Progressive Church Retreat in Denver: The Warm Embrace I Didn’t Know I Needed

You know that feeling when you’re lonely or down? You know you need something but you don’t know what that something is? Then someone gives you a perfectly placed warm hug or a super uplifting text and they (or you) didn’t even know how badly you needed it? That’s what this Denver retreat that Pastor Adam and I attended last week felt like for me. I was given a beautiful warm embrace that I didn’t even know I needed until I received it.

 Elsa with Macklemore - nah! That's our friend Jon Gettings from Denver Community Church

Elsa with Macklemore - nah! That's our friend Jon Gettings from Denver Community Church

We went to join other pastors and churches who are all trying to figure out how we do this whole progressive church plant thing. It can feel lonely out here. When we lost our parent denomination at Christ Church, it took away some support and structure. We were no longer doing things the way the denomination did things. And we no longer wanted to because their values did not fully align with ours.

We set out on a path towards full inclusion and the question changed from “how do they do it?” to “what is the best way to do it?”

This shift is incredibly freeing. At Christ Church, we want to build an open, active and inclusive community. One where all people find wholeness in mind, body and soul. We use our ethos of Inclusion, Equality, Relationships, Hope & Perseverance to guide us in all we do, how we do it and with whom we build partnerships. Our community shapes who we are and together we are learning how to be a Christ-centered community that loves God, self and others.

This shift can also feel lonely. We don’t fit into that evangelical mold anymore. Sometimes it means not getting invited to things (and that’s okay), other times it means that we are creating everything from scratch. Our ethos guides us to be intentional in many ways: from picking songs with words we can stand behind, to diverse representation up front on Sundays to our kids curriculum. There is sooo much bad kids curriculum out there, let me tell you. As I plug along, I find myself thinking over and over---there has to be a better way than these old wineskins. And there must be others thinking this same thing. We cannot be the only ones.

Good news: we’re not the only ones! And a good many of them were gathered in Denver this week--from Colorado, North Carolina, Arizona, Minneapolis, Miami, New York and beyond. I met them--they exist! So many times, while having wonderful conversations with new friends this week, I found myself thinking “Now that’s weird, are you in my brain thinking my thoughts?” We’ve all been building inclusive, loving and beautiful communities in all sorts of places and wrestling all the same things. We can all learn from and lean on each other. Amazing. Even just thinking about this fills up my soul. Through group sessions, break-out sessions, collective conversations, and individual connections we worked together to support each other, learn from each other and figure out how to help new progressive church plants do likewise. We talked best practices, shared ideas, gave updates and took on some hard and important topics that affect us and our whole American culture. It was like being a part of something in it’s lovely incubation period. A culmination of many people’s hard work that I am so honored to be a part of it. I deeply appreciate our Christ Church friend and mentor, Paula Williams, for leading the way through it all with such beautiful wisdom, discernment and the right poem always at the perfect time.

The old wineskins don’t fit anymore. And that’s okay because we’ve outgrown them. We’re figuring out what the new wineskins might look like and we have so many new friends helping us figure it out along the way. Thanks be to God.

---Elsa

If you think you or your church belong in this group of progressive churches and church plants and you want to connect further, email us at info@christchurchpdx.org or me at elsa@christchurchpdx.org.