The Land Gears Up for 2018

The Land Gears Up for 2018

Since 2014, Hope United Methodist Church has served as a beacon of hope and promise in the Rocky Mountain Conference’s church planting world. Collaborating with denominational and secular organizations, Hope UMC is bringing the ‘good news’ of God’s radical welcome beyond the walls of their building through the development of 9.7 acres of Conference-owned property in Aurora, Colorado into a faith based community called “The Land.” Existing as a church without walls, The Land pairs spiritual practice and agricultural ritual in a vision of gathering people together around faith, food, and farming. Hope UMC’s ongoing emotional and financial support for The Land’s part-time pastoral leadership has evolved into a model of the holy possibilities of courageous creativity embraced within the context of a loving partnership.

While developing property from ‘scratch’ can often take years if not decades, over the past twelve months, The Land has celebrated significant milestones, affirming the decision to develop a faith community committed to exploring what discipleship look like in the 21st century. This summer The Land was presented with multiple opportunities to engage people of faith in this question through onsite mission experiences. Groups of 10 to 40 gathered out on The Land to begin creating the infrastructure for the 2-acre edible labyrinth by laying rope outlining the pathways and painting prayer stones that are laid upon the rope. Groups from the Rocky Mountain United Methodist Annual Conference, Christ Church Denver, and Hope United Methodist Church worked throughout the summer resulting in the production of almost half of the labyrinth’s pathways being laid. In November, The Land will be welcoming a group from St. Andrews. Given the increasing interest in mission opportunities at The Land, it is anticipated that labyrinth’s outline will be completed by June of 2018.

In what has felt like a ‘long winter’ in the timeline of our The Land’s development, laying the labyrinth with rope and prayer stones has been a meaningful way to engage people of faith while simultaneously continuing to work through the entitlements process with the City of Aurora. While we celebrate the administrative approval of our contextual site plan late this summer, we continue to work towards completion of our technical submission before we will be able to receive the permitting to begin physical development of the property. The Land Board of Directors anticipates completing this entitlements process by March 2018 and has begun intensive planning around both the capital budgeting for development in Phase 1a and the fundraising strategies that will be necessary to support this initial capital development.

Inclusive of property grading, fencing, sign installation, water container installment, driveway and parking lot construction, and full build-out of the outdoor amphitheater and edible labyrinth, Phase 1a of The Land development is being estimated to require approximately $500,000 in capital funding. Although the capital investment required to develop the property to a point for optimal programming is daunting, it remains encouraging that a grant for $250,000 has already been awarded to The Land from the Rocky Mountain Conference Legacy Fund. In addition, expenses associated with the development of an agricultural-based faith community remain minimal compared to the development costs of a traditional denominational church. Avoiding the capital and maintenance costs of a large building, the vision of The Land invests in outdoor structures that not only have the capacity to produce capital through the formation of community supported agricultural cooperatives, but also enables the denomination to meaningfully utilize this property to engage people of faith in discipleship in spite of the fact that it lacks access to City utilities and therefore is currently unable to obtain building permits.

At the Board’s annual Fall planning retreat, the Land Board committed to focusing 2018 on casting vision and building community. Alongside continuing to host quarterly worship services, regular mission experiences will be offered centered around the spiritual practices of walking the labyrinth and painting prayer rocks and agricultural rituals that enrich the soil and encourage good spiritual stewardship of our ecological resources. Whether gathering to work or worship, at the heart of all we do is a vision to facilitate a sacred space that connects the food we grow and eat with the faith we practice.

Volunteer opportunities in 2018 at The Land include persons able to help set up and clean up tents, tables, and chairs at worship services. For these quarterly worship services, we also welcome persons interested in reading scripture and serving communion. Additionally, The Land Board of Directors is seeking a book keeper and persons with fundraising expertise or grant writing experience who have time to volunteer to the continued administrative responsibilities involved in forming a new non-profit. Mission work days for groups of 4-12 people will begin in late Spring for persons interested in continuing the physical labor of laying the labyrinth. To stay in touch with progress and programming out at The Land you can follow us on Facebook or sign up for our quarterly email newsletter.

