You are browsing the archive for Parish Stories.

by Paul

Prepare for Change

February 25, 2019 in Featured Posts, Parish Stories

Prepare for Change

I’ll be honest. I woke up this morning and scrolled through my social media like it was a religious ritual. This is the sort of habit that can be revealing if we allow ourselves to see it. There are major forces shaping our lives without our conscious awareness. We develop habits that we didn’t consciously choose, and desires that we did not intend to long for. In fact, at times we get the sense that “the algorithms” aren’t just automating our preferences, they are automating us.

Like everyone else in the western world, those of us doing neighbourhood work have a hard time admitting to being shaped like this. We have been trained to assume our lives are simply the outcome of our rational choices. But, this causes us to miss all the hidden influences that dramatically form our lives for good or ill.

I returned to Australia this last season with the hope of learning from followers of Jesus who are getting intentional about these “background conditions” that train our lives without our awareness. Here are 7 words, 7 questions, and 7 short snapshots related to what I discovered. …Yes, I created an acronym! It’s not my normal behavior, but we all have to find a way to keep this background in the forefront as it gets a hold of our whole body, heart, and mind forming the way we live. We can either prepare the ground for receptivity to the Spirit and discipleship in the Jesus way, or we can find ourselves unconsciously trained toward other false and empty dreams.


P is for Postures. Are we cultivating postures that encourage us to release control, face our responsibilities, and risk opening up to relationships?

The late philosopher and writer on spiritual formation Dallas Willard once said, “You can’t will joy. But you can will skipping.” Postures begin with the body, but they can work their way into the heart. When I visited Pastor Jon Owen working in his new role at Wayside Church in Sydney, I was watching for these postures – ways of positioning the body, heart, and mind for receptivity.

Jon Owen has taken on incredible responsibility with his new pastoral role at the legendary Wayside Chapel. It would be easy for the urgent to take over the important. But, Jon has developed postures that keep him attuned to what really matters. He began our visit by taking us to the bottom floor of the church building and having us sit outside in the active cement parklet that faces the main street. Both millionaires and moneyless frequent this place. It is animated with every sort of character you can think of, and Jon places himself at the heart of it – sometimes sitting with, sometimes a hand on the shoulder of a friend, sometimes working together alongside the breakfast pop-up, sometimes laughter and joking, and sometimes pausing reflectively as if to remind himself just to take it all in and be.

For lack of a better way of saying it, Jon puts his body into positions that help him acknowledge his humanity and open up in submission to what the relational context requires.

Whether in prayer, sharing a meal, walking the rooftop garden, or sitting in meeting, Jon practices the postures that help him live into faithful presence.

R is for Relationships. Are we cultivating relationships that influence us toward faithful presence and open us toward deep understanding and openness to “the other.”

In Melbourne I spent time with two friends I have grown to admire deeply – Charlene Delos Santos and Sam Hearn. They both understand the power of intentional relationships for shaping your life in ways that information can’t. Over the years I have been able to watch and learn from their leadership with Surrender, and this trip only served to take me deeper in understanding.

While they both have developed many unique relational habits that transform their lives in profound ways, I want to focus on two in particular that are critical to our time. Firstly, Sam has a deep understanding of what I call the “neighbourhood paradox”.

You can’t sustain deep local presence without staying connected to other followers of Jesus who are living this out in their unique neighbourhood context. It is paradoxical because the last thing deep local practitioners think they need to do is leave their context in order to build relationships with people from other places.

But, Sam builds both strong and weak ties with all sorts of people like this. He listens to their stories, walks their streets, shares meals in their homes, prays prayers of hope and faith together with them, and then connects them to others who might encourage their life. And, as he does this his life is sustained, imagination returns, loneliness dissipates, and hope rises. There is nothing more powerful and helpful for sustaining and igniting your neighbourhood presence than becoming an engaged participant in a web of mutual relationships across neighbourhoods.

The second type of relational connection is exemplified in Charlene’s leadership. If we really want to prepare the background conditions in our lives, we are going to have to get serious about cultivating relationships with people who are different than us. This is going to require more work than might be imagined, but it will change our lives forever. The great theologian Willie Jennings wrote:

The crucial matter today for Christian discipleship is not what you practice but who you practice with. …Show me a Christian who sits comfortably in segregated ecclesial life, in a homogeneity of Christian practice, and I will show you someone who is formed for worldly power.

Charlene understands this at a deep level, and sometimes it seems her whole life has been aligned for just such a purpose – to awaken us to how important these diverse connections truly are, and how much commitment it is going to take to live toward this together. It is risky work helping bring people who are different together in relationship, but Charlene knows that this is where the beauty is, this is where the miracle of the gospel can emerge, this is where the very nature and beauty of God can be revealed.

E is for Environments. Are we creating, shaping, and placing ourselves in environments that connect and awaken us to God, to others, and to the land in meaningful ways?

This actually might be the most underestimated force shaping your habits and desires without you knowing it. As Marshall McLuhan once said, “Environments are invisible.” You don’t notice how they are shaping you because the environment is usually taken for granted. Environments includes the buildings we live in, and the spaces in between. Environments include the tools and technologies we use to operate in the world. They function as an environment when we work through them to accomplish our purposes in the world.

McLuhan also said, “The medium is the message.” In other words the technology you habitually use to read these words in front of you, shapes you more than the message I am trying to communicate.

Environments can be shaped for healing and connection, or they can be designed for power, distraction, and brokenness. This becomes self-evident with these words from Ray Oldenburg’s book The Great Good Place. “Most residential areas… have been designed to protect people from community rather than connect them to it. Virtually all means of meeting and getting to know one’s neighbors have been eliminated. An electronically operated garage door out front and a privacy fence out back afford near-total protection from those who, in former days, would have been neighbors.”

Elliot and Sarah Keane understand how important environments can be for shaping our lives and sparking our imagination. Their leadership at Richmond Baptist in Adelaide, and across their neighbourhood is a living demonstration project of the power of designing environments for transformation, love, and healing. I will never forget my tour of their church building with Sara Keane.

Everything was an ongoing living experiment in rearranging, painting, building, molding, turning, and tweaking the context to bridge the community, awaken desire for the holiness, connect people to true beauty, and rewire our imagination for shalom. Even the process of creation; incorporating the gifts, dreams, and resources of many people from across the congregation and neighbourhood, lent to the transformation experience.

P is for Practices. What are the intentional habits, traditions, and patterns we need to build into our lives to help our bodies remember the kind of person we want to be and become?

My dear friends Simon and Bonnie Uphill have crazy beautiful lives. They have intentionally placed themselves in a context where the everyday life in the neighbourhood hits them full on. Between fostering three young boys, working at the school down the road, leadership with their neighbourhood church, and their full life together with friends and neighbors, things can get a little chaotic.

On the one hand, building in the right practices is a matter of survival. On the other hand, practices are the magic that turn the ordinary into the sacred, illuminating the beauty and goodness of their everyday lives.

A cup of tea in the morning, prayers and stories with the littles before bed, spaces for both of them to get some exercise or enjoy some sport, a special day with each child, breathing. Each of these intentional moments, and many more, build a rhythm into their lives that help make them into the kind of people they desire to become at each all throughout the day.

A is for Apprenticeships. Do we commit ourselves to full-bodied learning from guides whose life demonstrates a way of being or tradition that we need to inculcate?

If you spend any length of time with Nick and Anita Wight you are going to discover very unique and life giving ways of being that are foreign to the western imagination. The White’s found a way of being reflected in the lives of many of the aboriginal leaders and groups that they knew they needed to learn from. There are many ways to speak of it (less about outcomes and production, more about land and family, less linear more circular etc). I’m not going to pretend I can clearly articulate what drew Nick and Anita in. The point is that Nick and Anita apprenticed themselves to people they respected.

They submitted to ways of spending time and practicing life that were unfamiliar to them in order for these to get under their skin, into the hearts and come out as habitual ways of living. It shifted their imagination below the level of rational thinking.

By submitting themselves to follow their guides, to practice what they practice, to invest in deep presence together, to grow through real time and friendship, Nick and Anita inculcated into their lives, characteristics they could never have developed any other way.

R is for Readings. Do we practice deeply listening to the stories of other people’s lives. Do we listen to their readings of the world, they’re “take” on how things fit together?

I stayed for several days with my longtime friends Geoff and Sherry Maddock while visiting in Melbourne. There is something very unusual about their lives. Most people assume their perspective is right, and then judge everyone who disagrees. But, the Maddock’s thrive on multiple readings. They never stop listening to the stories of other ways of seeing the world. If you spend too much time with them, it can be frustrating to the ego. Every time you think you have the final viewpoint, the ultimate “take” on something, the Maddock’s produce an alternative reading that helps you see the world from another angle. Whether they give you a book, stretch out a yarn, take you to a new context, ask you to look at a piece of art, or even get you to try to hear the story that plants are trying to tell – you are always going to have to acknowledge it’s more complex than any single proposition.

