*This is an article that I wrote recently for the Clifton Chronicle, a local newsletter.
You have probably heard the expression, “everyone has a story”. I believe that to be true. Every person in your life, that you meet, has a story to tell and to contribute to as well.
I believe stories are not only personal, but intertwined with other’s stories. Our story is uniquely ours, as well as being connected to the stories around us. We are simply not “islands”, but beautifully connected with one another. Our stories are shaped and formed by our relationships. Our stories, connected and unique, make us a community.
I have been the pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church here in Clifton, for all of 10 months. Not even a year. Yet, my story has been shaped and formed, and reformed by Clifton and Immanuel. I have lived in Cincinnati for 15 years. Most of that time, I have been on the staff of another Presbyterian Church in a neighboring community. My time there has helped me to see Cincinnati and it’s neighborhoods in beautiful ways. I have been able to experience my story and the story of my neighbors and friends create within me a deep commitment to this city and to seeing it become all that it can become.
I remember well a story shared with my good friend, Andy Sexton, who lives in England, visiting me almost six years ago. We were driving down Clifton Ave., past Immanuel on our way out for the evening. He saw this amazing stone building and that it was Presbyterian. He asked me about the story of Immanuel. At that time, I did not know much about Immanuel. My answer, “Not sure, but if they were looking for a pastor sometime in the future, I’d be interested.”
So, here I am now, and my story is being shaped and formed by Immanuel and Clifton already. I look forward to many more years and relationships within this community that will build upon our shared story.
I also have the privilege of becoming friends with many of the faith leaders from different religious and denominational backgrounds up and down Clifton Ave. and throughout the greater Clifton community. Even in this age of decreasing interest in attending church, the story of the church here in Clifton is emerging in incredible ways. There is a deep desire for collaboration and of being “good neighbors” to ALL who live in our community. There is an ethos shared by many to work towards, to me it reflects the biblical encouragement found in Jeremiah 29 to work towards the benefit of our city.
With the tragic event of the death of Sam Dubose this past month, we have seen our story, as a community; grow even in the midst of hard realities. Our stories have the potential to enable us to see each other beyond skin color, economic status, privilege, religious boundaries, various identities, and even neighborhoods. Because of the work of so many, and the relationships that have been formed between communities of persons who have moved beyond “us and them” to “we”, our stories become personal, deep, and full of meaning.
We are often posed the question: what story would we like to see emerge in our lives and in our community?
This is what I believe churches can be and are called to be: a place, a relational space, where we can gather together to ask these questions around our stories with God and each other. We are given the gift of faith communities to share our stories and to hear how God’s story of creating, saving, and sustaining relationship with us is drawing us together in order to be better neighbors, friends, family members, humans. It is not simply about the songs we sing, sermons, style of worship, how we dress, or some technique or program. Those are all things that are of value to a certain degree, but only as long as they help us to share our stories and to see what story God is creating within us in our communities, our neighborhood.
I look forward to meeting many of you in the Clifton neighborhood and beyond to hopefully share our stories and to see what new story may be emerging in our lives and in our city! Maybe we’ll meet at a local coffee shop on Ludlow or McMillan, or one of the great restaurants or other establishments in and around our neighborhood, or maybe even at Immanuel or one of the other amazing faith communities or gatherings throughout Clifton!