cruise ships, sail boats & holey dinghies

blog cruise ships sail boats and holey dingheysone of my friends calls the typical contemporary typical church-system “the big ship.”  they’re strong & powerful & plow through the ocean with confidence. they are dazzling and entertaining.  many of us have been on that ship in some way, shape or form, hanging out on the deck enjoying the ride called “church-as-we-knew-it”.

but over time many of us have gone overboard.

some of us have bailed out, some of us were thrown over the deck.  once in the water, some of us have been clinging for dear life to any kind of buoy, floating around hoping we’ll see land soon.

for me, i have not been holding onto a life preserver all on my own.  instead, starting 6 years ago, i have been out in a raggedly old dinghy rowing toward something new, bailing out water along the way.  it’s been a choppy ride. our boat is full of holes.  we don’t have the rations we had hoped for.  the waves keep coming up over the sides and slosh us around.  but i’m not alone in it; i have some really awesome friends in this boat with me who are rowing & bailing just as hard.

sometimes it is rough out here, all this bobbing around.

the big ships carry on without giving us the time or the day.  beautiful sailboats pass us by all the time (to me, these are new church or ministry startups who are fully funded by someone with deep pockets and have lots of people with margin).  they give us a glance and carry on, sure that if we were more capable people we’d have a much better boat.

but i’m more clear than ever that this holey beaten-up dinghy is stronger than it looks.

we may be taking on water, but we’re learning how to work together.

we may not have the food we wish we were eating, but there’s always enough to go around.

we may not get relief from the sun like we long for, but somehow a cloud always comes & we are never harmed.

we may not have all of the gear we need, but we sure do have plenty of the one thing that’s free–love.

it’s oddly freeing out here in the wild beautiful ocean with my wild beautiful friends.

i think new forms of church will look a lot more like holey dinghies than cruise ships or pretty sail boats.

they will be rag-tag groups of misfits thrown overboard & dreamers who-couldn’t-stand-being-a-tourist-on-the-big-ship-anymore & pioneers who know there’s something better out there beyond the horizon.

the cruise ships & sail boats that see us out here wonder why we don’t just hop on and join their fun again.  it seems like such a relief from the vulnerabilities and difficulties of the open sea. they’re right. it would be a relief. it’s a lot more comfortable up there and not much is required except for hanging out & enjoying the ride.

but once you’re out here in the great expanse, nothing else will satisfy.

several years ago, i wrote a post called why sometimes i want to throw in the towel.  it was about how tiring life in the dinghy can be when the big ships and sail boats are cruising by while our needs far outweigh our resources and we’re trying to care for a bunch of hurting people, many of their castaways.  after reading that post, one of my dearest friends sent me a message that said, “i’m here to row.”  he hopped in the dinghy and started rowing.  right around that time, a few other amazing companions did, too.  they joined our little fledgling boat & helped carry the load.

in all kinds of ways, they have kept us afloat.

here’s my hope in the years to come in all of the shifts we’re seeing in “church”:  that more and more people who-long-for-something-different will bravely jump ship from comfy cruise ships & pretty sail boats and land in some kind of holey dinghy, either one that they inflate or one that’s already out here.  

that more and more start rowing in little weird wild & crazy missional ministries and pockets of love, whatever shape or form they take.

that more and more will come alongside others-dedicated-to-love & mercy & justice that desperately need help to sustain.

that more and more of those who feel so alone, clinging to a little life preserver by themselves, will somehow find community & hope in all kinds of these rag-tag rafts.

and that more and more of our dingheys will tie up together for some respite & sharing of supplies and to laugh & learn from each other.

if right now you can’t hop in and row, that’s so okay, too. i know it’s not for everyone.  but maybe just help us patch up some of our holes sometimes, or bring us food & water, or help bail water for a while.

my guess is that there are an awful lot of holey dinghies that could sure use a little help, a little love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

57 Comments

  • Kathy, this post reminded me of a poem by Hafiz:

    The
    Great religions are the
    Ships,

    Poets the life
    Boats.

    Every sane person I know has jumped
    Overboard.

    That is good for business
    Isn’t it

    Hafiz?

    Our life boats might not always be well equipped, but at least we have poetry and friends who help row to keep us going!

