The Conspire Gathering!

Register now!

The Conspire Gathering.

May 3-5, 2016

Cincinnati, OH in the Northside Neighborhood (North Presbyterian Church and The Hive located at Urban Artifact).

We Are Convinced

A Conspiracy Is Needed.

We want to subvert the small story of church competition and awaken our collective imagination for how we join in God’s renewing/restoring/reconciling work happening in neighborhoods all around us.

We’re gathering to conspire together.

Join together with global thought leaders and innovative practitioners from across the region and let’s scheme together. It’s time to plot out a collaborative future that can make an on-the-ground difference. If you’re part of a faith community looking to grow neighborhood renewal, you’ll want to be a part of this gathering.

More information to come soon!  Until then, spread the word, look at your calendar, come and join us for a great couple of days of fellowship, conspiring, inspiration, and goodness.

For more info, contact Tim Soerens, Paul Sparks, Brooklin Taylor, Rich Jones, Troy Bronsink, Daniel Hughes, Chandler Meador, Joshua Stoxen, or Jane Gerdsen.

Or go to The Conspire Gathering!

 

We are also thankful for our partners and sponsors!

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Join.

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We need you.  “You” if you are interested in being bound together in a “New Parish” that is emerging at Immanuel Church in the Clifton neighborhood of Cincinnati.

We are a church with a 134 year history.  We have seen God move in beautiful ways in those years.  We have also seen hurt and have been wounded in many ways in many of those years.  We have experienced death and resurrection.  We are experiencing the midst of transformation, as we listen to ourselves, our neighbors, and God.

I have been the pastor here for a year now.  I am truly excited to see what God is doing in each of us, in our church, and in our community.  Even writing these thoughts out gives affirmation in so many ways of God’s call for me and this church.  I too have experienced death and resurrection in recent years.  I am being transformed by this “call” at Immanuel.

This “new Parish” is not really a new concept, but a new practice emerging from the old tired forms of programming and ways of “doing church” of the recent past.

Our hope is to be a Presbyterian parish (Middle English: from Anglo-Norman French and Old French paroche, from late Latin parochia, from Greek paroikia ‘sojourning’, based on para- ‘beside, subsidiary’ + oikos ‘dwelling’.) in the Clifton neighborhood of Cincinnati.  We become this by simply being good neighbors and engaging in meaningful ways with our community, not doing “outreach”, but by simply “coming alongside” and  engaging in real friendships with those that we meet.

So, here we are.

“Here” is more about a community of relationships struggling to understand where “new church” is emerging.  We recognize that transformation is happening all around us.  “Church” is not like it was 50 years ago, or even 5 years ago.

We know we have to change and that will be difficult.  Yet, it will also be beautiful.  We will be a church attempting love our neighbors well and be “outside-in” focused.

But, we need some folks to join with us.  Not to simply fill our pews, but to join into community with us.  Community that is more than just gathering one morning a week.  Community that is willing to struggle, laugh, cry, and celebrate with others in the midst of everyday life.

We are a small congregation with an emerging new vision as we begin to see God’s activity revealed around us and in us.  Slowly, surely, and not all at once.

We have a great building, resources, and are situated in the middle of a great city in a walking, eclectic, and diverse neighborhood next to the University of Cincinnati.

It is my calling along with others to be here at Immanuel.  It is my hope that a few more folks would experience this as their call and come be a part of this transformation.  In this process, we could see church emerge in new ways that could be a source of hope and deep relationship, deep community for ourselves and so many others.

Yes, we need you, if “you” want to work, play, pray, worship, and see transformation happen in sharing life together in community and through this emerging relational space called Immanuel in Clifton.

If you are curious, and are interested in some other resources for what this “new church” could be emerging towards, we have some conversation partners, organizations that share our ethos that can be found at our website at this link:

www.immanuelpresby.org

Also, if you are looking for a great conversation on “reimagining the church in the 21st century”, come and be a part of this conversation on December 5, 2015 at Immanuel with New Parish author, Paul Sparks:

The New Parish Conversation

Restless Ramblings.