Like the prophet Nathan who tells the parable to David that helps the king acknowledge his culpability, stories like these have a way of sneaking up on you because they get you out of your head and into your body and emotions.

E is for Experiments. Are we actually trying live experiments that put our whole body into the action, or do our ideas just remain abstractions?

One of my favorite visits during my time in Sydney was traveling with longtime friend and mentor Michael Frost to get some time with Rev Dr Karina Kreminski in her neighbourhood. In Karina’s book Urban Spirituality she writes,

“I wanted to cultivate a missional community that would emerge from the streets, spaces and places in my neighborhood rather than importing pre-packaged, ready-to-go, instant and polished products from the supermarkets of Christian culture into my neighborhood.”

This meant starting a series of ongoing experiments that have required tremendous courage and risk. Karina had to let go of her pre-planned solutions and try some on-the-ground experiments that would open up her life to the realities and possibilities of her unique neighbourhood and help her whole body awaken to her part to play there. One of my favorites is The Happiness Lab – “a fun, local six week course exploring what it means to be a person who thrives in life.” People from every walk of life in the neighbourhood join together to mutually explore this theme and learn from one another. These type of experiments require breaking open our bubbles of controllable answers and investing in experiments that shape you in ways you can’t articulate.


In the world of speed, mobility, and distraction that most of us are embedded in, it is easy to find ourselves being shaped by powers that we did not intend. These seven words can be offered up as prayers of longing to God and intentional checkpoints along our journey to insure that we are being formed in a way that opens us up to the Spirit’s movement and the love of neighbour and enemy. It’s time to prepare for change.

Published by Sam Hearn from the Neighbourhood Collective in Australia

by Sam

Embracing the Paradox of Hospitality

May 21, 2018 in Parish Stories

In this blog series, we have been discussing three core components of abundant community: gifts, association, and hospitality. To sum up the arc of our conversation:

If gifts are the basic building blocks of abundant community, and association is the primary process for connecting and exchanging gifts, then hospitality is the practice through which our repertoire of gifts abounds and even overflows.

Paradoxically, the hospitable act of receiving the gifts of the perceived outsider/stranger actually strengthens a community’s sense of belonging and abundance.

Here’s a simple example of how the paradoxical interplay between gifts, association, and hospitality plays out.

Over the last few months, I have become familiar with and even a bit attached to a physical asset in our neighbourhood. As a result of daily dog walking around Edgbaston Reservoir, I discovered a group of regular dog walkers. Through this group of dog walkers, I developed a regular rhythm of meeting them on the ‘playing field’ by the Reservoir. I could have been seen as an American newcomer infringing on their established ‘Dog Club,’ but fortunately, I was welcomed warmly into their informal association of dog walkers. Through this simple act of hospitality, they made room for one more, and I discovered a wonderful gift of green space – as well as some new neighbourhood networks.



Consider another (related) example of how hospitality makes room for the gifts and the associations of the perceived outsider. Soon after I connected with the ‘Dog Club,’ I happened to be at a planning meeting with Martin Holcombe, the CEO of Birmingham Settlement (a city-wide community engagement charity) – the very charity who owns the field by the reservoir. Martin explained how the field had once been a sports field for a football club, and how nearly 30 years ago the pavilion had been burned down. Over the years, the fence had given way in places, and the field had been used for dog walking, picnics, exercise, and yes, some anti-social behaviour. Martin went on to explain how Birmingham Settlement wants to enable a community-led ‘re-launch’ of the field for diverse forms of community engagement. At one point Martin remarked, ‘I need to be in front of the local community’ and I had a ready-made offer: ‘Come to Neighbour Nights and let’s begin the conversation.’

That was Neighbour Nights #6, back in March. Martin came, and over 60 local residents showed up as well. That was the beginning of a dialogue between Martin Holcombe, representing Birmingham Settlement and local residents. Over the course of the conversation, Martin clarified that legally Birmingham Settlement owned the field and the field is covenanted for community use. In other words, Martin framed a scenario in which both Birmingham Settlement and local residents would benefit from what the other has to offer. Yet by being a de facto outsider, Martin also presented a future scenario that would require a posture of hospitality in order to move forward together. That is because local residents/users already access the field in various ways; Martin could be seen as a threatening outsider, an unwelcome presence ‘parachuting in’ to disturb the neighbourhood peace. And yet, because of the legal structures in place, Martin could also be welcomed as a ‘door opener’ – that is, a friendly ally who has come to give permission and build cooperation.

What happened at Neighbour Nights # 6 (and since then) shows that hospitality is a delicate dance between guest and host. In the company of local residents, Companions for Hope took the lead by welcoming Martin as a guest into the neighbourhood, and with due respect, he then welcomed us to dream with him and Birmingham Settlement about how community engagement might happen on the field. During Q & A, residents made insightful observations about the history of the place, expressed passionate concerns about security, and even made requests for possible initiatives that could find a home on the field. One of our neighbourhood’s ‘green initiatives’ (focusing on horticulture, composting and skills sharing) shared the need for a new location in order to continue operation. Martin agreed to ‘re-home’ this activity around the edges of the field, and already a small area of the site is being cleared to prepare for the horticultural activity, and so the dance of hospitality began…

Last week we gathered for Neighbour Nights #8. We invited Martin back for more Q & A with local residents about the future of the field. Some came for the catered meal provided by our friends at The Real Junk Food Project Birmingham, but after the meal, the attention turned to expressing our interests, concerns, and hopes for the field. Of course, it would have been more efficient for Martin (as CEO of Birmingham Settlement) to dictate vision and make it happen, but it would not have been effective as a community-led initiative.

Martin Holcombe, with Birmingham Settlement, answers questions at Neighbour Nights #8

Fortunately, Martin was again welcomed with a great turnout of residents (73 people showed up), and fortunately, Martin came as the ‘door opener,’ which welcomed residents to co-design what takes place on the field. As a next step, we agreed to throw a picnic / pop-up event on 28th May to raise the profile of the site, as well as to catch and store the energy around what might happen there in the future.

The point that I am making is NOT that Neighbour Nights offers a triumphalist formula for community organising, but rather it has offered a space for the dance of hospitality to begin. By welcoming an outsider, our repertoire of gifts and capacities has grown. That’s the simple power of hospitality.

In fact, these examples of meeting, gathering and welcoming are so simple, that only recently did I come to recognise that these ordinary acts of hospitality can conceal the paradox that I mentioned earlier: how making room for the gifts of the other/outsider/stranger actually strengthens a local community’s sense of belonging and security.

At first glance, you might think that a ‘Dog Club’ with stringent membership requirements would be more satisfying than an informal one that is easy to join; you might think an open field by the Reservoir would be made more secure by building a bigger fence to keep people out. But a second glance shows that behind the reaction to ‘keep outsiders out’ lurks a perception of scarcity – the belief there is not enough to go around. Alternatively, behind the response of welcome and hospitality is the awareness of ‘enough,’ the possibility of belonging to an abundant community.

For the last eight months, Neighbour Nights have been a space where (to shift the metaphor from dance to song) we have tried to form a neighbourhood choir with the following theme song: ‘cultivating abundant community from the ground up – by being neighbours on purpose.’ We are training our voices and learning our parts. We are also aware that there are other voices (not yet present) that belong in this choir. We will continue to listen for their voices and the parts they are called to sing. In the meantime, we are looking ahead to 28th May and to future Neighbour Nights as spaces where we can sing our theme song, find new choir members, and even learn some new songs in the key of hospitality. Songs like this:

“There are no strangers here, only friends you haven’t yet met.” – W. B. Yeats.



This is Part 3 of a 4 part series by Sam Ewell and the Companions for Hope an Intentional Christian Collective as they learned from Neighbour Nights in Summerfield, Birmingham, UK. Republished with permission.
Part 1: Cultivating Abundant Community From the Ground Up
Part 2: From “Problem Solvers” to “Treasure Seekers” 
Part 3: The Power of Associating



by Gus

Tacoma Catholic Worker Village

May 14, 2018 in Parish Stories

In the Hilltop neighborhood of Tacoma, Washington, the Catholic Worker community walks together with people on the journey out of homelessness. This is a guiding expression in the area, grown through the collaboration of neighbors and organizations around G Street that assist in housing, feeding and advocating for affordable living and sustainable employment. Here’s a neighborhood snapshot of the community.

The Tacoma Catholic Worker centers around transitional housing around living in the Guadalupe House. The urban garden reminds us that we are part of the growth, rest, and renewal that takes place in God’s Creation. In the garden we grow food that sustains body and spirit.

