Tiny Revolution: Dreaming of a ChurchBaby

Winter Sample Gates

Starting churches is in the blood of many immigrants in this country.

I grew up in a Presbyterian church that was young when we arrived in the late 70s because it was full of mostly newly-arrived Koreans chasing dreams of success, education, and making life really count. But the day in and day out of realizing the streets aren’t paved with gold and that bootstraps made little sense meant that church every Sunday was a chance to sort it all out and breathe in deeply. Sometimes it was also Wednesday and Friday, and maybe the occasional Saturdays. The Koreans can get fanatical. But each time in those gatherings, in the rented out basements, I watched my parents, all our parents, breathe easily, which meant they could also speak, and be heard, and listen, and sing, and laugh like they were shedding layers of that thick skin necessary to protect them and survive each day in this strange, hard country.

Church every week was a protest, it was resistance, it was a gathering in the darkness, and a way to be given life and light.

I know there’s hardly a tweet or post that goes by that I don’t invoke the words “vigil” or “demonstration” or “protest” or “resistance,” but that’s because these words articulate the kind of defense mechanism church is and was to my family, and to so many like my family. Church is a tiny revolution, says my dear friend and sister the Rev. Jodi Houge, and I feel this in my bones and marrow. Despite the many churches in my little college town, and that I am friends and colleagues with many of the pastors, and love and respect them and their work, I believe we need more tiny revolutions.

So I’m dreaming of a churchbaby.

It’s been swimming around in my soul for a while, this little zygote of a dream, ever since my first Executive Presbyter (Presbyterian-speak for bishop/superintendent/pastor to pastors), Jean Johnston, planted the possibility back in 2006. I had just started in my first call as an associate pastor and it was over a lunch in Flanders, NJ. She was scattering all manner of seeds: solo pastor, head of staff, church planter. And I was a hungry soil at the time – fascinated and wondering what would take root. Would I be able to handle it? Would I be smart enough, wise enough, saavy enough to do this kind of work? 

It’s 2016, and I’m still asking if I’m enough. For sure, one thing has not changed: I’m hungry. But I’m beginning to realize that perhaps this is enough for now. At least, it’s a beginning. I’m hungry for community, hungry for change, hungry for transformation, hungry for revolution.

I know in some ways I’ve already recently been a part of a kind of church plant with UKIRK at IU, which is a Presbyterian campus ministry, but I want to expand it so that it’s not only focused on a specific demographic but positioned more broadly. In doing so I hope to create more spaces for overlap between those connected to the university and those who have always held the deepest places of my heart – the people on the margins. In Bloomington, I see that being the homeless, transient, and working poor.

So, friends, this is what I’m thinking, doing, dreaming these days. And I’ll be writing out the process – as honestly, openly, and genuinely as possible – my reflections, my questions, my hopes. I am intentionally putting myself in those spaces and will begin: volunteering at the Shalom Community Center, working with Dan and the Interfaith Winter Shelter, and listening and learning from with those in the community who have committed their lives to these people. I’m talking with people who have business and startup experience about the possibilities of making this tiny revolution financially sustainable with pay-it-forward options. I’m dreaming about dinner church, story telling and peace making gatherings, interreligious vigils and protests, and a space for people to breathe, to listen, to speak, to laugh.

This may not turn into anything at all – I’m totally aware of that possibility. But, I believe in the meaning of process and journey, too, and am holding onto the hope that when you give yourself over to a God who loves fiercely and recklessly, then something amazing comes of it. It just may look different from the original blueprints. But I can’t deny the desire anymore, after all, it’s in my DNA. My father started a church, too. I do know one thing for sure though: Revolution will happen, at the very least, with me. And, that will never be an insignificant thing.

Journey with me, dear ones?

I change myself, I change the world. -Gloria AnzalduaClick To Tweet


Thank you to my sisters – who are also my inspiration and coaches in this endeavor: Kerlin Richter, Emily Scott, Jodi Houge, and Nadia Bolz-Weber.

5 thoughts on “Tiny Revolution: Dreaming of a ChurchBaby

  • January 11, 2016 at 12:14 pm

    Oh my goodness. This is awesome news and I’m excited to read about the adventure. The particular verbiage you use sounds a lot like Nicole LaMarche who planted a UCC church in Silicon Valley. Or maybe is planting? She would be an amazing conversation partner for you, I do believe. Blessings!

  • January 11, 2016 at 12:30 pm

    Yes. Yes. Yes. This is yours to gestate. Yes. Yes. Yes.

  • January 11, 2016 at 3:43 pm

    Our former intern at St. Gregory Episcopal Church in San Francisco, Anna Woofenden, is a Swedenborgian who last year started her own church plant in southern California. See her website here: http://gardenchurchsp.org/ She’s a great young leader and organizer.

  • January 11, 2016 at 4:04 pm

    No parent should ever claim to love one child over the others, but the feeling is there. I will always believe that Paul loved his brothers and sisters in Ephesus more than any others. I think that is true because they struggled in and against a powerful culture that opposed most of what God and His Son stand for. I can imagine them meeting in house churches all over the city, discussing how to live for God without condemning themselves with the authorities, how to shop in the Agora without paying tribute to Caesar or Artemis. Their revolution left its mark.

  • January 13, 2016 at 1:25 pm

    While I lived in Tulsa, I participated often in a home-based church that was intimate and served to create a safe space for focusing on one of the key components of Christ’s mission – relationships!! “In Him we are being built together, creating a sacred dwelling place among you (us) where God can live in the Spirit (Eph 2:22).” While I love the traditional church concept for many reasons, it does not always effectively allow for it’s members to truly personalize or share their deepest feelings, hopes, or fears. Small group activities are offered occasdionally and it is there where one could find a sacred place with the time needed to dive more deeply into Christ’s word while determining how it directly relates to their life in a personal way. I love the small group studies; however, from personal experience, as it relates to home-based churches, it can be extremely difficult to obtain someone who possesses both the insight and training of God’s Word as well as the humble leadership skills needed to maintain the course and intention of God’s will.

    Are you thinking that you’ll attempt to locate a lay minister or perhaps a retired pastor? I just fear that without trained leadership, what happens if along the way, we’re led astray? I understand that my thoughts are scattered but I guess I’m just thinking out loud. I LOVE this idea; I truly do! I just think it needs to be clearly developed, curriculum based, with explicit expectations regarding each individual’s contributions to the effort and throughout the church’s livlihood.

    Thank you for the effort you’ve already demonstrated and let me know if there’s anything I can do to help! You’ve brought up some GREAT talking points!

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