As I write this, I am in the midst of Holy Week…as a Jesus follower and pastor, in my faith tradition, we celebrate the cycle of life as demonstrated through Jesus, conception, birth, life, death…and then resurrection.
The resurrection of the church is happening all around us, even now, even as I write.
As traditional and even modern or post-modern churches and faith communities either decline, plateau, or stagnant, they are beginning to recognize that they cannot “work harder or smarter” to grow numerically.
Faith communities have often become “purveyors of religious goods” and have committed to an attractional model in order to bring in new members. More often than not, even those “new” members are simply folks that are migrating from one church to the next, searching for the latest, hippest, coolest church. It can become a maddening process that eventually wears out and burns out those that are seeking the “next” church/faith expression and those that are trying to produce the “next” church or faith expression.
I do believe that faith community members are pretty good folks, they have done much of the “right things” in order to survive, yet they have not been able to thrive. Eventually, all things come to an end, and we are witnessing, in most cases, the slow death of church.
That resurrection can be seen as churches realize that the faith story is not about “winning” converts, but it is about our own conversion as we stop trying to be constantly relevant and follow the practice of Jesus and “move into our neighborhood” (read the 1st chapter of John in the Bible). Jesus’ example is one of being with us in full humanity and living in community with us as a true friend, and, out of that friendship, together with anyone willing to be in friendship, to work towards knowing and being known locally in the context of where we live.
In every neighborhood across Cincinnati, there is a “mega-faith community.” Unlike some of the large mega-churches or other large congregations of faith that are housed in big buildings, this “mega-faith community” is hosted in many houses of worship. It crosses theological boundary lines and dogma, and is marked by radical inclusion that begins with “everyone belonging and contributing” as best as you can.
This has been called the “New Parish” by some. It is a movement of folks who may belong to different churches and/or faith communities/expressions but are realizing that friendships to “trump” everything. That God’s very expression of God’s self is in community, in relationship…creating, saving, sustaining. And, that denominational or man-made religious opinions should not get in the way of humans being truly human and connected with one another in deep and meaningful friendships. This is beyond simply being ecumenical, it is living in authentic connection and community together and practicing radical neighborliness while building up the common good of the place in which you reside.
The Parish Collective is a part of the movement that is proliferating this practice of being neighborly and faithfully present with yourself, your neighbors, and within your faith community. Other groups like the Economics of Compassion, Oasis, the Common Good, and so many others share this “DNA” of faithful presence and are a part of this movement also.
The ethos of “Asset Based Community Development” (ABCD) has been a key part and practice of faith communities becoming more neighborhood engaged. Many would say that they find God at work already in the neighborhood, building connections and relationships together. The concept of abundance in ABCD in a neighborhood over scarcity has been a beacon of inspiration for faith communities as they struggle to figure out their shifting identity in a changing world.
The church that I pastor in my neighborhood, Fleming Road UCC, has been on a journey of movement towards community engagement well before I was called to be their pastor. Together now, we are having dialogue on what it means to listen to one another and to our neighborhood and to see where there is beauty as well as struggle in our Finneytown community. Through our partnerships with Parish Collective, Oasis (www.oasisfinneytown.com), and the UCC we have found friends, encouragers, and collaborators as we work together to live into this new story emerging in our neighborhood and in our church. We will be walking the neighborhood, sitting in restaurants and bars, engaging the local school district and government and listening and building friendships as we move together with other faith communities in the “new parish” in the months and years to come.
Together, we are working towards the flourishing of our neighborhood, just as many others are doing across the country and world. And, in so doing, we are seeing faith communities move from being purveyors of religious goods and experiencing decline, towards thriving communities of authentic relationship and a “re-functioning” of what it means to be “church”.
For more stories, check out out the Parish Collective and Parish Collective Cincinnati. They are at the heart of the groundswell. Faith communities are connecting with each other and attempting to grow the fabric of love and care across parishes throughout Cincinnati and across the world. Parish Collective is currently undertaking valuable new initiatives to help “grow roots” in the neighborhood and “weave links” across places. We collaborate with practitioners, explore stories, and access resources as we seek to build a network of communities working together in order to support a movement that is changing the church as it engages with it’s neighbors. For more info, go to www.parishcollective.org, also, check out an exciting opportunity coming this fall, the Conspire Gathering at www.conspiregathering.com.
Rich Jones is the pastor of Fleming Road UCC in the Finneytown neighborhood in Cincinnati. He is on the board for Economics of Compassion and Oasis Cincinnati and is an organizing team member and community connector for The Parish Collective. He also coaches cross country at Finneytown Schools and is an obsessive runner. His spouse, Debbie, is a PTA and they have two teenagers, McKenzie and Brennan.