Rev. Stephanie Price, Pastor of Development at The Land UMC

Worship on The Land Saturday, November 12th at 10am

Worship on The Land Saturday, November 12th at 10am

Worship without distraction out at The Land! Join us for vision casting, communion, and a prayer walk. Friendly dogs welcome on leashes. Everyone is welcome to bring a snack to share,if you would like, for our mini-potluck as we gather together for food, faith, and farming! Please email Pastor Stephanie at stephanie.price@hope-umc.org if you are planning on attending so she can give you her cell number in case you get lost.

Spacious Places ( A Sermon Based on Luke 16:19-31)

Spacious Places ( A Sermon Based on Luke 16:19-31)

Rev Stephanie Price at the Land blog picOkay, so quick question. By a show of hands who looked up the Scripture for this morning’s message before coming to worship?

Yeah…. So…. You’re stuck now.

You didn’t know. I get it. I’ll be honest. I didn’t know when I picked it months ago. I think I saw the name Lazarus and thought “oh, cool, everyone loves a resurrection story,” only to revisit it this week and realize that, surprise, ten years into ministry, there is more than one story in the Bible about Lazarus.

So, sorry about that.

The Scripture definitely provided a looming sense of dread to my week. Like that lump-in-your-throat feeling of having to tell a hard truth.

I was trying to think of a good example of a time I had to tell someone something that I didn’t want to …yeah, don’t think about those things. It just makes the dread level worse. Like, great, now it’s not just this Scripture that I feel dread about, but every single uncomfortable conversation I have ever had over the past thirty-five years.

So, after only a few short hours of intense physical exertion rocking in a dark corner, I was able to regroup and here is what I came up with for ways to approach the Scripture this morning.

A) I could read directly from the commentary as fast as I can and then run off the stage and catch a flight to Mexico (I hear it’s nice this time of year) OR

B) I could tell you what Jesus is revealing to me and present it in my typical “me too” manner that makes everyone legitimately embarrassed for me. You totally know what I’m talking about; it’s cool.

Little Aside: tickets to Mexico are not as cheap as they used to be and I picked Option B.

“Oh great,” you’re thinking, “another painful Option B message.” Don’t worry. I have a Plan. See, I have created an Option B message with a caveat. And here it is, I openly offer you the permission to disqualify. To diffuse, reject, or simply ignore anything that I share that you deem uncomfortable. Use me if you need to; I’m super young, freakishly short, known to talk to fast without ar-tic-u-la-ting enough, the sound person could potentially turn my mic off at any time during the message, and if none of those technical issues do the trick, please remember, the woman standing up here is highly likely to have no idea what she is talking about – she didn’t even know this Scripture existed before Monday….

At any rate, be creative, I’ll take the blame.  And to every “Me Too” you hear, you can hold tight to the certainty of “Not Me.”

You know what the “Not me” is, right?

(That’s okay I totally just made this up).

It’s like the Free Parking of Christian Spirituality. You get to say without guilt or condemnation, this Scripture, this message, is not about me. You can sit in the midst of spiritual self-disclosure untouched, unchanged, and totally unoffended.

You get like one card a year, and don’t tell Pastor Don, but I am handing them out this morning.
It only seems fair considering the circumstances.

Trust me, I thought of giving a “Not Me” sermon but they take those cards away at Ordination. When we are sleeping. Prying them out of our self-centered, death grip.

Even without the official “Not Me” playing card, I strongly believe I could have pulled it off because, confession, I almost did.

For like five seconds I sat righteously in the scriptural safe zone. I don’t have a lot of money so I can easily disqualify myself from the Rich Man column and let’s be honest, that dude is in a lot of trouble. Not only do I not want to be him, I don’t want anyone I know to be him!

If the point of this Scripture is a 1st century scared straight re-run; consider me scared and pliably straightened. Like a live version of a Blair Witch Style Hide and Seek, I stand up straight, back against a tree. Do not move, or whisper, or breath, He’s coming for me.

