for community to happen. We have a place for people to meet and help one another, a free health clinic, free internet center, free library, free programs, free clothing donations, free food pantry, free community gardens and orchard, free animal help group, free classes and programs, partnerships with schools and area groups to channel volunteer energy into community projects beyond our own. We are new, just recently obtaining our 501c3 status, and we have much to grow into, and are a bit messy at times, but so is community itself; in the meantime, there is great need that can be helped.

Just this Spring we will be working with several different classes and groups from the University of Oklahoma at Tulsa to help us create more community connections and highlight those we have undertaken so far. For example, this Saturday Feb. 6 from 9 to 3 pm we will be working with one class on community projects and communication; another will be teaching community development and leadership skills on Tuesday evenings in March and April; another will be helping us look at ways to create entreprenuers; another will be helping us this summer work on meeting nutrition needs in our area; we are also working with others to help us create community centers at community garden sites. And at a time when parks are being closed, we are planning and working toward creating our own neighborhood park out of a place where abandoned houses are located.

With a little help, people in their own areas can create and grow a variety of centers for community, and that sense of the "third places" that Editorial Writer Wayne Greene some time back mentioned as a crucial need, and the kind of work that the Parent Child Center is seeking to foster with its own front porch initiative. The same spirit is motivating the partnerships and work toward the healthy cornerstore initiatives, of which we also are a part.

Lastly, to help provide that little help, and to meet the most immediate emergency needs to keep these centers open, especially in our vulnerable neglected spaces in north and west and east Tulsa, while more grassroots ownership is being created, I call on the churches and other religious bodies to adopt and sponsor running and nurturing these closed community centers as a way to live out their messages of servant leadership. That is how our A Third Place Community Center was begun, as our small church of a few folks decided to transform ourselves into a missional community of faith and to give ourselves away to others, and to create not a space for ourselves but a space for and with others.

Thank you for recognizing the importance of this story, and the sense of place and community spirit and hope that is vital and which has rippling effects throughout the whole city."

Rev. Ron Robinson
Executive Director
A Third Place Community Foundation
6514 N. Peoria Ave.
794-4637, office; 691-3223, cell; 430-1150, home
"doing small acts of justice with great love changes the world" Type rest of the post here

Thursday, February 04, 2010

The Future History of UUism

Here is a blog post lecture that colleague Rev. Thom Belote wrote looking at where the UU movement could and should be headed. I agree with all he writes, not just because he mentions me in it, not just because the basis for his vision is one of the church's committment to public spaces such as to what we call our "third place" centers here.

He has broadened my own horizon a little as he is writing about the need for the church to relocate itself in places where there intentionally are few public spaces for diversity, namely in suburban and exurban areas; while I, because of our focus, tend to think of the church needing to relocate to the "abandoned places of Empire" where the poor are, and not just the poor in spirit. I have tended to equate suburban and exurban places with the Empire itself and its dominant values, and have argued for an advance guard movement away from those places, as my own family and church did, precisely because so many "growing churches" have been moving toward them. I can see more clearly now the need for authentic diverse public space churches in these areas. I also know that the resources it will take to create them will call for churches and their partners to make major institutional changes in order to carry out something of a vision Thom hints at for these areas. But wouldn't it be grand if the churches, and the UU churches, who have the most resources would break themselves up in order to build up the public space of the communities they are in or become a part of. I will have to give some more thought to how a church of 500, for example, might become five groups of 100 with a mission of transforming suburban exurban space into diverse community nourishing third places.

Related to all this, I just want to add in thanks for Thom's reference of Alice Blair Wesley's historical comment about Unitarians as a church that became not began, and what lasting effects historically that has meant in relationship to our lack of church planting in diverse ways, at a very time when church planting, mission planting, is as crucial to the spiritual life and organizational life of a religious body as ever before. I am teaching a UU history and polity course this semester and this sentiment is picked up in many places and times of how much of our history has bent us away from church plants and growth.

And finally, from another reading source, John Perkins and Shane Claiborne's new book "Follow Me To Freedom" comes the insight from Shane that many of his Catholic friends get the life of the missional and new monastic communities easier than do his Protestant friends. This is because they have a concept of The Church rather than of a church, and so they can grasp how groups of people can operate more fluidly and organically and missionally because they are rooted in The Church rather than in a church. As UUs are often the most Protestant of the Protestant, this would go doubly for us.