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Last week I opened my mouth a bit with my friend Nicholas Yoda, who is the chair of our Presbytery Council, where I serve as a member as well.  I was a bit frustrated.  I have loved being a part of Presbytery Council, a Presbytery transformation task force, and all the good work and the wonderful story that’s emerging out of our Presbytery.  But, I’ve also been frustrated.   So, he asked me to do the devotion at the next Council meeting, which I did, and here are some of those thoughts.

I know, frustrations come and go, we all experience frustration in all sorts of ways in the work that we’ve been called to do as faith and community leaders.

Where was my frustration showing up?  Well, in a string of meetings.  Now, if we’re honest, all of us have certain thoughts and opinions about meetings.  We have momentary frustrations that come and go and can be influenced our day, situations not related to those meetings, issues we are dealing with, etc.  Yet, those things pass.  Well, my frustration has been growing.  Really, into something else:  restlessness in the church and with the church.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the church.  But, I often find more encouragement for the work that I do from outside the church.  I also find that there is life emerging all around this city and that life is being born out of God’s heart.  God also has a heart for this Presbytery and the church universal, and this same God is calling this Presbytery and church universal to enter into the work God’s doing in the city.

But, that takes a sense of movement, on my part and our part as a church.

Many of us are restless, and that’s good.  That can move us towards action and relationship with others if we are willing to be uncomfortable, and even go through some suffering with those inside the church and outside the church…and within us personally and in our communities.  Suffering can often be a catalyst for change, and change is central to transformation.

Over the years, when this restlessness comes around, it’s pushed to try and see what God is up in the world around me, and in the world inside of me.  I’ve been able to do some work with the enneagram (https://www.enneagraminstitute.com if interested to find out more info on the enneagram).  I am a “3”, so I’m wired to work towards goals and I want to see and experience transformation and growth in my life and in the work that I am a part of.

But, as I sit in some of the church meetings that I’m called to be a part of, meetings where I can look around a room and see folks that I genuinely love and want to be with, I want to see transformation happen in my life and in the bodies in which I serve, and I believe others do as well.  Transformation that leads to a sense that the Kingdom of God is upon us, that God’s Presence is being made real and communities are being built on an authentic sense of self, others, and God awareness that leads us towards depth, maturity, and a sense of biblical eternal life which not only gives witness to a quantity of time, but a much more meaningful and engaging quality of life.

In the church, it seems like we focus so much on how to get folks in the door, how to fill our pews, how to “win” folks over, etc.  But, is that really all that the church is called to be about?  Aren’t we supposed to be more about serving the world around us and sharing with the world a God who isn’t to be confined by four walls?  Is it about “winning” and how does that measure up to Jesus’ imperative for us to “lose” ourselves?

Are we simply about building up an institution, or are we genuninely interested in what seems to be on God’s heart?  The Hebrew word hesed is used often in the Old Testament to describe God.  It’s a relational attribute that says a lot about God’s commitment to community, compassion, and character awareness.   This is a God who wants to liberate us from our false selves, our lives that can be some so focused on our image, and give us the gift of Presence that calls us to be image bearers of a God who believes in us even in our deepest pains, struggles, as well as joys and moments of bliss.

My true Self as found in and through Christ is much more than what I often experience.  As I was talking to my Spiritual director recently, I realized again, that my cynicism and restlessness is born from a desire to see the church be much better than what it is, that I love this Presbytery and my city, and want to see the Kingdom of God visible in our communities.  I want what’s best.  Really, what I want is resurrection.  But, as we are reminded in Scripture, if we are to experience resurrection, if we are to gain life, real life, not only as persons, but as persons connected together as the church, then we must suffer, we must die, in order to experience resurrection or new life.  I have to realize that my role, my calling, is to lose my life and to invite others to do the same.

