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What do you call it?

As I’m getting settled  at Berry Temple, I’m struggling to explain the two churches to folks. I find it very easy to describe Berry Temple because it is an historically African-American congregation. That’s a term that people know. I can’t figure out, however, how I’m supposed to refer to Oakley. Our culture doesn’t really have a good way to distinguish Oakley as a predominantly white congregation from Berry Temple as a predominantly African American congregation.

When I traveled in South Africa ten years ago, I was impressed that no one seemed to just be a South African. There was an descriptive word attached to South African for each person or group of people. There were white South Africans and black South Africans and so on. It was the first time I’d given any real thought to how we fail to do this in America. We use the term American and pretend that its generic. It is most often used, however to describe folks from the dominant culture. Every other group of people in our country get a descriptive word attached to designate them as African American, Native American, Mexican American, Korean American, etc.

So, I’m really wondering how to name the congregation at Oakley when I’m explaining to people the contexts in which I serve? Any ideas?

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Together(s)

When I began thinking about a new blog last summer, I liked the idea of using the name Together on the Way because it reflected one of the ancient names of Christianity, “the way,” while also implying that following in the way of Jesus is a journey we make in the company of others. Sometimes our fellow sojourners are nearby folks that we see each day. Sometimes they are folks far off that we’ve never.

I managed to write one blog in December and have not written anything in the six and a half months since. Not a good start. I confess I pushed to write the first post before I’d finished thinking about what my overall focus would be. I had narrowed it down to three areas: revitalization of the neighborhood congregation (Oakley United Methodist) that I pastor; conversation with others who are exploring creative, out of the box ways of being a community of faith in an increasingly post-modern Western culture; and a place to explore something new emerging here in Asheville. Three areas of focus seem quite enough, but there will be one more…

At the end of June, I became pastor of the Berry Temple United Methodist Church in downtown Asheville. It’s an unusual appointment for me. It is a historically African-American congregation. (I am not African-American – historically or presently!) Through much of  Berry Temple’s long history, however, it has been integrated. The congregation might best be described as multicultural – or at least bi-cultural.  My serving there was presented as a creative, way out of the box idea. I’m not leaving Oakley, but will actually be sharing responsibilities there with my wife, Kathy, who’s also ordained. The new configuration opens up new opportunities at both Oakley and Berry Temple to explore some creative, emerging forms of worship and community life here in Asheville.

There will be much to share and discuss.  I have lots of thoughts and questions that I want to explore with others.  And…it appears a lot of folks are very curious about this new, way out of the box idea and how the Spirit will be at work.  I invite you to join me in conversation and exploration as we journey together on the way.

It’s safe to assume that C.S. Lewis did not have blogs in mind when he said, “We read to know we are not alone.” Yet, it seems there is some truth in the idea of reading – and writing – blogs in order to know that we are not alone. For those who follow in the way of Jesus there is something wonderful in knowing that we are not the only one seeing the bursting in of the Kingdom, hearing the voice of the Spirit calling, or experiencing the awesome presence of the Holy Other.

In this age of rapid technological and cultural change, we are blessed to be able to connect to people across the world, across the boundaries we often construct for ourselves, and across the barriers that we have inherited. When we allow the Spirit to move among us, we can be connected in ways and with people we’d have never expected to share community with.

In October, I traveled across the country to Seabeck, Washington to be in conversations with others sensing a call to form a new missional order. It was an incredible blessing to recognize that I am not alone in sensing the Spirit moving to bring new life and transformation to the Church in North America. The variety of experience, tradition, and responsibility among those gathered was great. I couldn’t help but think how strange it was to be connecting with people across the country that I might not even connect with if they were in my own neighborhood.

What impressed me the most was the deep sense of community. As I have continued to consider why we were able to share community so quickly, I have returned over and over again to a simple fact: many people participating in the event were already connected with each other in the blogosphere. In our midst were well-seasoned bloggers Andrew Jones, Blind Beggar, Brother Maynard, Len Hjalmarson, Bill Kinnon, Rob Robinson and others. Some of them I had been reading for a while, others were brand new to me. Though many of us had never met, we already knew each other – and the Spirit’s work in each other’s lives – without having previously spent “real” time together as a group.

As the Spirit continues to call us to seek out fresh expressions of faithfulness in our rapidly changing culture, we are called to make this journey together in community. I am grateful to know that there are others spread across the Western World who hear that same call, struggle with what that means, and who seek to be in conversation. I am eager to see how the Spirit will move to connect us together. I am grateful to know that I am not alone.