Rooted in the Hilltop neighborhood has created a place of hospitality that is known to the greater Tacoma area. We inhabit and recognize the ecology of ourselves with the bees, chickens, cats. This all help us recognize we are but a small contribution to the beautification of our city.

For 35 years every week we gather for liturgy and dinner to feed the stranger and friend who comes to participate as an equal to the table. Our relationships provide an opportunity for healing and community. During the week, sandwiches, socks and blankets are given out while being a steward of individual empowerment.

We walk with people who are on the margins of society: immigrants, veterans, addicts, convicts, the mentally ill, and the infirm. Collaborating with groups such as the Madrinas and New Connections next door who provide a support network for women and their children coming out of incarceration and with organizations such as Aid Northwest who support people coming out of the Northwest Immigrant Detention Center. To the larger community, we offer opportunities to pray together, to participate in social justice work in earthy, theatrical, and dissident ways.

Partnering with Parish Collective has been fruitful to being linked to numerous parish expressions. Jesuit Volunteers who stay with us for a year of service allow a mutual learning of intergenerational wisdom. Pilgrims from peace walks and activist groups give a greater voice to sharing in solidarity to global issues of immigration and nuclear disarmament. We continue to weave links so we can continue to be encouraged by similar communities.

by Sam

The Power of Associating

May 14, 2018 in Featured Posts, Parish Stories

by Sam Ewell

When we started Neighbour Nights back in October 2017, we began with a simple question: Instead of taking an issue-based approach to community organising which starts with neighbourhood problems (ex: Why is there so much litter and why isn’t City Council dealing with it?!), what is possible if we bring neighbours together around food to talk about their gifts and how to share them? Another term for “bringing neighbours together around their gifts” is associating, and the theme of this blog: the power of associating.

In the previous blog post, we focused on gifts and the importance of gift mindedness as a posture for cultivating flourishing community-led development. If we think of gifts as the raw material for cultivating community, then we can think of associations as the way those gifts are exchanged.

In fact, the power of associational life lies in its simplicity. In The Abundant Community, John McKnight and Peter Block describe it this way:

“An association is fundamentally a group of people who have a shared affinity. Associational life begins with a group of people who are drawn together for some reason, and that reason is what makes it work. Say they all like dogs, so they have a dog club. Or they all like reading fiction, so they have a book club. An association is often a fulfilment of one’s individual likes and purposes. It is a place for having something in common, standing on common ground…” [1]

In other words, whether by a common location, common function or common interest, associations are vital to neighbourhood life because they are the primary social process by which gifts get expressed in community.

As a once-a-month repeatable gathering, Neighbour Nights has become such an association in Summerfield. In fact, in addition to creating a context where individual residents can share their gifts, it has become a kind association of associations, space where:

•    Existing associations such as Christ Church Summerfield and Summerfield Residents Association can connect and partner;
•    The Real Junk Food Project Birmingham can raise its profile and recruit participants;
•    Winson Greeners can get the word out about monthly litter picks;
•    City Hospital Greenhouses (our neighbourhood horticultural initiative) can promote its workdays and organise workshops around the latent skills of residents.

And herein lies the paradox of community organising towards associational life in the neighbourhood: some organisation is necessary in order to associate and create the environment for gift sharing and getting things done, yet too much organisation ends up destroying the social fabric of associations!


Eight months in, we are recognising that there is a balancing act in this kind of community organising. On the one hand, we know that just living in proximity is not enough. Proximity might make us neighbours in a formal, sociological sense, but by itself, proximity does not create associational life. Associational life must be convened, literally “called to come together.” But on the other hand, we could try to move beyond convening to managing the relationships and outcomes between these associations. The temptation here is to make all the exchanges predictable and more “efficient” in a managerial sense. But predictability and efficiency come at the cost of losing neighbourliness, and we are committed not to be managers on task, but rather “being neighbours on purpose.”

For Companions for Hope, “being neighbours on purpose” is shorthand for intentionally designing just enough structure to become “an organising agent rather than a service-providing system.”

Why? Because we believe that service provision does not satisfy the core longings of community. We believe that beyond service provision (as important as it is), there are the gifts of the people and the power of association to make those gifts sharable.

Therefore, I see the associations that come together through Neighbour Nights as a form of community gardening in both senses of the term: gardening in the community as well as a gardening of the community. The gifts of the people are like seeds, powerful yet dormant unless exposed to the right conditions; the associations are the ‘microclimates’ that provide these seeds with enough soil, water, warmth and light to grow.

In this way, Neighbour Nights is one way we have learned to garden together with our neighbours…


This is Part 3 of a 4 part series by Sam Ewell and the Companions for Hope an Intentional Christian Collective as they learned from Neighbour Nights in Summerfield, Birmingham, UK. Republished with permission.
Part 1: Cultivating Abundant Community From the Ground Up
Part 2: From “Problem Solvers” to “Treasure Seekers”

[1] John McKnight and Peter Block, The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2010), 71.

by Ben

What Walking 30 Neighborhoods Taught Me About Being the Church

May 3, 2018 in Parish Stories

By Ben Katt from RePlacing Church
All good things must come to an end… My family’s #NeighborhoodsForDays Odyssey (which I announced in late June) — learning from 30 neighborhoods in 30 days — ended when we arrived safely back home in Seattle. But the stories and experiences will stay with us — it was an inspiring gift to visit numerous neighborhood groups on this trip and also have the time to reflect on parish faith communities I visited earlier this year.I plan to offer some summary reflections in an upcoming episode of the RePLACING CHURCH Podcast, but in the meantime, please enjoy the images, words, stories, and reflections below from 30 different neighborhoods! (Make sure to click “LISTEN here” for bonus audio content!)To hear more stories in the future, “Like” RePLACING CHURCH on Facebook, follow on Instagram, and download the Anchor app and follow “Ben Katt.”Godspeed,Ben

#30 Downtown, Tacoma, WA | FAITHFUL — My family and I are back home in Seattle and this is the final Neighborhoods For Days reflection. And it is a fitting conclusion! No one has encouraged me more in practicing faithful presence in the parish than Paul and Liz Sparks, who have also served as wise guides and supporters to so many of you! For more than a decade the Sparks have cultivated community across diverse groups in business, art, and activism in their textured downtown Tacoma parish. Their neighborhood church has taken on different expressions over the years, but they continue to remain committed to loving across difference and seeking the flourishing of their place. (Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo of Paul and Liz, but I do have a photo that Paul took of me with Liz’s canned salsa and pickles at their home. The photo also works because it visually captures the joy it has brought me to connect with and learn from all of these neighborhoods and communities over the past 30 days!) [LISTEN here] [Instagram]


#29 Columbia City, Seattle, WA | LEARNING — Matt and Amy Chapman lead Common Life, a community of faith and reconciliation in Seattle’s Columbia City neighborhood. In addition to gathering followers of Jesus from the neighborhood who are a part of different churches for connection and conversations around seeking the flourishing of their parish, this community facilitates a variety of learning environments related to such things as leadership, calling, and local peacemaking. [LISTEN here] [Instagram]

#28 Shoreline, WA | LEADERSHIP — Earlier this year, I spent time with Jessica Ketola during the week in her neighborhood and also during a Sunday gathering. Jessica is the lead pastor of Vineyard Community Church (where she served for years under the leadership and mentorship of Rose Madrid Swetman), a community that has had a parish ministry for a decade in Turning Point, through which they invest in at-risk youth and low-income families, and build collaborative, caring relationships. VCC is now evolving all of their life together as a “practicing church” into a “hub & parish” model. A known character in her own parish, Jessica also provides leadership to the Leadership in the New Parish certificate program at the Seattle School. [LISTEN here] [Instagram]

#27 Park Hill, Colorado Springs, CO | ALTERNATIVE — Colorado Springs is a city known as a hub for military, mountains, and ministry. The city is home to many large churches, as well as national and international parachurch organizations. Amber and Matthew Ayers are well connected to that world, but they are also creating an alternative expression of church that is slow and local in their southeast Colorado Springs neighborhood where they’ve been building relationships with neighbors and opening their home to fellow sojourners since they intentionally relocated to this parish a year ago. [LISTEN here] [Instagram]

#26 F Street Parish, Lincoln, NE | SURPRISE — In the shadow of the Nebraska state capitol, Jeff and Beth Heerspink are learning firsthand the element of surprise involved in cultivating a community of faith in the parish as they plant F Street Neighborhood Church in this under-resourced, 95% rental area south of downtown. After years of ministry with prison inmates, they had a dream of planting a church that could be “a place of acceptance and direction” for people getting out of prison. They “stumbled upon” becoming a neighborhood church expression, having the opportunity to purchase a 90 year-old church building (and the original 140 year-old chapel on the property), deciding on “Neighborhood Church” instead of “Community Church” in their name, and relocating (along with other church members) to a home in the neighborhood after a miraculous series of events. They host one of the largest AA groups in Lincoln, develop leaders through the Immerse program, coordinate the neighborhood farmers market, have a “parish nurse” (who walks with families through health issues, educates neighbors, and does blood pressure checks at the monthly block party), and are renovating the old chapel to become an art studio where the first show will feature 24 paintings of neighborhood characters. [LISTEN here] [Instagram]