31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel,[b] will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 

These are hard words.  We are called to lose our lives.  That could mean losing some programs in our church, chasing after ideas that may fail, and losing our image.  Yet, the good news is upon us, the whole world is opened to us.  Are we willing to risk everything in order for resurrection to emerge?  I am restless for resurrection, and I know many of us are as well, even if we can’t always identify it.  So are the folks in our churches and in our communities.  Yet, I am also reminded that this death and resurrection is a cycle that brings change which leads to this beautiful transformation in our lives and neighborhoods…and, as a friend of mine reminded me lately, change, transformation is happening and it can’t be stopped.

My prayer:  May we be restless, may that restlessness move us towards deeper and more honest questions about ourselves and our communities, especially our faith communities.  And, may we be moved towards growth and action within ourselves and our communities towards transformation as we lose our lives in order to experience real life.

Story.

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*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!

Jean.

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This past Sunday morning at Immanuel Presbyterian Church, the church where I serve as pastor, gathered in the middle of the sanctuary, put our hands on each others shoulders,and did our “prayers of the people” together during the worship service. My friend, Jean, who is pictured, gave the sweetest prayer for our church and community. She is 91 years young and wants to see this church become all that God intends. Her prayer, joined with the other amazing prayers both spoken and unspoken, gave testimony to a God who calls us out and into amazing moments of Truth. ‪#‎thankful‬@ImmanuelClifton.

Good.

What a week we had here in Cincy last week!  It was full of life and a deepening of friendships, both old and new!  We heard from our friends Steve Chalke, Dave Parr, Damon Lynch III, Troy Jackson, Peter Block, and a whole host of others at Immanuel Church in Clifton (where I pastor) and in and around Cincinnati in some amazing neighborhoods, especially Finneytown where we have our Oasis Community Hub emerging.

That was the beginning of the week.  At the end of the week, we had new and old friends from Economics of Compassion and Neighborhood Economics converge at New Prospect for a conference.

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I needed a nap after last week!

However, I have loved having so many worlds come together around Finneytown, Clifton, Immanuel, Oasis, Economics of Compassion, Amos, and others.

I’ve been around Oasis for a long time.  Many of their staff have been good friends over the years.  Oasis has been on the forefront in Europe and around the world on reimagining (or recalibrating as Steve Chalke would say) the church.  They have done this by being centered on Christ’s being and Christ’s actions….especially when it comes to serving and including folks who may have felt excluded.

I have talked over the years with my friends from Oasis what it would look like to have them more fully in the states and how we could use Oasis to be a part of the “new church” or the recalibrated church.  How we can be conversation partners, as well as collaborating with other?  Could groups like Oasis help the American church be the community based blessing that we are called to be?

So, this past week, we saw a glimpse of what could be.

Much of this past week and what has gone on in Cincy came out of a trip that our family took to the UK last summer.  Friends like Steve Chalke, Andy Sexton, and Andy Matheson had invited us over to London to check out first hand their community hubs and school academies.  So we took them up on it.  On one leg of the journey, we were supposed to stay at our friend Andy Matheson’s house.  He sent us a message a couple of days before we were to arrive to say that he had worked it out to stay at a friend’s house who was on vacation.  I was looking forward to staying with Andy, but took it in stride.  When Andy picked us up at the train station to take us to our lodgings, he told us that the house we were staying was an English Manor house on the estate of the Earl of Essex, Penshurst.  So, for the next 4 days we stayed in a 7 bedroom, 5 bath house on a hill overlooking Pinehurst.  It was fantastic.

On several of the fields we were overlooking, there were hundreds of sheep in various fields at different times during the day.  One afternoon, the Mathesons and other friends of ours, the Kinney’s, were visiting with us.  The Kinney’s kids and are kids are of similar ages, so they all went out into the fields to try and catch sheep, try as they might, they couldn’t catch them…however, they did step in quite a bit of other very messy and smelly things…yet, fun was had by all, even if a few sheep may have been a bit rattled.