I hope at this point we can all agree that we want to avoid the scenario of the Rich Man. Given the context of the story, it would seem appropriate then, to take whatever wealth we have away and rest comfortably in the Lazarus category. This is the fear-driven reactionary in me. Suddenly money becomes the hot potato I do not want to be caught with in the end, throwing the cash out of the car and screaming, “Not it!” right as I crash into the pearly gate.

Except all the smarty-pants scholars that write about this scripture seem to say it’s not about money. I would like to say they are wrong. That would be dishonest. For the purpose of my own self-interest.
See, if you thought the topic of agape economics was going to be a tough sell this morning, consider the price of Abundant Life which is actually what this passage is all about.

Sure, Abundant Life sounds like a really great thing. We throw it around a lot and sometimes we (just me) expects confetti and balloons to drop as the choir starts clapping and singing “Abundant life! Hallelujah! Abundant life!” In my opinion, this is false advertising. Nothing motivates me more to pull out a pen and ask, “Who do I make the check out to?” than the call to Abundant Life.

On the actions of the Rich Man, ‘Debbie Downer’ George Buttrick writes, “The story offers no support to the glib assumption that the Rich Man would have fulfilled all duty had he dressed Lazarus’ sores and fed his hunger. True charity is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not spasmodic or superficial. Ameliorations such as food and medicine are always necessary, but there is a more fundamental neighborliness.”

This is not something I want to hear; I hope you were not listening. I should have given you a warning. It’s not about money. At its core this scripture is about the worldly things we worship that disconnect us from ourselves, from others, and therefore from God.

My “Not Me,” get-out-of-jail free card, just went out the window with all my money.

The “Good News” it turns out is, not that this passage isn’t some literal new age financial management program, but that we are neither the Rich Man nor Lazarus, we are the five siblings of the rich man. Our fate is not sealed and in some sort of Edgar Allen Poe Christmas Carol re-write we are all invited to intimately reconsider every aspect of the way in which we live our lives. Fun, right?

First thing that puts us in this unfortunate predicament, we are still alive.

Second thing, now that you have, like me, been involuntarily exposed to this Scripture, we have been warned about our urgent situation. Unless you are planning on putting your “Not Me” card in the offering plate after this in which case as far as I’m concerned, you’re good.

Third thing (oh yeah it gets worse) we have Moses and the prophets; we have the scriptures, we have the manna lessons of God’s economy, stories of God’s care for the poor and hungry. We even have someone who has risen from the dead, even though, again, not the Lazarus story we are talking about today. We have all of these living resources swirling around us to define for us the undefinable invitation to Abundant Life.

The question is: Will we — sisters and brothers – see? If your answer is no please raise your hand as the ushers will now be coming around with blindfolds.

Archbishop Richard Trench writes that, “The sin of the Rich Man in its root is unbelief: hard-hearted contempt of the poor, luxurious squandering on self, are only the forms which his sin assumes. The seat of the disease is within; these are but the running sores which witness for the inward plague. He who believes not in an invisible world of righteousness and truth and spiritual joy, must place his hope in things which he sees, which he can handle, and taste, and smell. It is not of the essence of the matter, whether he hoards or squanders, in either case he puts his trust in the world.”

To live abundantly is to have confidence in God; I promise, I’m not making this stuff up.

A fairly conservative Christian website that I found on Google states that, “Although we are naturally desirous of material things, Romans 12:2 reminds us that as Christians our perspective on life must be revolutionized. Just as we become new creations when we come to Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), so must our understanding of “abundance” be transformed. True abundant life consists of an abundance of love, joy, peace, and the rest of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), not an abundance of “stuff.” It consists of life that is eternal, and, therefore, our interest is in the eternal, not the temporal.”

So, how then, did the Rich Man go wrong?

Cue, nervous-knowing laughter from the congregation.

The life of this Rich Man and that of Lazarus seem to be entirely separate, divided by a table and a gate, it hardly seems fair that one should be held accountable for not meeting a need he was never aware of.