#25 Gifford Park, Omaha, NE | RHYTHM — Summer in Gifford Park is a very active season. Neighbors have long since emerged from the hibernation that comes with Nebraska’s long, cold winters, and are ready to “Go!” They are fully engaged in attending Neighborhood Association meetings, keeping the Community Garden watered and growing, assisting refugees at a nearby center, hanging out at the Neighborhood Market, playing at the Sally Foster Adventure Playground, and running tennis and soccer camps for kids. Eric and Lisa Purcell have led an intentional faith community in the neighborhood for five years, joining in the seasons of going and hibernating, but also discerning when and how to create spaces of rest when everybody is going, and spaces of activity when everybody is hibernating. [LISTEN here] [Instagram]

#24 Clear Lake, Iowa | WELLNESS — Ashley and Shea Coleman are leading a movement of holistic wellness as they follow Jesus in Clear Lake, Iowa, a city of about 8000 people known as a popular summer vacation destination and the location of the last concert 50’s icons Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Booper played before they died in a tragic plane crash nearby on “The Day the Music Died.” Today, the Colemans are putting this community on the map for the wellness they are inviting people into — a missional community; a non-profit, Share Life, which serves kids daily, free, healthy lunches throughout the summer; a welcoming, caring space for widows; and multiple small businesses under the umbrella of BE WELLness, including The Market, featuring healthy local and gluten-free foods, Better Body Movement personal training, massage therapy, acupuncture and more! [LISTEN here] [Instagram]

#23 Riverwest, Milwaukee, WI | LIMITATIONS — Fr. Tony Bleything is the rector and church planter at Christ Redeemer Anglican Church in the alternative and creative River West neighborhood. The gift of limitations given by parish ministry has guided things like Christ Redeemer’s outreach activities, use of space, and partnerships, but also contributed to a culture of vulnerability in the community. [LISTEN here] [Instagram]

#22 Layton Boulevard West, Milwaukee, WI | COLLABORATION — Brianna Sas-Perez encourages community collaboration through the Layton Boulevard West Neighbors, a non-profit founded by the School Sisters of St. Francis, a 140 year-old Franciscan religious order of 1000 sisters present in 10 countries, but based in this Milwaukee parish. After meetings with longtime homeowners, newcomers, parents, school administrators, faith leaders, community development colleagues, real estate agents, and shopkeepers, a “Quality of Life Plan” was developed for the neighborhood. Together, neighbors are working towards implementing their hopes and dreams for the common good in their particular place. [LISTEN here] [Instagram]

#21 Humboldt Park, Chicago, IL | HUMILITY — Brandon, Ivan, and Taylor are part of the diverse staff and elder leadership (which includes many women I didn’t have a chance to meet!) of River City Community Church, a multi-ethnic church in a multi-ethnic neighborhood. Humility marks their ministry as they create a safe space where neighborhood kids who are regularly recruited into gangs are able to cast vision, share ministry ideas, and have space to dialogue about race. Humility also marks the way they live into their identity as a multi-ethnic church, leaning into the tension and discomfort of conversations and relationships with bravery, honesty, and love. [LISTEN here] [Instagram]

#20 Bronzeville, Chicago, IL | HISTORY — Located on the south side, this historic black enclave was a refuge for thousands of African Americans who left the South and emigrated to Chicago during the “Great Migration” (1910–1920). It has been home to the jazz of Louis Armstrong and Cab Calloway, the blues of Muddy Waters, and the voice of the first African-American to sing in the White House, Etta Motten. It has also been drastically affected by racism expressed through housing development (“the projects”) and urban and interstate design. My friend Ronnie Matthew Harris (pictured in front of a mural from the legendary Sunset Cafe jazz club) is seeking the kingdom, cultivating community, and encouraging walking, biking, and public transportation as he hopes for a bright future in Bronzeville that is mindful of the beauty and brokenness of its past. [LISTEN here] [Instagram] (Check out Episode 24 of the RePLACING CHURCH Podcast for my interview with Ronnie Matthew Harris)

#19 Englewood, Chicago, IL | CREATIVITY — Jonathan Brooks, aka “Pastah J,” reluctantly returned to his native Englewood neighborhood after going off to college and starting a career in architecture. He began to bring his creativity to worship with hip hop and other music that resonated with his neighbors. Later, after being asked to step into the role of pastor, his creativity expressed itself as he helped Canaan Community Church evolve to become a church in, for, and with the neighborhood. He has been a bivocational pastor in Englewood for 10 years and continues to believe that when it comes to proximity, “closeness brings creativity.” [LISTEN here] [Instagram]

#18 Lawndale/Little Village, Chicago, IL | COMMITMENT — 25 years ago, inspired by Dr. John Perkins’ Christian community development work of reconciliation, redistribution, and relocation, Noel Castellanos and his wife moved to the Little Village in Chicago’s Lawndale neighborhood and committed to staying for 15 years. They’ve been there ever since. Noel first served as a neighborhood pastor where he began to engage deeply in immigration advocacy work. Today he is the CEO of the Christian Community Development Association, inspiring and equipping leaders all over the country for faith-based, neighborhood-rooted community development work. [LISTEN here] [Instagram(Check out Episode 32 of the RePLACING CHURCH Podcast for my interview with Noel Castellanos)

#17 Austin/Oak Park, Chicago, IL | ALIVE — What an incredible morning with Reesheda and Darrel! In wisdom and curiosity, through laughter and tears, these two friends have taught us so much about community and racism and neighborhood and injustice and risk and privilege and transformation… and about being fully alive. And all of that fully-alive energy, they bring to their own neighborhood, where they will soon be opening the Live Cafe, making space for people from diverse backgrounds to become fully alive. [LISTEN here] [Instagram(Check out Episode 22 of the RePLACING CHURCH Podcast for my interview with Reesheda Graham-Washington)

#16b Sherman Park, Milwaukee, WI | SHARE — Jarod Cronk, a former public school administrator in the Sherman Park parish, started Sharehouse Goods in the neighborhood to create jobs and help individuals and organizations get rid of/share excess stuff. The receiving and sharing headquarters is also a community coffee shop. Shortly after starting the business, Jarod and his family relocated into the Milwaukee neighborhood. [Instagram]

#16a Sherman Park, Milwaukee, WI | INHABIT — Tim Nelson and Dr. DesAnne Hippe lead Inhabit Milwaukee, which rehabs foreclosed and distressed properties in the city and moves Christian leaders into the neighborhood to join in God’s renewal through listening, mutuality, and relationships. Many of their homes are in the Sherman Park neighborhood, Milwaukee’s first car suburb (approx. 1920’s), where a group of remainers, relocators, and returners are inhabiting the parish and following Jesus through shared meals, presence on front porches, and growing their awareness that “sometimes the greatest enemy of the gospel is the Protestant work ethic” (one of my favorite recent quotes!). [LISTEN here] [Instagram]

#15 Ocean Beach, San Diego, CA | SPIRITUAL — Jessica & Clayton Connolly started the Spiritual Journey Center in the Ocean Beach neighborhood, a space where (1) they provide spiritual readings (aka, prophetic prayer) for neighbors and passersby, and (2) they “reintroduce Christian leaders back into the wild out of captivity” by convening regular gatherings for pastors in their parish from across denominational/theological streams. The ways their community is open to the Spirit in “OB” serves as an important reminder that neighborhood church expressions are spiritual care providers. [LISTEN here] [Instagram]

#14 City Heights, San Diego, CA | FLEXIBILITY — Flexibility has certainly been important for Chris Brewster as he has been coaching Track and Field at Hoover High in City Heights for almost a decade, but it has also marked his approach to being the church in the parish. After focusing much of his effort for years on getting kids to a worship service, he became flexible (of course, not without pain!) and began giving his time and energy to being and bringing good news to kids where they already are. Chris leads Orange Avenue Community Church, a small missional community planted out of Urbanlife and directs the City Heights Runners, a youth development initiative. [LISTEN here] [Instagram]

#13 Southeast, San Diego, CA | IMAGINATION — Amanda Jordan-Starks serves with Urbanlife in San Diego’s Southeast neighborhood, where she pastors a missional community, directs youth outreach programs, and engages in community development activities. Amanda and her community have transformed a vacant lot into a thriving urban farm, teaching job skills to youth and creating a beautiful space where youth host open mic nights and other creative events. She sends local students out into the neighborhood with the task of identifying vacant lots and imagining what those lots could one day become. [LISTEN here] [Instagram]

