What Walking 30 Neighborhoods Taught Me About Being the Church
A Sunday afternoon stroll through Clear Lake, Iowa with the Coleman family.
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 yesterday 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!)
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#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 ] #24 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 ] [ Instagram ] #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.. 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 ]