    Reply
    • love. thank you so much for sharing. so beautiful & so perfect for this! hafiz & rumi, those two. hope all is well with you up there!

      Reply
  • So interesting that you have posted this. I feel like I have left the mother ship’ and this is the phrase within your post that grabbed me…

    but once you’re out here in the great expanse, nothing else will satisfy…

    You do a great job capturing the feelings and thoughts many of us have. They help us frame our words and conversation in a way that allows us to speak what’s on our heart and in our minds.

    Thanks for continuing to give voice to those of us who are still trying to find our voice in transition to our own, small dinghies…

    Reply
    • thanks, vicki. yes, you know what the mother ship feels like, in all its strengths & all its weaknesses. it’s a very disorienting and weird feeling when we’re no longer on it and it keeps cruising by. much peace and courage to you as you keep walking all of this out.

      Reply
  • Kathy, I am always amazed by your writing. You’ve captured this with such vivid imagery. Thank-you. When I read a post like this I enjoy the momentary rest from the waves. When I first “jumped” ship, my first thought was, “now I need to build a better ship.” I am so thankful to have found little pockets of people who find the dinghy life to be all they need, and in some ways more satisfying than spending all their time and money in a shipyard building the next big thing.

    Peace & Love.

    Reply
    • thanks my friend, it’s so funny, i think in weird ways we had that same thought. when i look back on the refuge & the beginning of it all, our dinghy wasn’t quite so little & beat up. we were definitely never trying to build a big ship but i think we initially expected it to be a lot shinier & sturdier-looking. it’s so fun, really, to see what has continued to evolve when you take out everything except for people. as you said, that’s what it’s really about anyway.

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  • Kathy
    Exactly how i.ve been feeling lately! I feel like God put me in charge of a sinking dinghy and wonder why folks desire what i have but dont want to leave their cruise ship because its comfortable. Ive always loved frontier ministry-life w/out the cruiseship. But it gets lonely n discouraging at times. Thanks for helping me feel less lonely. Tears r in my eyes as i type. Your words reverberated in my heart. Thanks for the “‘message in a bottle” to my spirit.

    Reply
    • thanks, michael. yes, it is lonely! i’m glad we can sort of tie our dinghies up out here for a little while now and then to get some rest & encouragement together. without online connections over the past 6 years, i am not sure we would have survived!

      Reply
    • thanks for reading, steve. i am thankful for all you do to support these little rag-tag rafts!

      Reply
  • Thanks for this imagery, Kathy. I feel the same way. I do pray for more people to help row. And yet I’m scared praying it… I don’t really know if I want the good row-ers to leave the mother ship. Sure, the ship may not NEED their rowing power in the same way our little dinghy does, but what if they have potential to bring change to the ship from the inside? (If indeed you still believe that can happen.) Or bring greater awareness of and resource to the dinghys? What do you think?

    Reply
    • Hi Beth, I await Kathy’s answer to your good question as well. Your thought got me thinking, and asking another question too.
      The local mega cruise liner here just got a new ship. It cost $23 million. With 10,000 members, the annual cashflow of the ship is about $10 million a year. So, depending on operating expenses they’ll have it paid for in 3 years, just doing simple math. Most of the people who work on the ship are volunteers. Even if they give away 10% of what they have been given to some unfortunate poor people somewhere, that still leaves a phenomenal amount of cash rolling in starting with year 4. Where does it go? Within a dozen years you’re looking at a business that has made over $100 million, tax free. Again, Where does it go? What has it done? Who has it served?
      I don’t know, and suspect that Kathy has no clue either so it may be rhetorical. But I am really curious about this. Maybe someone who understands the church industry can answer this.

      Reply
      • thanks, sage. i think we could all sit around and have a big round-table discussion advocating for both sides of the equation. i see the value, i know that many who do not know anything about Jesus learn it from these kinds of places and would never set foot in some of these little wacky dinghies. but i guess my question is–what are they learning? what’s being modeled? what’s being promoted? no matter, i can’t justify the $ or the power or the separation between us and them or the lack of being known & loved in the place that’s supposed to be the safest on earth.