#12 North Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA | PERSEVERANCE — Taehoo Lee has experienced many setbacks lately. He was robbed at gunpoint and his summer camp group was discriminated against and banned from the local public swimming pool. But he continues to persevere out of love for his neighbors, especially the children for whom he has created a massive annual summer camp in the neighborhood, organized after school activities and tutoring, and is pursuing the dream of transforming the lot behind him in this photo into a youth community center. [LISTEN here] [Instagram]

#11 East Hunting Park, Philadelphia, PA | EMPOWER — “The issue for the 21st century is going to be leadership in a global society and we know that our existing institutions cannot handle it.” -Manny Ortiz, who, along with Sue Baker leads Spirit & Truth fellowship in the East Hunting Park parish. These two seasoned parish leaders have practiced what they preach and teach about leadership, planting and empowering more than seven parish church expressions in neighborhoods around Philadelphia. [LISTEN here] [Instagram]

#10 Kensington, Philadelphia, PA | PEACEMAKING — In April, ten years after I read, “The Irresistible Revolution,” I had the chance to visit Shane Claiborne and the Simple Way community in their high-density Kensington neighborhood. Things have changed over the years — among other things, Shane is now married to Katie Jo and the Simple Way is a “village” of neighbors rather than an intentional community living in a single home. But in the past decade, Shane and Katie Jo’s passion for peacemaking has only increased. Shane’s faith-fueled activism against global conflict, gun violence, and the death penalty stems from engaging extensions of these realities with his neighbors on his own street corners and row house front stoops, and continues to inspire followers of Jesus to ask, “What is one way I can pursue peace in my own neighborhood?” [LISTEN here] [Instagram(Check out Episode 18 of the RePLACING CHURCH Podcast for my interview with Shane Claiborne)

#9 Golden Hill, San Diego, CA | FORMATION — Golden Hill, located east of downtown and south of the famous Balboa Park, is home to a community of Jesus followers that have taught me so much about listening, community, and peacemaking. But perhaps their greatest gift is their passionate commitment to the formation of the soul, gifts, and leadership of each person. We need more faith communities that honor the uniqueness and belovedness of each person like this! [LISTEN here] [Instagram]

#8 North Redlands, Redlands, CA | JOY — Highway 10, the largest man-made structure in the world (by weight and volume), separates this neighborhood from the rest of the city of Redlands. On the north side of “the dime,” Nick In’t Hout has been seeking to join God’s activity — and it all began with bringing a wiffle ball and bat to Lugonia Elementary School. These days, students of all grade levels rush outside for recess to join their respective teams for a game of wiffle ball, but what they get from Nick and a whole host of volunteers are love and mentorship, lessons in teamwork and encouragement, and, ultimately, participation in a culture of joy. Community members are now supporting Lugonia beyond the wiffle ball diamond, in the classroom, lunchroom, and library. Nick and his family are currently in a season of discernment about how the Spirit might be developing all of this community and joy into a neighborhood expression of church. How might your joy guide what you create in your neighborhood? [LISTEN here] [Instagram]

#7 Egg Harbor, Door County, WI | REST — The population in some neighborhoods/towns — places like Egg Harbor — swells in the summer when tourists come to play and rest. This reality in this place has me wondering about what rest looks like in our own neighborhoods. How do our community rhythms and gatherings facilitate rest? What spaces in our parish — parks, cafes, pubs, and other common spaces — give us, our neighbors, and visitors rest? [LISTEN here] [Instagram]

#6 East Side, Milwaukee, WI | GOOD — 7 years ago my brother, Dan, and sister-in-law, Christina, made a commitment with their friends, David and Allison, to put down roots on Milwaukee’s East Side. Together with a few others they formed the core of what became City Reformed Church in their neighborhood. Soon after, Dan and David began to dream about opening a brewery that would not only be a nod to Milwaukee’s rich brewing past but also help create a craft beer future in the city. They joined up with a talented local brewer and, a few weekends ago, these three founders opened Good City Brewing on the East Side where they encourage everyone to “Seek the Good” of their place, while creating a vibrant hub for community and serving up tremendous beer and delicious food. [LISTEN here] [Instagram]
#5 Windom, MN | HOSPITALITY — A town of 4500 people where our hosts Gene and Karen have lived their entire lives. The windmills in the distance are new and have altered the view they’ve had across Fish Lake for over 40 years, but their warm hospitality, in which they are treating our band of road weary travelers like family, has an almost eternal feel to it. Perhaps the deeper our roots are in our parishes, the wider our hospitality becomes. [LISTEN here]

#4 Duvall, WA | INTENTIONAL — We made a quick stop in rural Vivian, South Dakota to say hi to our friend Rachel as we criss-crossed on I-90, so her rural parish (not as rural as Vivian!) moves to the top of the #neighborhoodsfordays #flashback list! I visited Duvall in May and was struck by all of the intentional choices Rachel is making as she cultivates community in the way of Jesus. Our willingness to be intentional about where we get our groceries or gas, the restaurants and cafes we frequent, the parks and gyms we play at directly impacts our capacity to become known, trusted characters in the neighborhood. [LISTEN here]
Instagram(Check out Episode 20 of the RePLACING CHURCH Podcast for my interview with Rachel Womelsduff Gough)

#3 South Billings, Billings, MT | RESTORATION — In the South Billings parish, a community of Jesus followers are living intentionally as “Repairers of Broken Walls, Restorers of Streets with Dwellings” (Isaiah 58.12), carrying out their work through Community Leadership & Development, Inc., led by Eric Basye. Their commitment to restoration in the name of Jesus is stunning: transforming vacant lots/houses to homes, unhoused individuals to housed, renters to owners, dangerous streets to safe streets, neglected youth to empowered youth, and ex-cons to community leaders. [LISTEN here] [Instagram]

#2 Butte, MT | PROSPERITY — The exploitation of environment, workers, and women that resulted from Butte’s “prosperous” copper mining boomtown era begs questions about prosperity: How do we seek the prosperity of our parish? If we are seeking our own prosperity, who/what are we exploiting? [LISTEN here] [Instagram]

#1 Aurora Avenue, Seattle, WA | NAME — Starting the #neighborhoodsfordays odyssey a day early! The first neighborhood is my own, Aurora/Greenwood where “Aurora Means Dawn.” What is the name of your neighborhood? What does it mean? #AuroraMeansDawn[LISTEN here] [Instagram]
Republished with permission from:
RePlacing Church: Local Spirituality. Innovative Community. Social Change 

by Paul

These People Know Nothing Of Racism

May 2, 2018 in Parish Stories

Philando Castile was from the Rondo neighborhood where this highway cut straight through it.

Marshall McLuhan often remarked that fish know nothing of water. They are too immersed in their environment to get the appropriate distance. They have no alternative context to compare it with. What does this mean for white people who were born into environments that their forefathers created to separate them from real proximity to voices of uncomfortable difference? Could it be said, “These people know nothing of racism. It is the water they swim in?”

“Environments are invisible” McLuhan wrote. It’s not that you can’t see them… I mean, I’m sure it was obvious to the people living in Philando Castile’s neighborhood during the construction of the pictured highway, that it might have some catastrophic effects on the collective efficacy of their community. But many of us would drive across totally oblivious because we have developed an entire cultural infrastructure that keeps us separated from the real lives and problems of people who are different from us. In this situation, sincere people can even advocate against racism, while carrying out daily activities that build upon and support structures of oppression.

As a Community Catalyst, three related articles came out this week that left me deeply reflective, and all the more convinced that I must continue to focus my efforts on getting out of the water I swim in, and be very intentional about learning and listening to those who are different than me. It left me further convinced about making sure the stakeholders, the people who are most affected by all our planning and building of these invisible environments, are the ones we are listening to most. I leave you with a quote from each of these three articles, along with the wisdom of Martin Luther King Jr and Clarence Jordan.

“[People] often hate each other because they fear each other, and they fear each other because they don’t know each other. They don’t know each other because they can’t communicate with each other, and they can’t communicate with each other because they are separated from each other.” -Martin Luther King Jr

“If the barriers that divide [people], and cause wars, race conflict, economic competition, class struggles, labor disputes are ever to be broken down, they must be broken down in small groups of people living side by side, who plan consciously and deliberately to find a way wherein they all contribute to the kingdom according to their respective abilities.” -Clarence Jordan


In theory, public space is the cornerstone of democracy. It’s where our social contract protects us all equally, and where people of all backgrounds and beliefs can join together — to celebrate victories or protest injustices — without fear that they will be profiled or harmed. In practice, though, throughout the United States, public space is where policing can be as comforting for some as it is dangerous for others. It is where we as a society seem to decide whose lives matter.