How could the Rich Man be expected to respond to such a need when he knew nothing of it?
I imagine the Rich Man was aware of the sick homeless man residing outside his gate, but I am convinced he did not know Lazarus. I do not think he knew Lazarus or his place in God’s story as he took up space outside this strategically developed gate. It seems he neither allowed himself to be seen by Lazarus nor risked the challenge that seeing Lazarus would have brought to his own pre-scripted narrative.

In doing so, he denied himself the invitation of Abundant Life; an invitation requiring us to acknowledge the Christ within ‘The Other,’ ultimately, unveiling that of Christ which resides within us. Instead, the Rich Man scripted a narrative in which he became his own deity. Embracing an illusion offered to each and every one of us, that we are more or less worthy based on the hierarchical images this world provides.

Cue horror movie soundtrack.

And this, this right here is what truly terrifies me; Not the future threat of the Scripture, the possibility of eternal punishment, but the current reality that we have a choice to see or not see. A choice that not only impacts our own lives but the life of all living creatures. A choice to turn a blind eye to the suffering in our midst, to disqualify it, to justify it, to legitimize and contribute to it, to silently declare, “Not Me.”

And, the closer we get to abiding in the Land of “Not Me’ the more urgently we are being called into a story not our own; the pathway toward Abundant Life is one of living as if, “That could be me if…”

That could be me if

my skin were a shade darker, if

my seatbelt had not been buckled, if

my zip code had been two numbers different.

When we disconnect ourselves from this Holy Reality, that Christ is within us and The Other, we disconnect ourselves from Abundant Life. We isolate ourselves for the delusion of certainty, we author our stories for the myth of safety. Risking the price of true connectedness, we mold our lives into our own, comfortably congruent and controlled.

I think the Rich Man closed his gate every evening and locked it with this same, “Not Me” that is offered to us in each and every moment. And that “Not Me” is exactly what serves as the gate between our experience and Abundant Life.

So here it goes, I am going to break this down as much as I can because it can be confusing. Actually, I’m confused. If this makes sense to you, I would invite you to explain it to me later. Not today, though, I’ll be tired.

To see ourselves is to see the other; to risk being seen is the key to Abundant Life-to show up with your whole self, sores and all. If you cannot look inside and see the Christ within you; you cannot look outside and see the Christ within The Other. While The Rich Man may have not seen Lazarus, he also failed to see himself. At the core of his story is his denial to see himself; to know to whom he belonged and from where his abundance came.

Abundant Life is the process of awakening to that which prevents us from seeing and being seen. I can tell you this isn’t easy; it’s what we focus on in The Path Discipleship Process here at Hope UMC and I’m pretty sure everyone is going to drop out of that thing. It’s uncomfortable to look at your warts and claim them. We want to cut all the ugly parts of us off; but God created all of us, not just those parts the world defines as worthy of being seen.

For Abundant Life to become a reality here and now, the space we need to cultivate is within ourselves, setting aside that which blinds us from claiming that of Christ which abides in us, and that of Christ which abides in the other.

Sarah Napthali writes, “We see others in terms of how they meet our needs, practical and emotional. We stop seeing others for who they are, in this moment, and relate to an outdated or superimposed image we created long ago or which was created for us. We need to remember to be with ourselves and with the Other, ensuring we make time to pause occasionally and let go of doing, negotiating, judging, so that we can just see ourselves and the other in that moment. Not many people realize that the word “respect” comes from the Latin root sepc, which means “to see”; add the prefix “re” and the word “respect” translates as “to see again.”

Are we willing to commit to a process of seeing again ourselves and The Other so that we might know Christ and experience Abundant Life? Do we have the courage to look within and to see ourselves as Christ sees us? To see the Other as Christ sees them? Are we willing to reject a world that organizes people into categories at the price of their sacred story and embrace a new order, one in which we are all resting on an ever moving continuum of connectivity, where we all inherit an innate worthiness to belong.