        Reply
    • hey beth, this is a great question and i don’t think there’s a perfect answer to it but here’s my take: those who love the big ship, who are really digging it there, should stay there. there’s work to do there, even though i’m not crazy about it personally. i am fairly cynical about what kinds of significant changes could be made in the big ship anyway, but i’m not God and i am sure it’s possible. i hear often about more missional mega churches and that’s great, but to me, it’s still feeding people what they “want” and keeping so much safe & comfortable, which i don’t think was the idea of living out the gospel. but, i digress!

      i think i am much more interested in encouraging those people who are settling for crumbs, who want to live out their faith in a tangible way,who are tired of sitting & listening, who really want to discover what incarnational relationships really mean, who want to be known & know others, who want to nurture mercy & justice & hope in practice not theory, those people are the ones i hope jump ship because i don’t think they will find what they are looking for on the big ship, no matter how long they stay. i don’t think it’s coming around the next corner. i think they are dispensable to the ship. if they leave, no one will care. really. it will carry on and be fine and they can find ways to really grow and be challenged in ways that sitting & listening never will do.

      there’s a total amazing underutilized force of people sitting in churches listening, singing a few songs, and going home who could change their cities over time….there are so many ministries & organizations out there, in every town, who need help. there are so many hurting families & struggling kids & problems & pain that need long-term love & attention. there’s so much loneliness that a simple friendship could heal. there are so many ways to participate that will never happen when we’re stuck in the cycle of being wowed, going to Bible studies, and getting “fed.”

      so, there’s my ramble, for what it’s worth!

      Reply
      • We stayed and tried to bring about change. There was one instance of some modest change. In general, however, the cruise ships don’t want change. All long as they have paying passengers, can drive the boat around in circles, the water slide is working and the evening show goes on as planned, they’re happy. If they do envision change, it’s for yet a bigger boat with more stuff, a pizza restaurant, a higher water slide and bigger chandeliers.

        The only thing that makes most of these cruise companies want to change is when the paying customers don’t show. Here’s to a few of us who are no shows to their show.

        Reply
  • I’m with Michael. Awesome and timely message. Thanks for sharing it Travis. I do go back from time to time to check out the cruise ship and there is never anything there for me. They are satisfied with their direction and can’t be bothered with anything outside their program. The sailboats are just mini-me’s that want to grow up to be cruise ships.

    The awesome thing about dinghy life is that we are called to be holey! We exercise our faith by rowing and God patches the holes. Then we become w/holy. In the process, we live a life that becomes a beacon for others lost at sea. You can never get this close to the water when you are on the decks of a ship.

    Blessings on you Kathy. May your pen continue to be filled with His ink.

    Reply
    • thanks aeriol. i had this thought after i hit “publish” that i needed to say something about these dinghies not just being holey but also “holy”. because relationships are holy and out here, really, that’s all we got. relationship with God & each other & that’s enough! thank you.

      Reply
  • Thanks again Kathy!!

    “but once you’re out here in the great expanse, nothing else will satisfy…”

    Yes, yes, yes, because it is real! It is authentic! There is such deep freedom in the dinghy! It has substance and purpose and love and justice and truth. It is pure, it is Kingdom Living grounded in the reality of Christ. It is closer to God and closer to others in the “holey dinghy”. It is hands-on, life changing, no holds-bared, sleeves rolled-up, no going back, faith lived out, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute! It is a paradox! It is difficult, it is lonely, it is challenging and at the same time it is rich and deep, you find you are not alone, it is profound and beautiful! I am paddling along side you sista, please pass the sunscreen and would you like some of this delicious fish I caught this morning… 🙂

    Reply
    • thanks, laurie. i am so glad you are out here, seriously! your encouragement makes a difference. glad to be paddling alongside you from afar.

      Reply
  • Unfortunately we are sold the message that the big ships are the church and that life apart from the big ship is dangerous and disconnected. Truth is, the beautiful ocean is the church. From the ocean, we can enjoy our fellowship with the little dinghies and the big ships, realizing that we all live in the ocean of God’s love.
    Enjoying the ocean now, Linda

    Reply
    • Kathy, I sat here reading your post with tears in my eyes. I would love so much to be in “the dinghy” with you. But my time has not come for that. I remain on a “beautiful” ship, trying to minister to the people there who are hungry, even with the Smörgåsbord right in front of them.