Public space is where five young black men and five police officers were fatally shot last week…  From redliningblockbusting, and gentrification to food deserts and racial disparities in law enforcement, the planning decisions, policies, and practices that have shaped today’s cities were not designed to benefit everyone equally.


“The current movement for black lives is a perfect backdrop for a conversation on reimagined cities that needs to move from the halls of think tanks and municipal development offices to the streets and neighborhoods where all manner of black people dwell.

Imagine dialogues on neighborhood development and urban design occurring among protest participants. Imagine planned public talks hosted on neighbors’ stoops or in the foyers of housing projects. Imagine democratized approaches to urban planning that begins with the people,not the corporate class. Imagine the embedding of urban planners within movement collectives combatting anti-black racism and state sanctioned violence from Ferguson to Flatbush. That type of work is characteristic of the critical first steps needed to inform the creation of the “just” city.”


The construction of I-94 shattered this tight-knit community, displaced thousands of African Americans into a racially segregated city and a discriminatory housing market, and erased a now-legendary neighborhood. While the construction of I-94 radically changed the landscape of the neighborhood, the community of Rondo still exists and its persistence and growth are celebrated through events like Rondo Days and the Jazz Festival.

by Pastahj

Safe Space to Safe Place

May 2, 2018 in Parish Stories


Some Serious Questions about Safety

Those of us who live in inner city spaces often have to ask ourselves some very difficult questions. I can remember when a young wife and mother whom I married and counseled disagreed with her husband about the neighborhood in which they should purchase a home and raise their young family. He grew up on the south side of Chicago and felt like raising his family in the inner city would be a great choice. However, she had grown up on the outskirts of Chicago and with the spike in violence she was worried about raising a family in the city. She wrote a blog asking some very significant questions and because she knew where my wife and I had chosen to raise our families she asked if I would read her blog and let her know what I thought. As she closed out her blog she asked some very poignant questions and they were the same hard questions I asked myself after the shooting in my alley. I have included her questions and my response below. So as a mother, how do I ensure MY children are safe? How do we make sure our family is comfortable? How do we make sure our home is a refuge for us? These questions make total and complete sense!

As parents, when we look into the eyes of our children for the first time, or feel them kick their soon to be mother’s stomach we instantly fall in love with them and want nothing more than to protect them from as much pain as possible. In our human mind as well as the mind of society it makes perfect sense for safety to be a top priority. The issue for me is not with safety being important but with the thought that we can keep our families safe and protected from the evils of society by isolating and insulating them from certain places and individuals. I have learned, mostly through experience, that God actually has some different thoughts about safety and what actually constitutes a safe place.

Seeking a Safe Space

In Jeremiah 29:4-7 we find these words written by Jeremiah the prophet to the Jews who found themselves banished to Babylon, the last place on Earth they wanted to live or felt safe. This was tough for them because they had an opportunity to taste the “good life” of the Promised Land and knew what it was like to be in the place they had always dreamed of living. However, God moved them into Babylon and let them know that they were going to be there for quite awhile and therefore should build houses, plant gardens and raise families. He closes the letter with this little bit of advice to Israel. “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile; and pray to the Lord on it’s behalf, for in it’s welfare you will find your welfare.

For me it is in this last promise to Israel that I find much comfort and have been open to understand what I have experienced over the last 10 years of living and raising a family in the inner city. What God is telling us here is that it is not enough to desire safety for ourselves we must actively desire the same thing for everyone else in our community as well. Americans often believe we must work really hard to keep our family, home and children safe and at the same time everyone else must seek to do the same for their own families. However, as we see in this passage Israel is told to seek the welfare (safety) of the city where God sent them because in its welfare (safety) they would find their welfare (safety).

Striving for a Safe Place

I personally (though I admittedly still struggle) have made the decision not to worship the idol of safety and to remember that my life and the life of my children are in the hands of God. However, safety is still a priority but it is the safety of all children not just mine. If I work to make the neighborhood I live in a safer place for all children, then it becomes a safer place for my children! If I pray fervently for the place God has put me than when God answers my prayers all of my community benefits, which includes my family.

So although it is extremely challenging, I have learned that wherever I end up making a home I must actively seek the welfare of that place. I may not always necessarily get to choose the most comfortable place but I can always choose to actively pray and seek the welfare of wherever I live. So the closest thing to ensuring our children’s safety is to make sure we are a part of community and resident organizations, work with community assisted policing strategies, volunteer as coaches and mentors as well as find a church that is engaged with the community and wants to see it reflect the glory of God. Train them up well, be honest about the tough things in the world and of course don’t put them in harms way intentionally. Do not make decisions to please family members, or for fear of hurting feelings but also be aware just like bullets have no name they also have no zip code.

Settling for No Simple Solutions

Lastly I leave you with a quote that I call living with the Bifocals perspective:


So even if you decide to live outside of the inner city you must pray often for the place you live, because if you do not it is a sign that you do not believe there is brokenness where you live as well. Yes, safety can be a priority but we must not fall prey to idolizing it or forget that our family’s safety is actually tied up in the safety of the entire community. So, ultimately, you are not looking to just create a safe space for your children and family you are seeking a safe place for all God’s children, which includes your family.

As I pen this blog our community is presently dealing with the news of two young girls, eleven and twelve years old being shot this weekend.  I just found out this morning that one of the girls passed away while the other fights for her life.  I must be honest and say that the trauma children and parents from our communities endure on a daily basis can be overwhelming and there are no easy and simple solutions. However, I am convinced if we give up hope for transformation and turn inward, settling for safety for ourselves rather than seeking peace and welfare for the city,  we will never truly achieve our own welfare.  If you find a safe place for yourself but don’t participate in creating a safe space for all are you ever really safe?

Originally posted on February 14, 2017, Here.
To find out more about what Jonathan is up to check out his site .

by Sam

From “Problem Solvers” to “Treasure Seekers”

May 1, 2018 in Parish Stories

Neighbour Nights (Part 2 of 4): Detecting and Connecting Gifts: From ‘Problem Solvers’ to “Treasure Seekers’

by Sam Ewell 

As I mentioned in the first blog post in this series, one of the core principles of ABCD (Asset-Based Community Development) is to focus on the assets, or as I prefer to call them, the gifts, of a local community. It’s worth repeating that – from an ABCD perspective – focusing on gifts in the community does not mean repressing or ignoring present problems or issues. It is about focusing on what’s strong to deal with what’s wrong. In other words, it is about addressing the needs of the local community by first detecting and connecting the gifts at hand.

One of the most precious gifts that we have found in the last year has been getting to know Ewa Karpinska. In fact, meeting Ewa was one of those serendipitous encounters that I can only describe as a gift in itself.



Flashback to early August 2017: I am walking our then small puppy Rio by the Edgbaston Reservoir.  I let Rio off the lead in a field, and the next thing I know, Rio is deep into the brambles on a mission to discover some hidden treasure…  When I finally find Rio, he is ‘greeting’ Ewa, who by first impressions is clearly a dog-lover as well a keen forager. After just a few minutes of grazing on blackberries and chatting with Ewa, I find out that:

•     she is Polish;

•     she has lived locally for the last 12 years;

•     she is a trained chef; and

•     she is currently unemployed.

Intuitively I also know that she is so much more than an immigrant who happens to be unemployed; she is a ‘doer’ with gifts to share.  She simply needs a place to connect her passionate gift for cooking.

September 2017: I invite Ewa to Place of Welcome, a weekly neighbourhood drop-in coffee morning, in order to introduce Ewa to a few neighbours, including our neighbourhood super-connector Ann Gallagher. I happen to know that Ann is looking for cooks at The Real Junk Food Project Birmingham. Watching the sparks fly between Ewa and Ann, I know that I am looking at the next cook on the rota at TRJFP Birmingham!

October 2017: Ewa helps us kick off our 1st Neighbour Nights monthly gathering as the head chef, and she has not missed one yet! Six months in, not only is Ewa head chef, she has also “detected and connected” others from the local Polish community to join in Neighbour Nights, as well as other neighbourhood activities. By being connected to a community of neighbours and friends, Ewa has shown herself to be a skilled community-based chef who has a real gift for pulling people together around food.



Now: When I see Ewa bringing “her game” to the neighbourhood, I see her as more than a chef. In fact, she has become a key character in the story of our neighbourhood, someone who is weaving the fabric of care and love one meal at a time.

Which makes me think: Could it be that neighbourhoods like Summerfield are filled with Ewas?  If this is so, then paradoxically, the most creative way to address issues such as community cohesion and social isolation is not by assuming the role of ‘problem solver,’ but rather by growing into the role of “treasure seeker.” Then the primary work of network weaving at the neighbourhood level is simply the work of “detecting and connecting the gifts of Ewas with the gifts of other Ewas.”