I read once that you cannot very easily approach sheep…they are sheepish if you will.  They aren’t easy to heard either, unless you are their shepherd.  Shepherds, especially in Jesus’ time, spent a lot of time with sheep.  Shepherds had a way of gathering sheep, by simply calling them out.  Sheep will follow the shepherd because they recognize the shepherd’s voice.  They trust that voice.

In the Bible, specifically John 10, we are referred to as sheep, you and I together.  It’s obviously a metaphor, but much like the beauty of the landscape at Penshurst, we all live together in a beautiful world.  We also produce a lot of smelly and messiness.  Our relationships with each other are filled with craziness at times.  We don’t always follow or lead each other well.  There are dangers around us, and sometimes there are other forces out there, thieves such as loneliness, selfishness, pride, or addictions, or folks not being the best version of themselves, or fully understanding themselves, their “True Selves”.  Or maybe others that come in the middle of darkness as it says in John 10:10 that kill and destroy the lives that we were called to live.

Yet, Jesus tells us that he has come to give us life.  When we slow down, or get caught up in recognition of good things around us and the origin of that goodness, we can recognize the voice of the true shepherd, the voice of Jesus who has entered in the fields of our lives, who walks with us and towards us…walking through the messiness to call us towards new fields, new adventures.

We often recognize the voice of Jesus through others.  Maybe we literally hear words from Jesus through others such as a speaker, or maybe even a preacher (maybe…).  Or maybe we recognize the voice of God through something we read, or a song we hear.  Maybe it’s listening to our neighbors as we walk down our street.  Or, seeing someone else practice charity through their actions or giving themselves away.

We know it when we see it and hear it, especially as we train our eyes and ears to see and recognize the true shepherd.

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Alex Dingle (a “younger” friend of mine who’s on InterVarsity staff and that our church, Immanuel, is going to allow to have some office space for a period of time) and I experienced amazing beauty one weekend where we had a wilderness retreat with our youth group from my former church Northminster.  We spent the weekend in the mountains of North Carolina at a place called “Pioneer Plunge”.  We had a very diverse group of folks, but we experienced a deep sense of unity as we listened to each other and lived out what it means to be a community marked by Jesus.  We served each other, taking turns making dinner and cleaning up after each other.  It was great.  At the end of the weekend, I was overwhelmed with the abundance of deepening relationships, friendships, with each other and with God, so much so that I made a statement that there was no place else in the world that I’d rather be than right there, right then.

Friends, we have said it before, we are living in a new place with church.  The old forms simply don’t work anymore.  The world is crying out for us, the church, to be an example of goodness, of the good shepherd, to be reflections of Jesus’ actions and to reflect and amplify the voice of the Shepherd who is calling us towards him, towards abundant life, towards being one flock.  This shepherd has laid down his life for us, yet in doing so, has overcome all of the messiness in our lives and is creating something new and beautiful as he leads us into new fields, filled with beauty and relationship.

So, let’s listen to the voice of the Shepherd, let’s love each other well, and let’s play in the fields of Clifton, Cincinnati, and the world and be the diverse, yet unified flock God’s marked us out to be…we can do this, we can believe in each other as God does with us, trusting each other, loving each other, and changing the world in the process.

I can truly say that being in this field called Cincinnati, with all of its mess, is good and is filled with beauty.  There’s no other place I’d rather be, right now, than right here.

Deliver…this Sunday at Immanuel!

Come and be with us this Sunday, April 21st at 10:30 AM.   I’ll be leading us in a discussion on “deliver”!

The teaser: “hold on, there is a God who will deliver on the promise that you are not alone, that there is relationship, there is hope.”

Join us after the service for a potluck lunch with Steve Chalke, founder of Oasis, and Dave Parr, Oasis UK staff, as we discuss Oasis’ unique model of Christ-centered community transformation and the theology that drives it. RSVP by emailing us at secretary3445@cinci.rr.com.

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