      I would love to be able to come row with you for awhile, but my “home” is somewhere else right now — and it’s not always the glorious, rich place it seems…

      Maybe, like Linda said, the ocean is the church — or maybe we’re too quick to see one another’s differences. I don’t know. I just know I’ve got my heart in the big ship AND in the dinghy…

      I love you, girlfriend!

      Reply
      • thanks linda marie. i too loved what linda shared & think that’s so important. i don’t say enough that many are called to stay or need to stay for all kinds of reasons and to value that reality. there is much work to be done in all kinds of different ways & God is teaching us all different things. i have so much respect for you & the journey that you are on. i think the difference is when our eyes have been opened and we can see with clear-er vision, it really helps (vs. being blinded by the wow).

        Reply
        • I know, Kathy…

          Metaphors are great, but when they are interpreted in a way that divides, I don’t think they’re so useful.

          No matter how cynical people are about the small fellowships or the large fellowships, in the end we are all God’s church.

          I have a tendency to be very critical of the “big church” where I find myself, but that doesn’t necessarily mean God feels the same way. When I start attempting to decide who’s wrong and who’s right, I try to stop myself and remind myself that it doesn’t matter.

          Today, the story of Hosea and Gomer came to mind…

          Reply
    • thanks, linda. this is why i love metaphors and sharing them because they can be expanded far beyond the little limits of where they started! you nailed it, such beautiful imagery, yes, that’s it!

      Reply
  • Hi Kathy.
    Your comment aroused a question and response in my heart spontaneously:

    The Mayflower or the Titanic?
    I will take the Mayflower because “faith is the victory that overcomes the world.”

    We “live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me”

    No need to jump ship here!!!!!

    Reply
    • thanks for sharing, so fun to hear all the different things it stirred up!

      Reply
  • We’ve been on a couple of cruises, but don’t much care for them – Lots of lazy overweight people who love to sit on their butts, be waited on hand and foot and be fed, fed, fed. Oh, did I mention they love to complain and whine, whine, whine? We’re more into walking, hiking, exercise, spending time with interesting people and doing our own thing. The “cruisers” just don’t get it. Then again our boat didn’t get stranded in shallow water and fall over.

    Reply
    • i say the same thing every time, but you do always make me smile.

      Reply
  • Wow!
    It is so awesome to someone else feeling like they’ve been pushed overboard! But, I am so glad they did. I love my ministry friends who love to be with me in my holey dinghy! Thank you so much for putting this into the very words that have been flying around in my head, looking for a sentence structure!

    Reply
    • thanks, kathy, for taking time to share. with you guys from afar!

      Reply
  • where do you get this?! brilliant, but mostly i notice the “power” of the huge ship. have you ever seen what happens to a small boat that is passed by a massive ship? the wake can easily overturn the smaller boat and never slow down or notice.
    ever notice how many small churches fold, as the mega church grows?
    keep it coming

    Reply
    • john’s imagery of the big ship will forever be engrained in my head but this thought came back to me a few weeks ago when we were talking about the refuge & how thankful we are for people who have come to row & bail out water.

      yeah, so true, that wake does some pretty major destruction! it’s a miracle, really, that we’ve survived…

      Reply
  • Pretty sure *that* is why I got sick on the mega-ship: the fancy foreign appetizers. Full of unspecified content to shovel in, but not truly satisfying. For me, I feel over the show on so many levels personally, but I do struggle in thinking about the children, in the bottom level of our raggedy boat.

    It is hard sometimes, for me, to feel like I am not giving the kiddos on our little boat the cruise ship experience- the lights, the fog machine, the puppets, the water slide.. It is a persistent feeling, and takes consistent effort to battle… But I think that what they *are* getting hopefully won’t make them feel seasick? in the future, and that they get to experience the beauty of their own capabilities to row. 🙂

    Reply
    • you are so good with expanding metaphors 🙂 yeah, it’s hard, seeing those tube slides. but i’ll keep reminding everyone that the love & care & nurturing & time & value & inclusion & hugs & really-knowing-each-and-every-one-of-them makes a bigger difference over time, in my opinion, than the wow of the cruise-kids-club. what you do to make each kid feel loved matters!! seriously. when we left the megachurch, not one person wondered about my kids. not one person. and we had given our hearts & time & whole-entire-life to. do you think they remember the tube slides? my older kids remember that no one gave a rip about them & not once have my littler kids ever said they missed anything there.