Read Part 1: Cultivating Abundant Community from the Ground Up

Republished with permission from Companions for Hope: An Intentional Christian Collective Rooted in Summerfield, Birmingham

by Jon

From Armchair Advocates to Neighborhood Peacemakers

April 26, 2018 in Parish Stories

As I sat on my porch overlooking the streets of my urban neighborhood and the sparkling lights of downtown San Diego, I thought to myself, “There is no place I’d rather be. THIS is where life happens and where peace is made real.”

Just 30 minutes before, I had gotten off a plane from a 24 hour trip to Chicago for a conference where Jer Swigart and I co-hosted an Everyday Peacemaking track representing our organization, The Global Immersion Project.

The time was incredible as the room filled with pastors, leaders and practitioners from countries spanning the world who created a dynamic environment of collaboration, excitement and activism. The mysterious and enlivening story of Jesus was palpable.

As we taught through our content on Everyday Peacemaking, we told story after story of ways peace — which we define as the holistic repair of relationship — is not only being realized in the midst of global conflicts, but on the streets of our neighborhoods. With each story I told about my kids, wife and faith community (all whom have committed to live the Jesus Way on the streets of our neighborhood of Golden Hill), I was stirred more and more with gratitude for the gift of a community of practice.

Teaching, training and inspiration matter, but only in so much as they move us to everyday practice in place. That is the discipleship challenge. Jesus wasn’t one who gave a sterling sermon, got folks fired up and then retreated to the hills (although he would do that too). Jesus LIVED the content he taught in the muck and messiness of everyday life on the streets of his Galilean neighborhood.

We live in a culture that values hype. It may be the best intentioned hype in the world, but if it only stirs excitement for a one-off experience and doesn’t train and mobilize people into the not-so-glamorous realities of everyday life, I question whether it does more harm than good.

When we strive for some lofty “ideal” that never translates into reality, we’ve missed the point. And, that’s why a neighborhood and community of practice is a necessity for everyday discipleship (peacemaking). Our neighborhoods (whatever the may look like!) are the context in which the Jesus Community is called to embody the Resurrection life in a broken world.

The day after I got home from the conference, my community came together for our weekly worship gathering that rotates between our homes in our neighborhood. We spent the whole evening pausing to reflect on different places in our neighborhood where we have seen and experienced God’s kingdom made real in both the beautiful and broken realties of everyday life. We looked at pictures and shared stories that have come to life in our rec center, local parks, back ally’s, yoga studio, coffee shops and front patio’s.

It was a cathartic experience. When you’ve given yourself to a place year after year, it is easy to get discouraged and forget how much life has transpired and how much transformation taken place.

In that moment, I thought, “I’m all for participating in conferences…but they must remain a means to an end that looks like transformed people and places.”

So, let’s celebrate moments of collaboration, teaching and training while putting them in their rightful place as a means to fuel our everyday life and practice. Just like anything, Christian conferences can become yet another opportunity to simply consume for consumptions sake. Sadly, that actually distracts and demobilizes the Church from being the Church.

Friends, we were made for so much more than a one-off high. And, the world desperately needs the Jesus Community to live into its vocation as an instrument of peace every single moment of every single day in the unique contexts we inhabit.

What a gift to come together and celebrate our common hearts and vision. Now, let’s go get after it.

by Jodi

Our Children’s Children

April 25, 2018 in Featured Posts, Parish Stories

Jodi Theut reflects on the importance of patience, and living now for future generations.

On a cold, rainy Thursday evening in March, several hundred curious residents packed into the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) to hear a presentation by the newish Director of Urban Planning for the city.  We were hanging on his every word as projects were outlined for this next season of the city’s history. He started out by highlighting much of the good work that has gone on in the downtown and midtown areas of Detroit—“the heart of the City,” and explained now energies were finally shifting to the neighborhoods—“the soul of the city.” The Director called this next season “The Big Payback” for residents in the neighborhoods who have stuck it out through good times, bad times, and very very bad times.

One project getting a lot of attention is a recently announced plan to connect the neighborhoods to Detroit’s thriving riverfront. The proposed plans prioritize everyone having access to amenities, limits the amount of private development, and seeks to form greenways from the neighborhoods down to the banks of the Detroit River. This vision facilitates a new commons linking the heart and the soul of the city.

I quickly started imagining myself enjoying the flourishing landscape being described—hopping on one of those greenways in the North End neighborhood to cruise on down to the River’s edge. Of course, my imagination was big enough to imagine my neighbors enjoying it too, but really my first thought was how amazing it was going to be for me.

And then the Director mentioned something about a 40-year timeline.

Math has never been my forte, but when I added my age to those forty years, it wasn’t long until  my mind’s eye realized the only thing I might be hopping on in forty years is a motorized scooter.


So, like, I might not really benefit from, enjoy or even see the dreams for my place realized? Not only did it force me to come face-to-face with my race towards midlife, but it also made me pause to ponder how so much of our neighborhood love, the big and small dreams of our todays, are not just about now, but also for—and maybe mostly for—the next generation.

And I don’t even have kids!

Wandering out of MOCAD, I found myself humming a chorus from Handel’s Joshua oratorio sung just after the Israelites are led across the Jordan River on dry ground. “Our children’s children shall rehearse Thy deeds in never-dying verse…” My friend and fellow-alto Katharine who sat next to me that year in the Fort Street Chorale was expecting her first child, and so the line seemed to hold even more meaning (plus Ed, our fearless conductor, was quite particular about our annunciation), so this chorus has always stuck with me.  Our children’s children shall rehearse Thy deeds in never-dying verse…our children’s children, our children’s children…

If you look up the scripture that inspired Handel’s libretto, the verses describe how Joshua erected a monument using the twelve stones that they had taken from the Jordan, saying:

“In the future, your children will ask, “What do these stories mean?” Then you can tell them this is where the Israelites crossed the Jordan on dry ground.  He did this so all the nations of the earth might know that the Lord’s hand is powerful, and so you might fear the Lord, your God forever.”

What are the stories being written in our places today that will speak of God’s goodness tomorrow? These verses from Joshua now come to mind as I engage with the life of my neighborhood and the city. It makes me long to hear the stories of Old Detroiters and the ways God has shown up in big and little ways.  It also invites me to look at the New Detroit projects with more of an eye for how today’s work is contributing to a future Detroit.  How do my stories, my neighbors’ stories, and the story of Detroit point to God’s redeeming love?

In The New Parish book, we’re reminded, “The literal shape of our communities is open to change if you have the vision and insight to shape them.  While it may take decades to change the zoning, install new parks and gardens, and build housing for the twenty-first century, the opportunity is there if you take it. At the same time, there are thousands of smaller changes that can make a huge impact. Sometimes these acts can end up inspiring the bigger projects as well.”

It will take some time for the greenways to cross from the North End to the Riverfront, but what if between now and then my neighbors and I nurture gardens, design playgrounds, listen well, and build the fabric of care between here and there bearing in mind a call from Wendell Berry to “Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias. Say that your main crop is the forest that you did not plant, that you will not live to harvest” for our children’s children, to the glory of the Lord.

by Sam

Cultivating Abundant Community from the Ground Up

April 23, 2018 in Parish Stories

Coming to the end of our first ‘season’ of Neighbour Nights, this blog post launches a series reflecting on Neighbour Nights as an experiment in “cultivating abundant community from the ground up.” (Part 1 of 4) By Sam Ewell



Our parish of Summerfield is known for its great diversity. Here, variety and difference run rampant – for good, but sometimes unfortunately for division and lack of conversation.

After relocating to Summerfield parish in 2016 (along with another family, the Ahos), we wanted to have genuine conversations with local people about the neighbourhood. So, with the support of Rabiyah Latif at Near Neighbours[1] and in partnership with the local parish church (Christ Church Summerfield) and Summerfield Residents Association, we hatched a plan called “Neighbour Nights.”

The concept of Neighbours Nights is simple and two-fold: connect people around 1) food and 2) how their passions connect with the local community.  On the first Wednesday of every month, we invite neighbours to share what they bring – both 1) food that they are willing to bring and share, and also 2) anything they can offer that will contribute to the well-being of the local community.

In this way, instead of taking on issue-based approach to community organizing which starts with a litany of problems, we take an asset-based approach.  By bringing together and actively involving the diversity of the neighbourhood, the primary function of Neighbour Nights is to ‘detect and connect’ what we have together.

Why? Because when you try to create common ground by focusing on common problems, it is easy to get stuck asking questions about what’s wrong with your neighbourhood …

Why are the queues at the local GP surgery taking so long? When is the council ever going to sort rubbish collection and the chronic litter problem?


