Beauty.

Oil and perfume make the heart glad,

    and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.

-Proverbs 27:9

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

-Ecclesiastes 3:11

The United Kingdom has been on my mind and heart quite a bit this summer as we’ve had a friend from the UK come and stay with us for 3 months as an Oasis intern, and then her mother, who is a dear friend, coming over for a few days.  We have amazing friends in our neighborhood, city, and across the world!

We love it when we get to see them, we have shared so much over the years.  And, they inspire us.  They believe in us, and we in them.  We do have fun together, but we also grow from their wisdom, their life experiences, and from their work.  Many of them have a vision for the church, even when that church has been on decline a lot longer in the UK than in the US…yet, it is also further ahead of the “curve” in terms of where the church is heading, and how being placed in a neighborhood, with lasting friendships, can be a model for moving towards a new story with the church.  They have worked hard with refugees, street children, immigrants, and for the good work of community building and inclusion.

About 4 or 5 years ago, my family and I went to the UK to visit many of our friends in the UK and to explore the work of Oasis (for more info, go to www.oasisuk.org).  (We’ve been a part of starting an Oasis hub in the Finneytown neighborhood of Cincinnati, which has been fantastic!  We are starting to see our neighborhood, churches, the school, and local businesses and government really participate in meaningful ways.)  

Upon returning from that trip to the UK, I had much on my mind and heart to process.  It was an amazing trip filled with great conversations, meetings, sights, and new and old friendships strengthened.

It was beautiful.

Not just the landscape, but the relationships.  My family and were poured into by friends who have journeyed with us over the years who now live in the UK.  We met with many other new friends who have a kindred passion for authentic living and a quest to see church be the Church…for everyone and from the “outside-in”.  

While in the UK, I was reminded of a conversation that I had with a fellow Presbyterian pastor who works for Young Life in Nicaragua.  We were talking about the concept of doing ministry that we call “quality of excellence”.  This means that we want to do ministry at a high level, we want to do it well, pour in resources, and make it attractive.  There is some good to that, but it’s not what they strive for with Young Life in Nicaragua much anymore…they don’t have all the resources that we have in the states, so they strive for something better:  “beauty”.  It’s beautiful to see teenagers sitting on a hill at a camp sharing life, laughing and crying together.  It’s beautiful to see folks believing in each other and giving and receiving grace.  

I have seen this beauty at my current church, Fleming Road UCC, these past 8+ months.  And, I see the potential for going deeper and experiencing/seeing even more beauty.  I have said often to folks in church leadership that I’m not so concerned any more about “how” we do ministry, but that we “be” a community that is marked by a deep and abiding Love.  That we look at each other and see persons made in God’s image, and see the beauty.

As our church embarks on new adventures, I cannot tell the future.  I do not see all that God is doing.  But, I am sensing a deep beauty in the past, present, and future for our family (even as one goes off to college!), for Fleming Road UCC and our neighborhoods in Springfield Township, and for Cincinnati as we explore and discern where God may be leading us.  

I am encouraged by the legacy of so many folks and their hard work in the long history of Fleming Road UCC and the churches that merged to make this current congregation!   I am also encouraged by our growing friendships and collaboration with organizations like the Parish Collective, the Conspire Gathering, and Economics of Compassion, as well as the amazing work of the UCC globally and locally through our Association!  I am equally encouraged by the partnerships and friendships of so many other faith communities coming together in our neighborhood and city!  So many amazing stories!

Our trip to the UK was fruitful, but our rootedness in Cincinnati, our Finneytown neighborhood, and Fleming Road UCC will bear even more fruit…beautiful fruit of friendships and community with God and with others.

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