      Reply
    • This is a subject near and dear to my heart too. I’ve had some of these same concerns about not being a part of a structured church organization, but what I’ve learned is that as long as the kids are valued and seen and who they are is not missed, as long as they know they are deeply loved and cared for, they will be fine. They don’t need flash.

      I think kids are among the least of these in our society, constantly being overlooked for the sake of busyness. Making space for them and affirming their worth and dignity as people is definitely partaking in kingdom work. 🙂

      Reply
  • As I was reading this …

    on an especially windy and choppy sea, when we were all having difficulty rowing our boats to keep up with the waves, someone in your boat asked you to hand her a couple raincoats from the stern. We all watched as she silently zipped them together, slid the oars up the sleeves and held the make-shift sail up to catch the wind.

    And as Laurie and I, in our leaky dinghies, watched the Spirit blow you off into the distance, we both went rummaging around in our packs for ponchos.

    Reply
  • I’m not in the dinghey so I have no real right to comment. Even in seminary, though, I wondered if we hadn’t strayed very far from Jesus’ vision for the church. I can only empathize with how tough it must be in the dinghey and how frustrating to see brothers and sisters in Christ pass you by. My fear though is the dinghey begins to go down a very slippery slope when helped by them or even when the dingthies join together. My prayer is that through the dinghies we all will see a way to become “church” again – gathered only for the purpose of being kingdom people and, above, all for proclaiming the good, life-saving news of Jesus Christ – the way and truth and life for the whole of humankind.

    Reply
    • thanks for taking time to share, darla. i wonder the same thing, i know we can’t capture precisely, exactly what it was like way-back-when-the-church-was-just-forming, but i have to think that some of what we’ve created is pretty far off track the original idea. our human need to build, to protect, to demand a king is really strong and we see it repeated again and again in the scriptures. i appreciate your perspective!

      Reply
  • Wonderful analogy! I’ve never had any desire to take a cruise, but heading out on a small beat up boat with a group of friends, now that sounds like an adventure worth having!

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  • Kathy, I am a new visitor here. I just want to say how much I appreciated this post. It fits wonderfully with my own experiences as an ex-pastor, which I won’t bore you with here. I trust you won’t mind if I link to it on my FB page. Peace and blessings from a fellow sailor, who incidentally, has also picked up an oar to help row after jumping ship himself.

    Reply
    • thanks, will. glad you found your way here and of course, feel free to share anything here. i really appreciate you taking time to share. much peace to you out here in the open sea….we are in good company.

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  • Kathy – Thank you for your post. I found it via our friend Steve Knight @Knightopia @ The Missional Shift (http://ht.ly/bfYv8).
    I started my response while reading his post, before I’d gotten over to yours. At first I wrote: “I don’t think life raft is a good metaphor for church – that implies a desperation and end of the road kind of rescuing. It implies that the church has no resources, when the church is God’s and ‘the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.'”
    From there, I went and read your post here, and got a better idea, I think, of where you are coming from and where you are headed, so I added: “I get what she’s saying about folks jumping from the cruise ship into the dinghies, and that makes some sense, but its such a limited vision in my opinion. Maybe it is intended to be, as it is only speaking of a particular expression of church life, not the breadth of its glorious diversity. She is just describing the experience of those folks who have left the big ship and gone off to this missional church planting adventure. Me, I’m drawn to the transformation of the church in all its manifestations, from the inside. So, maybe not so many cruise ship or luxury yacht. What about a Mercy Ship bringing much needed aid to hurting people without resources or hope, or a Coast Guard Cutter patrolling and rescuing, or a fleet of light and agile one design sailboats riding the Ruach Elohim or a raft of canoes and kayaks floating an adventurous river, or a whole collection of different kinds of vessels (there’s a biblical word) to hold God’s children and accomplish God’s work on the great faith journey toward a place of wholeness and peace – and why can’t it be a tropical island while we are at it?”
    I’m glad that you have some people getting in to row with you. I think one of the roles for mid-size churches can be to provide the kinds of support (provisions/rations/resources/prayer) without expectations or strings (do it our way) that folks in your dinghy could use. After all, in the final analysis, we are all in this together, whatever this is.
    Blessings of fair skies and favorable breezes on your journey.