While we recognize that these questions do require solutions, our experience also tells us that at the grassroots / neighbourhood level, it is more transformational to begin by asking other questions, such as:

What are you passionate about?

What would you like to see happen in this place?

What are you willing to contribute to the well-being of this local community?




In other words, we want to start with what is strong instead of what’s wrong. Or even better: we want to come together to respond to what’s wrong by starting with what’s strong – which is asset-based community development in a nutshell.[2]

We just had Neighbour Nights #6, and six months in, we are just beginning an ongoing journey of “cultivating abundant community from the ground up.” What is so encouraging is that already we are beginning to sense what John McKnight and Peter Block call the “invisible structure of an abundant community.”[3] To understand what they mean, consider their description of how jazz musicians come together to make music:

Think of an after-hours jazz club, where musicians gather because they want to play their music together…they start playing something. It sounds wonderful, and even though they may not have ever seen each other before and have spoken only a few words, wonderful music emerges. To an outsider it is magical.

What is operating is a clear structure, but if you are not part of the jazz culture, the rule and customs that make the music possible are invisible. Similarly, properties of gifts, associations, and hospitality are the hidden structure of [abundant] community life…

…The jazz way is the community way of playing. The invisible structure of gifts, associations, and hospitality creates the possibility and are the rule of a competent community. They are always available and essential.”[4]

Like the jazz jam session, Neighbour Nights is becoming a social space for neighbours to share their gifts, associate for a common purpose, and to extend hospitality.

In upcoming blogs in this series, we will develop how these three components– gifts, association, and hospitality – have begun to come together to enable a sense of abundance.


It is our hope that Neighbour Nights will continue to be a space that is about sharing food and sharing more than food.  A space which:

  • unites neighbours across ethnic, religious and generational lines;
  • gives people a sense of rootedness in the area (in terms of friendship and also in terms of the physical space of the neighbourhood);
  • strengthens existing friendships, enables new one, and even inspires new ways to come together.

For now, we simply want to pause and celebrate the good news that we are already beginning to experience together:  that is, how things and people we most need to flourish as a local community are already and abundantly ‘at hand.’

This story was originally published by Companions For Hope

Follow along with this Intentional Christian Collective rooted in Summerfield, Birmingham, UK

[1] For more information about Near Neighbours, see

[2] For more on asset-based community development, or ABCD, I would recommend starting with two websites:  1); 2) (USA)

[3] John McKnight and Peter Block, The Abundant CommunityAwakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2010), 81.

[4] McKnight and Block, The Abundant Community, 82.

Five Hopeful Signs that Dare Us to Be the Church

April 6, 2018 in Featured Posts, Parish Stories

If you take five minutes to scan through your facebook feed or even the headlines of the news, it sure does seem like there are good reasons to start freaking out.

Easter day bombings in Pakistan, ISIS terrorist attacks in Brussels, Global Climate Change. Mass Migration. Growing Inequality. Nations constantly at war. Societies perpetually distressed.

Oh, and, Um…Donald Trump.

And if Trump doesn’t make you leery, or if perhaps you lean to the other side of the political aisle, it might make you uneasy that a Socialist just had a rally in a baseball stadium.

But, regardless of whether you are Republican, Democrat, or something in between, if you care about the future of the church you probably also find yourself shaking your head in bewilderment these days.

As some churches battle with each other on political issues, the tsunami of both the “nones” (the quickly growing demographic of folks opting out of Christianity) and the “dones” (those who, because of their faith, are opting out of institutional church) continues to swell. If you are paying attention, you’ll notice plenty of hand wringing in both the pews and denominational boardrooms all across North America. People fear things are getting out of control. And maybe they are.

So where do we find hope?

In recent years there has been a diligent hunt for signs of life within Christendom. But if we are honest, our search has left us wanting and confused (or do you need to check Facebook again?).

We find ourselves asking: Are there any signs of life beyond the forms and structures of church that have dominated the mainstream Christian imagination?

Most of us know that there is a rapid decline in what is commonly measured as “church growth and success.” That is, decline in membership, shrinking attendance and aging congregants. Church leaders are scrambling to attract more people to their church community, particularly Millenials, in order to increase their cultural impact. Yet these approaches don’t seem to be addressing real problems that God is inviting the church to help alleviate.

Perhaps we are asking the wrong questions and looking in the wrong direction.

While some may grieve the conclusion of church forms of the 21st century, there is, in fact, great hope out ahead of us. The next chapter of God’s story of renewal might be happening so close that it’s difficult to see. Just look more intently and you’ll notice that in our backyards, across our streets and in the very center of our cities, towns, and villages, God is birthing something profoundly beautiful. Beyond our church growth charts and measurement sticks there is a movement bursting up from the ground, a counter narrative to the anxious grip of the past. A movement is growing to reclaim the ancient idea of the parish for the 21st century. When we say the word parish, we mean that people are weaving their lives together in actual places large enough to live much of their live (live, work, and play), but small enough to be known as a character within the story of that place. In neighborhoods, suburbs, villages, and towns followers of Jesus are learning how to be the church in the everyday context of their actual lives.

Here’s what we’re talking about: People everywhere are coming together to follow Jesus and join God’s renewal in every neighborhood, every sector and every culture. We could call it ecclesial kenosis. Communities of faith are taking shape by letting go of the small story of church growth and embracing the big story of joining God right where they are.

The signs are everywhere! Out in the streets, the storefronts, small businesses, parks, porches and playgrounds… life is happening, abundantly. God’s love in Jesus is renewing the world and through it, the church is taking root in some of the most innovative ways we’ve seen. In suburbs, in city centers, rural communities and small towns all over North America and likely all over the world, the people who make up this movement are countering darkness with light, forming deep human connection and contending for God’s shalom in everyday faithful ways. They’re not only reclaiming a sense of place, but partnering with God to alter the paradigm for what it means to be the church.

At a recent retreat gathering of pioneering place-based churches, we rummaged through treasures of stories and statements in an attempt to convey what we’ve experienced as the most common threads of practices, values and distinctives that seem to be evident in this movement of God in neighborhoods all over.

It became apparent that these were indeed signs of life worth celebrating and marking. We’re calling them signs because they’re not meant to prescribe a particular method or propose a formula for doing church differently. Rather, these signs are drawn from stories, pictures and expressions of what God is already doing to love the world.

The Five Signs of the Parish Movement

1. Centering on Christ: Formed by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we seek to share life together as a tangible expression of Christ’s body in our parish. Saying that Christ is at the center is not just a statement of belief but a commitment to a way of life together. As communities we commit to love one another and grow together with Christ within the grime and beauty of our everyday stories.

2. Inhabiting Our Parish: Rooting our lives in our neighborhood, we seek to join God’s renewal in, with, and for our place. Rather than trying to be all things to all people, we are learning to accept our limitations as a gift from God, live with intentionality, be known by our actual neighbors and tangibly love those around us. We seek to participate in God’s renewal by listening to, serving, and caring for the land and the people where we live, work and play.

3. Gathering to Remember: Trusting that God is at work, we draw together in worship to remember the larger story of our faith, rehearse the kind of people God desires us to be in the parish, and encourage one another in love and discernment. We have discovered that the more active we are in joining God’s renewal in our neighborhoods, the more crucial it is for us to gather back together to grow in our faith, strengthen one another and remember that we are a part of the massive story of God.

4. Collaborating for God’s Renewal: Joining God’s renewal within the broken systems of our world, we seek to reconcile fractured relationships and celebrate differences by collaborating across cultural barriers and learning to live in solidarity with those in need. It’s never been more important to foster unity between all the diverse followers of Christ within our local contexts. Just as important, we are learning to collaborate with neighbors from other traditions, faiths and experiences as we journey alongside the suffering and pain of those around us. If ever there was going to be a robust movement of unity in the 21st century church it will likely be lay-led, local, and in the neighborhood. When unity and trust grow between us, it is amazing how we can work together and build peace for the common good.

5. Linking Across Parishes: Actively connecting with other Christian communities across parishes regionally and globally, we grow in mutual learning, friendship, and life giving partnership. We live in the most interconnected moment this world has ever experienced. We are learning how desperately we need one another if we are going to step into the challenges and opportunities set before us. Not only do we need to trust God but we are committed to learning how to trust one another as well. This is not an easy task, but there is no other way to be faithful, much less effective, if we don’t learn how to link up at an unprecedented scale.

We should say in conclusion that these five signs are not a new gimmick or fad. After all, the Church through the ages has certainly been living into these themes since the beginning. But it does feel like there is something new in the air. And while there may be plenty of confusion and frustration swirling around our broader culture and within the church, we find ourselves brimming with hope. If more and more communities take on this God sized dare to faithful presence in our neighborhoods, then we couldn’t imagine a brighter future.

By Tim Soerens and Christiana Rice