That man just outside the gate–just outside my wall of understanding–that could be me. And I bring him into our story because our story is not our story, our story belongs to God. I bring him into my story because without his story, I deny the fullness of my own, and the completion of God’s.

Abundant life is one of partnership; resisting the urge to hustle for worthiness by embracing God’s love for us and in turn utilizing that to connect with others. It requires us to have confidence in Love, the power of Love for ourselves and for the world.

Yesterday afternoon my daughter, Fiona, and I attended the Installation Service for our new Bishop at Arvada United Methodist Church. Although I was attending because I wanted the witness the historic event that was the installation of the first gay bishop into the United Methodist Church, I wasn’t feeling particularly emotional. It may have been the five hours of sleep I had gotten the night before after hosting an eight-year-old sleepover but that is another sermon for another day. In truth, and not unexpectedly, I was feeling exhausted when the opening song began to play. A local church band began covering a secular hit, “Home” by Philip Phillips.

Settle down, it’ll all be clear
Don’t pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found

Just know you’re not alone
‘Cause I’m going to make this place your home.

That was pretty much it. I wanted to cry, which given that the service hadn’t even begun yet, seemed bordering on socially inappropriate. My eyes were filled with tears and I was just about to lose it when I noticed a man sitting close by me wiping his eyes. I reached out my hand and set it on his shoulder, and looking him in the eyes, I asked without judgement, “Are you crying?” His head shook yes, and without reservation or much thought I just said, “Me too.” That was all I needed to be okay; to be seen and to see in that moment of mutual vulnerability.

If you want a starting place in the map-less territory of Abundant Life, trade in your “Not Me” Card for the “Me Too” Ticket to Abundant Life. Look around and reach out, first see yourself and then see the Other. Trust God, trust Love, and show up to the open the gates set before you. You might be shocked to find the hand that reaches out and the story that meets you in that spacious place we all belong.

Renee Tahja: A Testimony of the Land

Renee Tahja: A Testimony of the Land

renee-land

I am Renee Tahja, I have been a Methodist my entire life, I grew up in Wyoming and I graduated from the University of Wyoming, College of Agriculture. I have worked both as Petroleum Engineer and Chemist. I am currently a K-12 substitute teacher in CCSD. I am a wife and mother to two amazing boys ages 5 and 8.

It was in March that I felt a connection and a passion for “The Land” and the ministry it offers. For years I felt comfortable with my relationship and with Christ. I came to church, I followed “the rules” of a good Methodist, supported ministries of the church, gave my offering, and l loved others. In the spring of 2016 I felt an almost uneasy calling for something more, a deeper relationship, or call for a greater being or service. At this time I was in a Path group and also reading Last Call: From Serving Drinks to Serving Jesus by Rev Jerry Herships. It was both The Path and the book that helped me realize a direction/action for this call. I realized that I had neighbors that feel that because of past mistakes, or lifestyle choice or simply because of who they love, feel judged, or unwelcome, or undeserving to come to church. “The Land” is taking the Love of Christ beyond the walls of the Church to all People.

The truth is none of us deserve the Grace of God and Unconditional love of Christ. The Good news is that Grace and Love do not have to be earned, they are gifts. Gifts given to us over and over despite our choices, mistakes, judgement of others, or our circumstances. I see “The Land” as a place where people can worship and through agricultural practice come to know this truth. How amazing! A place where you can grow spiritually while growing healthy nutritional food for our neighbors. A place to be loved and to serve. I am excited for the edible labyrinth. A seed holds so much promise, the promise of new life, growth, and eventually fruit. I look forward to walking the labyrinth, growing my spiritual “seed”, while observing the promise and growth of every seed into a plant. In addition, many people find and feel closest to God not in a church building built by man, but in nature, the world, on the land He created for us.

I see “The Land” providing an all welcoming, all loving place where everyone from any walk of life or any lifestyle can gather to worship, to find or deepen their relationship with Christ, receive and share the love of Christ, and provide a venue for community education, and serve God through agricultural practices.