    Reply
    • thanks so much for sharing, ken. that was fun today to see steve reposting a piece of this and getting some input. i am a bit of a one-note-singer, always the same song, but i do have a high value for a wide variety of expressions of church. i often don’t express that as clearly as i could, probably because i think there’s plenty of resource and voice and energy already going that way. i feel called to raise this particular banner and play whatever small part i can in empowering others who can’t go back to any typical system. i am extremely sensitive to all the castaways out here who really can only make it in a dinghy or a life preserver at this point in their journey. i really appreciate your thoughts and indeed am glad for the important reminder of the bigger picture.

      Reply
    • I like that, Ken. I hope that more luxury cruise ships can find the heart to reconfigure into mercy ships!

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  • Hi Kathy, a friend on FB posted your article, which I read with great interest!

    Several years ago, Jesus took me on a journey in my heart. If I’m honest, I was only half interested in what, at the time, He was showing me. I now see it as vital to my future as a Christian….

    In a nutshell, He took me on a long journey in a small boat! In the vision, which took longer than it should have done, due to my lack of focus, I learned a great deal about being in a small boat with Him. We travelled a long way through storms and hardship. On the way, we passed many larger vessels going in the opposite direction! Huge cruise ships full of every type of ‘thing’ you could desire or need. I noticed many people jumping and falling from them! Strangely, I felt only pity for those on board and at that time, did not feel the Lord directing us to pick up those in the water!

    Last year, I saw a video on Youtube made of William Booth’s prophecy and vision (Founder of the Salvation Army). Worth a look, as it brought home to me a lot of what I had seen on the journey!

    This all coincided with us leaving ‘church’ and finding a different path. We have never looked back!

    The lord did not describe to me the boat we were in as a ‘dinghy’ or an ‘raft’. After we returned to ‘dry land’ and we dragged the boat ashore I noticed its name for the first time; Ekklesia! Jesus called it a ‘lifeboat’ and released us to do what He had called us to do with it!

    To Rescue those in peril in the storm……..

    Great blog, thanks.

    Ian

    Reply
    • ian, thank you so much for sharing this beautiful story and the journey you are on…saving lives…there are so many overboard…here’s to rescue and hope and freedom! peace.

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  • “some of us have bailed out, some of us were thrown over the deck.”

    …and some of us have fallen; and some went willingly because there’s no reaching or throwing from aboard.

    Thank you for writing this, so much. Solidarity makes the sea not so wide, and our boats not so small.

    (For what it’s worth, there are good reasons to suspect that the cruise ships are a lot less seaworthy and well-crewed than size alone would indicate. Which is worrying, because when ships sink they sink for *everyone.*)

    Reply
  • I am glad for pioneers, like you, who are willing to minister to the new emerging culture(s). Every culture and generation has to struggle for its values and expressions of faith. That does not mean one is necessarily better than the other. At 71 I have seem my faith tradition at both its best and weakest points. I am glad for the hospitals, homes, orphanages, homes, social agencies brought into being by my faith tradition. This includes many social issues we have lead forth for humanity including the battle for women and children.

    I have seen my faith tradition help other new groups and established faith groups. I know people have food and clothing and housing because of my faith tradition. Oh, Yes, our tradition (ship) is tattered and torn but trying to up-date itself -bridge the culture gap, etc. Yes, we will help you and others new up-starts. In the meantime, remember we have been where you are now. When your ship is old and tattered and torn there will be people who will jump over board. Help them, but don’t push them. Retired UMM Les

    Reply
    • thank you les, for sharing. so good. i am humbled all the time by seeing the long-standing work of so many faithful servants over the years, trying to learn, risking, building, failing, loving, practicing. because i came from an evangelical contemporary setting i missed out on so much that was happening in the mainline denominations. it has been refreshing in these past years to see how much work i had no idea was being done on behalf of justice & community development & so many things i care about. it is so important to celebrate and your comment reminds me yet again that more of that honoring is important. peace.

      Reply

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