This Sunday at One Church there will be a special ceremony where I will be ordained and installed as the Lead Pastor. This will be a special day for me, but I wanted to take a moment to share an open letter to Pastor Ryan Gear, the founder of One Church who has shaped my life in so many ways.
We first connected through facebook when a mutual friend introduced us. You reached out and made sure we scheduled a lunch. We met at Thai Basil in Tempe and I shared my story with you.
At that time, I was in a very liminal space as I had become theologically open and progressive, but was currently struggling with the high liturgical church we were a part of. I found the liturgy beautiful, yet culturally very different from the evangelical tradition I was raised in. I was frustrated and lost, seeking a way to be theologically progressive and yet wanting to hold onto the evangelical feel of the tradition that formed me so much.
I found all that and more at One church, the church you planted and worked so hard to see flourish.
When I first started at One Church, I was wrestling through a sense of calling. I was frustrated with organized religion and wondering how I could be a pastor – all this while in the middle of seminary. I had experienced so many negative aspects of religion and church and had little motivation to continue. You listened patiently and empathized with many of my concerns which, I believe, is a huge part of what it means to be a good pastor.
After listening, you asked several clarifying questions, again the mark of a good pastor, and then asked a question that has stuck with me and one I go back to on almost a weekly basis. You asked:
Is the answer to unhealthy religion no religion or healthier forms of religion?
This was the exact question I needed to be asked and I need to ask myself on a regular basis. Thank you!
Now, I’m not an overly religious person and I have great respect for those who seek to bring about a just and generous world outside of religion, but have come to realize that I feel called (at least that seems to be the best word to explain it) to work toward bringing about a more just and generous world by promoting more healthy forms of religion – at least as best I can. I owe a lot of this passion to you.
Not only did I wrestle with that question, but at One Church have experienced how healthy religion can be helpful for people. I have heard many stories of people seeking a community that is a safe place to wrestle with faith and not feel coerced or pressured to see things a certain way. I have had people come up to me after a church service, so thankful that they found a community that was open and inclusive where they would feel not only welcomed, but affirmed for who God created them to be. I have seen many serve others and see God work in and through them. I have seen how the church can serve the community without the pressure to convert everyone, but to simply work toward bringing God’s kingdom to earth. At One Church people discover Jesus in new and refreshing ways.
If it were not for you and your hard work, I would not have experienced this!
You have also encouraged me through many doubts and fears I have had. Not only have I experienced being part of a community that seeks to create healthier expressions of religion, I have felt more confidence to step out in my gifts as you have encouraged this in me. You have been patient and so very encouraging every step of the way. Thank you!
I know that planting a church and nurturing it is no easy task. Your heart, passion, courage, and perseverance are inspiring! If it was not for your determination to work so hard, to sacrifice so much, and to continue to persevere, One Church would not exist. This community exists because of your faithfulness to God’s leading in your life. Thank you!
Finally I admire your sensitivity to know when the time has come to step down and to follow God’s leading in a different, but similar way. Many people stay at a place far too long and struggle to release what they have worked so hard to create. It takes just as much or perhaps more courage to entrust this to someone else.
You have become such an encouraging part of my life and it will be hard for me to see you go from One Church. Yet, I am so very excited for the future of One Church as we continue to move forward as God leads us. I know you desire to see One Church flourish and it means a lot that you have entrusted this to me (or trusted God to work through me). I am fully confident that God is working and will continue to work through One Church in great ways.
Thank you for pushing through all the obstacles and overcoming the barriers in order to create such a wonderful community. Thank you for allowing me the place to learn, grow, and develop as a pastor and leader. Thank you for all your encouragement. One Church would not exist without you, and I would not be here without you. You will be missed, but are so greatly appreciated!
with love, admiration, and appreciation,