Pilgrimage to the Plains

This trip was in the works for a year and a half, so I wondered if – after so many months of anticipation – we’d feel let down or disappointed. But one of the joys of traveling to lesser-known and smaller destinations is that the unknown charms of a place can be surprising.  IMG_2794 3

After lunch and dinner in Omaha’s Old Market district (a lively neighborhood), our first stop was our tour of the Tri-Faith Initiative. Thank you to Eric Elnes who spent three hours with us, showing us the Temple Israel, Countryside Community UCC, and then taking us to Friday Prayer at the mosque.  IMG_2817

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I would be lying if I said that I was entirely without envy as I toured the gorgeous state-of-the-art church, a $26 million project completely paid for. But what I mostly felt was awe. It is uplifting to witness the thoughtfulness that led to the building’s design: the beloved pieces of stained glass from the prior church building that found a new home in this facility, the attempts to make the building as environmentally friendly as possible, the architect’s question to the congregation – “What parts of your old church mean the most to you?” (The answer was, “the coffee shop!”)

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We worshiped at Countryside on Sunday morning – how beautiful is this statement of faith? “We are an inclusive, open and affirming family of faith, welcoming all to God’s table of love and acceptance. We are diverse, yet united by Christ’s example. We care for one another, support one another and challenge one another to become all that God creates us to be. We work together to nurture our community and to promote peace and justice in our conflicted world.”

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The guys spent the day in Lincoln for the OSU/Nebraska game. Linda and I explored Omaha: serendipity everywhere we turned.

As Avon Lake UCC members know, my long-time dream has been for the church to open a coffee shop – a “third space” where ALUCC members would work, where we could hold Bible studies and book discussions…Omaha’s Urban Abbey is that kind of place and more. For 8 years, the Urban Abbey has sold coffee, books, fair trade items, and holds worship three times on Sunday – it is a church community for people who have been wounded by prior experiences of church, people who would never feel comfortable in a traditional church setting.

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At the Durham museum we saw an exhibit on race, the first national exhibition to tell the stories of race from the biological, cultural and historical points of view.

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The Joslyn Art Museum has a lovely collection of art…I may need to go back: opening this Saturday is an exhibit of the art of the St. John’s Bible.

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Tired and thirsty, we stopped for something to drink at a coffee shop that is also a bike shop — a non-profit that supports young adults who age out of the foster care system.

Sunday afternoon we toured the First Plymouth UCC in Lincoln where Jim Keck is the Senior Minister and Tom Trenney is the Minister of Music.

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Trenney directs a choral group called Sounding Light which is a near-perfect blend of voices. Hearing them perform in the acoustics of the First Plymouth sanctuary was breathtaking. One of the songs was set to these words from Meister Eckhart: “What keeps us alive, who allows us to endure? It is the hope of loving, of being loved…My soul has a purpose, it is to love.”

And then, the grand finale experience of the weekend: Jim Keck and Associate Minister Patrick Messer described every book of the Bible, in 40 minutes, in a packed bar!

I come home inspired – I was so grateful to see two of my ministerial colleagues and the thriving churches they help lead. Their personalities are very different, as are the two churches’ architecture and general style, but both are growing, healthy congregations – signs of hope for the mainline Protestant community.

I come home hopeful: that there are places like the Urban Abbey that are introducing the story of Jesus to people who would otherwise be turned off to it…hopeful that there are people imaginative enough to dream up a coffee shop that fixes bikes and cares for foster children…in unexpected ways and places, people are choosing hope.

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