Type rest of the post here

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

"Welcoming Justice" Making Beloved Community Real, here and there

I came across this wonderful excerpt from the new book Welcoming Justice by John Perkins and Charles Marsh, John Perkins of our 3Ra roadmap of relocation, redistribution, and reconciliation (and we add a fourth R for Retention of current residents) you will hear a lot about here and read in posts below. It sums up much of the aim of what we try to do here and of the new missional and new monastic movements where progressive faith has been so lacking. It connects with all things having to do with rediscovering a sense of place, ecology, organic, glocal, going small, leaven and mustard seed parable living.

One thing I want to say about John Perkins' call here for churches on how to act in and toward their place, is that you first have to consider the locale and place of the local church; consider most of what Perkins is writing here about what the church is called to do; most or all of it won't really have to be done if the church is located in a place where resources are available to residents. Instead, this stance has the assumption built in that the church will be in or relocate to one of the abandoned places of Empire. This can happen in a number of different ways; but it has to happen. Also see how the whole point of the church shifts as a result?

So many churches see their role as getting out a message, and in the places most liberal churches are primarily located in and where most liberals seem themselves to live, at least those of european descent, there are not the pressing needs of the community development---those are addressed by other groups and institutions and the people themselves have the resources to meet basic needs---and so what is left is to get out the message of a particular theological orientation. But message-driven churches are so limited in their scope; for those who seek to embody the spirit of Jesus to be message-oriented is also to miss so much of the embodied radical, go where the need is, spirit. And more and more today people aren't seeking a message community; they can get that from home via the internet or magazines etc; they are seeking a sense of their mission in life being tied up with others in a real way making a real difference in the lives of others.

Here is the excerpt that resonated so much with me and captures what we, this crazy tribe of generous diversity loving folks called church, try, and fail, and keep trying to do here.:

Making Beloved Community Happen, by John Perkins from the new book Welcoming Justice by Perkins and Charles Marsh

“So what does it take to make beloved community happen? I really believe that it begins with a place. I’ve preached relocation all my life because the communities I’ve been a part of have been abandoned. Everybody left, so I called them to come back. But my real concern is for the place. If the church is going to offer some real good news in broken communities, it has to be committed to a place. We can’t just be a commuter church in the community.

In our community in West Jackson, we’ve got one of those churches where people drive in from all over town on Sunday morning. That church is not an asset to the community. It’s a liability. All those cars jam up our streets on Sunday morning and make it hard for us to get around. And they do almost nothing to help the community. A church that wants to be about God’s movement has to be committed to making a good life possible for people in the place where we are.

If you care about a place, you’ll care about the kids in that place. If you don’t care about the kids, they’ll knock out your windows. But the kids in our neighborhood don’t knock out our windows. One of the first things we did when we came here was to put in a sandbox and build a jungle gym. We made sure there was a field for kids to play ball . So now we can say, “Don’t throw rocks. Go throw the ball in the field.” The kids need to be able to play in the community…

When you’re committed to a place, you also care about the beauty of the place. The flowers around our place are important. Every summer the children come running to ask me if they can take some flowers home with them. They don’t have pretty flowers at home. So I always tell them “Yes, but wait till the end of the day. When you’re going home, you can cut a few and take them home to your mother.” Shared beauty makes people want to share life together. You don’t have to tend your flowers in a neighborhood very long before you have something to talk to your neighbors about.

It may sound simple but I think you’ve got to have neighbors you talk to and get to know before you can love your neighbor as yourself. That’s why community development has been so important to me all these years. The church can’t organize the perfect community. If people aren’t drawn by the cords of love to a vision of beloved community, you can’t force it on them. But we can organize for justice. We can develop a community so that there is a place for people to know one another. That’s the work God has given us to do. Only God can send the rain, but we can till the ground by committing to a place and making sure people can flourish there. That’s the first thing the church has to do if we’re going to interrupt the brokenness of society.

As we commit to our communities, we also need to learn how to see them as economic places. It’s not enough to just move into a place, plant some flowers and be nice to your neighbors. All of that is good, but that won’t address the brokenness of people’s lives because the structures of the community are broken. People need work, good housing, education and health care. So the church has to invest its resources in developing the community. We also need to use our influence to get businesses and government to invest in the community. All of this is crucial to creating the conditions that are necessary for beloved community. ….

I wish churches spent more time thinking about how their members could love one another and share a common life by working together as a community. Part of the reason our churches are so individualistic is that we just accept the economic systems of our culture without question. We assume that the people who can get the good jobs should go wherever they have to and the people who can’t get the good jobs should just take what they can get. But churches that want to interrupt the brokenness of society ought to be about creating jobs in the community and giving neighbors an opportunity to work together. If we take our communities seriously as economic places, we’ll spend more time thinking about creating good work than we spend thinking about more relevant worship styles or bigger church buildings."

Type rest of the post here