On Friday while serving friends without homes in Civic Center Park, a woman asked me “Why? Why do you do this?” (meaning why do you take time to bring her and other homeless lunch). My answer is simple because there is always room in this world for more love. Love is the greater than all of the pain in the world. To me “The Land” is a place of Love.

The Land: Step One Talk

The Land: Step One Talk

The Land envisions a faith community that nourishes sacred relationships between the Creator and all of Creation. Our mission is to integrate agricultural practice and spiritual disciplines to facilitate individual and communal transformation. Through worship, small group engagement, and missional activities, “The Land” exists to collectively answer the question, “What does Holy Living look like in the 21st century?” Just as John Wesley sought to inspire people toward a practical theology, “The Land” invites people to experience discipleship as they care for the earth, harvest God’s gifts, and fill the souls and stomachs of their neighbors. Each item located on The Land is created to be a manifestation of this vision, co-opting spiritual ritual and agricultural practice:

  • Community Garden: A handicap-accessible ‘Edible Labyrinth’ located at the northeast edge of the site designed for the integration of 0.8 acres of cultivated beds and 1.2 miles of 5’wide crushed granite path wrapped at a 120’ walkway leading to the center.
  • ‘Green’ Gathering Space: An Outdoor Amphitheater with a capacity of 176 based on the construction of 44 parking spaces (5 handicap accessible) to be located centrally on the south end of the site as it utilizes the natural topography of the site and will be fully accessible via an ADA-approved crushed granite path wrapping from the Edible Labyrinth to the Outdoor Amphitheater.
  • Cathedral Greenhouse: A 4,000-9,500 SF/multi-functional space for worship services and year round growing of produce; a sanctuary for neighbors in need and a meeting place for organizations with like-minded purposes of caring for creation and one another.
  • Barn/Bunk House: A 6,000-8,000 SF/2-story bldg. w/ commercial kitchen and seating for 250 with tables/accommodations for groups of up to 20 people to stay overnight.


At it’s full development, The Land will function as a Laboratory for spiritual growth in the Community, telling the unfolding story of a God has not only created but who continues to create.

After spending the past three years just beneath the surface of an undeveloped property in Aurora, Colorado, The Land Faith Community is steadily breaking ground, reaching new milestones and forming new partnerships. This July, The Land was officially incorporated as a non-profit and celebrated the award of a $2,500 In Kind Marketing Grant from ReThink Church.

In addition, Regis University has taken The Land on as its ‘Scope of Work’ MBA Class Project which dedicates the attention of 6 MBA students over the course of 8-weeks to continue development on financial management processes and fundraising implementation.  Regis University responded to the concept of The Land with enthusiasm, stating that “calling this a Church just doesn’t quite do it justice.” Yet, that is just the intent of The Land. To challenge the perception of the institutional church by redefining what discipleship means in the 21stcentury.  Gathering people together through food, faith, and farming, The Land is an expression of Church in the 21st century—the transformative power of a community seeking to align their everyday actions with their core beliefs.

There is no linear story to tell for The Land’s development; no steps to follow per se. Even if you wanted to get where I am, I couldn’t offer you much advice because most days I am not sure where that place I am even is.

I can share with you that in the 1980s the Rocky Mountain Conference of the United Methodist Church began purchasing parcels of land throughout the Denver-Metro area for the future development of faith communities and that the final remaining property to be developed is 9.5 acres located on Powhaton Rd and what will one day be Exposition Avenue. I can share that in September of 2013 our team requested a $5,000 grant from the New Church Development Committee of the Rocky Mountain Conference of the United Methodist Church to explore the feasibility for a new faith community on this property.

And I can tell you that on April 2, 2014, the team presented the findings of the feasibility study to the New Church Development Team reporting that while an agriculturally-based faith community was a viable model for this particular property in Southeast Aurora, our dependency on the developer for utilities combined with the stagnation of the surrounding neighborhood development determined that our would be most effectively launched in 3-5 years. For various practical reasons, we imagined that the planting of this church was 7-10 years into the future. I was considering what my pastoral ‘next steps’ would be as we waited.

