Skyline Chili, Grater’s Ice Cream and Busken Bakery in our future.

After 12 years in Atlanta (the longest I’ve lived anywhere), we’re packin’ up and moving to… Cincinnati, Ohio. I know, it’s not the most likely of moves, but then again maybe not that surprizing. Back in seminary I attended church with a few couples from Cinci, so Kelley and I had our eyes on it in 2004 when I graduated. But it fell off the radar as things in SW Atlanta began to really get traction. Our time in Atlanta is impossible to summarize in a few sentences. But suffice it to say we enjoyed some great experiments, learned and taught in amazing seminary settings, saw deep life change through several shared faith communities, curated worship and arts in churches around the city, shared countless meals, laughter and love with all sorts of wonderful folks in our inner-city community and played a part in building a vision and approach in SW Atlanta for community-based youth leadership development.

Then about a year or so ago, news that our Presbytery would be pulling denominational funding from Neighbors Abbey combined with other seemingly random closed doors to wake Kelley and me up to the possibility of relocating. With some counseling, prayer, and over many tears and beers we decided to short sell our home, to look for a new spot to raise our kids, and for me to lead from within a more stable team framework as a specialist in arts and worship curation. I also knew I would be releasing both my first worship album and my first book in 2012, so such a job would need to be stable and well-integrated with our family life. We started searching in November 2011 and hoped/expected the search to lead us toward Minneapolis or as far as Seattle or Porlandia.

But that same time a committee of folks from Northminster Presbyterian Church were searching for an entrepreneurial thinking artists to direct the transformation of their two 12 year-running contemporary worship services. Located in Finneytown, OH a small community adjacent to Cincinnati (about 15 minutes from UC, and less than 10 from the Northside district), Northminster is home to a farmers market, a vibrant 100+ youth group, a staff of three other pastors, and hundreds of musicians. When one of the pastors, Nancy Ross Zimmerman first called me about it, I thought, “Cincinnati? We belong further west than that.” But as the friendship unfolded they were just the kind of place Kelley and I had been looking for. So, many Skype calls, conference calls, and a weekend family visit later we decided it was where we were being pointed to next.

But, since this is a blog, I’ll try to also be a bit more transparent.

  • I’m nervous to be part of a big old church. I’ve spent a lot of time since seminary being critical of overly organized religion. From our first dates I have experienced Northminster to be very hospitable, engaged in their socio-economically diverse context, and inviting transformation. But first dates are just that… (They’ll probably be saying the same about me by mid summer).
  • And I’m not romantically inclined toward Ohio. Yet there are lots of festivals and music that I’m hearing about, and I was pumped to discover most of my architect and design friends LOVE the city- so there’s a lot for me to learn.
  • I’m apprehensive about moving off of a diverse inner-city block, away from third wave coffee and indie music venues… and yet I’m even more weary at the prospect of staying on our corner here in SW Atlanta, with the state of burnout we’ve reached. I’m psyched that I’m heading to a church where last bullet of their vision assessment reads they expected their worship curator could “be a non-conformist.” So who knows how that will all play out.
  • I’m scared to know if God was behind all this. If you know me well you know that even though I’m a follower of Jesus I don’t feel comfortable blaming all the bad or good in life on God. Somewhere, in the ether that is life’s creative mystery, I believe that pain cannot simply be a divine curbing mechanism, nor success a proof of God’s endorsement. I’ve lived next to too much undeserved suffering and watched too much ambition-skewed visions of success. All that said—I think this opportunity is a God-send, and I’m holding loosely to any convictions otherwise.
  • I’m curious about the opportunity to collaborate with some of interesting people in/near Cinci: Bart Campolo, Walter Breuggeman, Peter Block, Will Samson, Mandy Smith, Aaron Klinefelter, Cam Cochran, Jill and Jona Hicks, Ric Hordinski, and Linford and Karen with Over the Rhine, to name a few. I’m not sure if it’ll work out to see any of them often, but its an interesting new horizon.
  • I’m also intrigued by the ways that this path brings me to Midwest (I was born in Grand Rapids) and a church community that is more similar to where I grew up. I return a different person politically, culturally, and spiritually, but I’m also willing to admit that I might learn more about integrating my upbringing into my lived story by being in a healthy incarnation of large Midwestern church. I’ll need some customized braces to guard against some of my classic knee-jerking.

Who knows what the years ahead will hold for us? I can’t say enough about how much we’re already missing Atlanta the place, the people, and dreams of what could have been. I do bless the future work that the presbytery, and my neighbors, and other great partners will be continuing after we have move and I wish y’all the best.

We’ll be pulling out on May 30th, and have an open house planned (hosted a couple blocks from our home by our former community/housemates) for Saturday May 27 May 26th from 1-5pm (that'll be up on Facebook soon)… If your in town that Memorial Day weekend it would be great to see ya! But if you’re nearer to Cinci and wanna meet up for chili, icecream, or donughts, I’ll see you in June!