This is my story of the foolish and audacious yes -- a glorious and daunting tale of saying yes to what the Spirit is birthing in our community. And it is not for the faint of heart. But I believe that this is what the Spirit is up to today. Beckoning us to leave behind what is familiar, we are being asked to cross the threshold into the wilderness. To leave behind what is dead and lifeless and the systems of oppression to step into the new, into life and into freedom. To let go of our own small, individual stories to be invited into a much larger story that is so compelling, it is worth giving our lives to.
foolish and audacious yes #1
Five years ago, my first foolish and audacious yes was to sign myself up for a program called Leadership in the New Parish. I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had never attended the Inhabit Conference. I didn’t really know much about the Parish Collective. All I knew was that I was desperate to find a way forward and to explore new practices and paradigms for church.
For I was well aware that our current models were for the most part failing us, and yet I was still very much immersed in them. At the time, I was the associate pastor of a small but vibrant Vineyard community church in Shoreline, Washington, where I also served as the director our local nonprofit, Turning Point. But while there were only a few of us who lived in the community where our church building was located, we had intentioned to be a presence for good in our neighborhood. We were following the missional conversation and longing to practice the way of Jesus. And so we did a lot of listening -- opening up our building to be a cold weather shelter, being a part of community round tables, starting a food bank giving garden, birthing a nonprofit, and investing in immigrant youth and families in the neighborhood. And yet in spite of all of this, we began to see that our model of church was actually at times working against us - working against the embodiment of our faith to live into the teachings of Jesus in a transformative way.
And so over the course of that year, I began to have a new imagination for what the kingdom could look like in my community and in my neighborhood and it set me on a trajectory that has forever changed the course of my life and of our faith community.
foolish and audacious yes #2
And so my second foolish and audacious yes was to the invitation of the Spirit to move into the neighborhood. We sold our home. We uprooted our family of 6. And we took some huge risks. Because we weren’t entirely convinced that this neighborhood stuff would really work in our suburban/semi-urban context. We didn’t look like many of the neighborhoods that were having success in more urban and walkable neighborhoods. But would it work here? And would we be able to transition our commuter church to have an imagination to root in our neighborhoods? Was this even possible?
Now I wish I could tell you that it all went glowingly after this. But as we journeyed to follow the Spirit into the unknown, we found that often life comes out of death. New paradigms are birthed out of disorientation. New assignments are born out of scattering and wilderness. This is the way of the Spirit, of transformation, of death and of birth.
And so our first attempts at neighboring were pretty much a flop. Who knew it was so hard to get to know your neighbors? We held barbecues in our front yard that no one came to. We baked cookies as offerings of friendship that were never returned. I have vivid images of my husband who would literally run after the neighbor’s car down our driveway just to say hello.
foolish and audacious yes #3
Our third foolish and audacious yes was to disrupt the status quo in our faith community. And this is where it got real. We were growing increasingly discontent with the way that our lived experience as the church was forming us and how irrelevant we seemed to our neighbors. So we entered a community discernment process and made the decision to move our regular Sunday service to a Sunday night dinner church and the whole thing blew up. I mean, for real. The ugly church stuff that those of you who have lived through are now having PTS symptoms just thinking of it, and half of our community left. I know this may not be exactly heartening to you. But it is what happened. It was horrible. Awful. I cried every day and at times, our lead pastor and I considered just giving up, throwing in the towel and going to work for Amazon. We felt disillusioned and disoriented, and yet somehow through it all, the Spirit sustained us.
foolish and audacious yes #4
It was less than a year later when I said my fourth foolish and audacious yes -- which was the biggest yet (you think I would have learned my lesson by now) -- but I said yes to step in as lead pastor. Utterly foolish after our beloved pastor of 20 years was forced to resign suffering from congestive heart failure. This was another huge blow. Utterly audacious to believe that there was still hope for our struggling and now traumatized congregation.
But I had this crazy good dream, this fire in my belly. You see I had no interest in doing church if it meant more of the same religious activity. In fact, I wanted nothing to do with it. But this dream. Where our neighborhoods are pulled into shalom, seeking justice for those without power and privilege, where everyone across difference, race and class are coming together to seek the flourishing of our communities. The hope of seeing God revealed here in us, the body of Christ - where our neighbors begin to see that God is for them, where church is experienced around the table, and hopes are shared on the bus and the coffee shop and the community forums. This, this was compelling.
And so this is where the story gets crazy good. For we as the church are celebrating Eastertide and we know that there is life after death. And I have seen miracle upon miracle of this spirit of resurrection at work in our church and in our neighborhood. It has been just over one year since we re-launched The Practicing Church in our living room and I’m beginning to believe that this dream is actually possible. We have seen many miracles of the Spirit: sending us people across the country to join us; opening up housing so that we could live in proximity; miracles of finances and jobs in the neighborhood; miracles of friendships and shared life with our neighbors as we share a weekly meal together and connect over parties, fire pits and summer bbq's. And we are beginning to be a part of the fabric of care here, active in our neighborhood associations and schools, hosting a social justice book club, participating on diversity and equity task forces, breaking bread with our immigrant neighbors and continuing to be faithfully present to children and families through our after school tutoring program.
And I feel like I’m home. I no longer feel the incongruence and disconnects of my former church experience. And while we are only just beginning to live into God’s dream, learning what it means to be faithfully present, it feels resonate and integrated in a way that I have never experienced before. And yet we still don’t know what it’s going to look like. We are staring into the darkness of the unknown, waiting for the Spirit to lead us on. But we believe with all of our hearts that the Spirit is birthing something new in the church, inviting us to believe that there is a better way - to live as a beautifully diverse beloved community into the dare of the gospel.
And so the question remains.
Will we be just foolish enough?
Just audacious enough?
To say yes?
“And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’ And he replied: ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.’” -God Knows by Minnie Haskins
by Jessica Ketola