Then in October of 2014 I was approached by Amy Behres from the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union about the possibility of a group of Somali-Bantu Refugees farming on the property while the project waited for the neighborhood development to begin. To further investigate this possibility, a phone conference with Libby Tart Schoenfelder, a Senior Planner with the City of Aurora, was scheduled to discuss alternative sources of water to irrigate the property. It was during this phone conference that we learned that the new concept for Melcor’s surrounding development was Community Gardens and Orchards and that their property development timeline was being moved up to the Spring of 2015. Soon after this phone conference The Land team gave a preliminary presentation to the City of Aurora Planning Team.

The City became an enthusiastic advocate for the vision, allowing us to propose a temporary water solution to begin development prior to the accessibility to utilities and combining our development with the larger Framework Development Plan of the Harmony development. With the momentum the City of Aurora provided, the Conference responded by granting the team a request for 250k from the Legacy Fund in May of 2015. This financial support from the Conference provided the confidence to the church where I currently serve to continue supporting my full time salary while adjusting my job description to include serving as a missionary to The Land beginning in July 2016.

In a snapshot this is how we have gotten to where we are yet none of these surface dates and serendipitous stories even begin to reflect the reality of how The Land has gotten to where it is today.

Shekinah is a Hebrew word that refers to a collective vision that brings together dispersed fragments of divinity. It is usually understood as a light disseminating presence, bringing an awareness of God to a time and place where God is not expected to be-a place. It’s not a public spectacle but more like a selective showing at God’s direction to encourage or affirm, to reveal a reality of something that we do not yet have eyes to see.

People like you and me need that Shekinah story. Our congregations need it. Most of what we do in getting our congregations going doesn’t look anything like what people expect it to.

The story of Shekinah is set in Jerusalem at a time when Jews were returning from their Babylonian captivity. Babylon had destroyed Jerusalem and its magnificent Solomonic temple. Meanwhile the Persian king, Cyrus, had conquered Babylon and gave the Jews permission to return to their homeland. He also generously made provision for them to rebuild the destroyed temple. Hope was at high tide. The devastation and heartache of those long years of living in a pagan culture among foreign gods was over –they would be able to worship God again on their native soil, reenter the splendid sacred precincts, and begin again to serve God in the place redolent with storied memories.

And this is the story as we know it.

Except there is more, the story according to mystical Judaism of the Middle Ages continues sharing that when the people arrived they took one look at the restored temple and wept at what they saw. The Solomonic temple of that for five hundred years had provided a glorious centering for their life as a people of God had been replaced by what looked to them like a tarpaper shack. The squalid replacement broke their hearts, and they wept. As they wept, a dazzling, light-resplendent presence descended, the Shekinah-God’s personal presence-and filled that humble, modest, makeshift, sorry excuse for a temple with glory. They lifted their arms in praise. They were truly home. God was truly present. The Shekinah faded out. The glory stayed.

I can’t give you a play by play of how you should start a successful new faith community or even why one would embrace such a task. Probably because in my experience it isn’t something you do but something that happens around you, slowly but surely, rising up from the ground at the same time things seem to be crumbling around us. It takes faith to believe in the building up of the invisible; in the manifestation of Shekinah. We dare to design a church that expresses the way we intend to live in this place and worship in this place and these places, these temples, will rarely look like Church as our institutions define them.

It takes vigilance to witness and tell the stories of these births in terms of the only common thread visible throughout these mixed up journey through ruins and rainbows. The common thread of God’s presence, Shekinah, showing up each time I reach the place I thought I was supposed to be only to discover there was so much more work to be done. Each time I reach the end of the rope only to discover there are 500 more yards buried just beneath the surface. Each time I cry, or laugh, or grow impatient or ambiguous, God shows up. And I learn over and over to fall in love with the process not the product. To fall in love with a people not a place. A dream not a destination.

The Land is a church that does not look like a church with a pastor who does not look like a pastor. What better place for a modern day Shekinah to remind a lonely world they are never alone.