A Phoenix Story

We’re a Church, for Christ’s Sake

When you first approach the Phoenix Project, you might be tempted to voice the question that we hear on an almost daily basis… WHAT is this place? It is an understandable question, to be honest. You probably see the flock of teenagers and young adults gathered in front of the building. They are a beautiful and diverse bunch – some wearing school uniforms, others in the latest Blood on the Dance Floor t-shirt; some with hair of natural colors and some without; tall, short, and average; gay, straight, pan, trans, cis, and questioning; flamboyant, reserved, gregarious, and passionate – it bears repeating, they are a beautiful and diverse bunch. Many come for the free wi-fi or coffee and they stay for the community. You might notice the donated furnishing, the No -isms sign on the wall, the sound system, and the musical instruments. Your eyes might just gloss over the chalice, plate and font that are displayed right in the front window and, despite the fact that is bright yellow, you probably won’t notice the sign in the window that says ‘The Phoenix Project’ in large, orange letters. We have been asked if we are a music store, resale shop, coffee shop, and community center. No one asks if we are a church.

So… what IS this place?

You probably will hear a lot if you walk in the door… loud music, laughter, and voices; a bit of drama and emotion; some swearing and some blessing, although those two can at times be indistinguishable. If you ask your question, you may get a variety of answers and I hope that one of the first answers you get is ‘The Phoenix Project’ although that doesn’t give you much more information that you came in with. Someone else might say Freak Flag, which is somewhat accurate even though Freak Flag is more of a group than a place. You could call us a drop-in center, a computer lab, a resource center, a outreach place, a mission outpost – and yes, you could even call us a church, even though most people don’t. Oddly enough, you are likely to hear the church word invoked primarily in two situations. The first is if I happen to be the one greeting a new person. I often start by saying we are a Presbyterian Church ad follow that to say that we function as a drop-in center. The second situation is when someone’s language gets too colorful or their behavior reaches unacceptable levels of rambunctiousness – then you are likely to hear… HEY! Calm down… this IS a church after all. That is often followed by the question, ‘THIS is a CHURCH? We get quite a few first time visitors during our open hours and we could probably do better with our initial orientation.

So… what is THIS place?

In truth, we are all of these things and more. However, the question itself, with its emphasis on the THIS, begs a bit more specificity. What is THIS place that makes it not that place or another place altogether? This place is the Phoenix Project, a Presbyterian experiment in doing church in a new way. On our best days, this is a place where people from all walks of life can come in and find grace, love, conversation, community, and welcome. In our less than ideal moments, we still have computers and coffee but that might come with a scent of bodies, hairspray, and stale pizza. However, if you have eyes to see, even on the latter occasions, this is always a place where you will experience and witness God at work in the lives of those who enter, constantly creating and recreating us in her image. This is a place where people are invited to participate in what God is doing and a place where you can find the support and encouragement to figure out what that might be. God is doing different things with all of us and we all have to discern our own answers to that question.

So…what is this PLACE?

We are a storefront in the middle of Lakewood, Ohio and we share our block with a bar, a temp agency, a yoga studio, a few restaurants, and a transcendental meditation shop that has never been open. We exist in approximately 800 square feet of space and have one room with a door (well, two if you count the bathroom and I suppose that one is pretty important). Our sanctuary doubles as the main gathering spot during the week. With only one pew, it looks less like a sanctuary than it does a large, poorly furnished living room. In the back of the building we have a computer lab that is home to three desktops computers and a donated copy machine. The computers are getting old but they run Linux Ubuntu just fine and allow people to access the internet, do basic word processing and accomplish other tasks. Our basement provides us with a utility sink in which to wash dishes and some additional gathering space. It serves a practice room for a couple of bands and most recently provided a place for a friend to hold a latin drumming class. My office holds our library, a desk and the aforementioned. Tomorrow I will cede the office to a man from S.A.F.E network who has volunteered to come in and do free testing for HIV/AIDS. We have a youth group and a young adult group that hold meetings here and on the weekends you can find us showing movies, hosting open mic nights, doing bible study, having our worship service and sharing communion.

So, what is this place?

This is the Phoenix Project and we have always has a interesting relationship with our place. We began in local coffee shops and people’s living rooms. We have officially had two different locations and a period of about 8 weeks where we were homeless and borrowing space for worship from a sister congregation. As much as we appreciated their generosity, it didn’t take long for us to realize that their parlor was definitely not our place. In a more abstract sense, it is also hard for us to define our place in the larger world. Our status as a new church development means that we have very little place within our denomination. Until we become an official church it often feels like we are invited to take our place at the kids table while the grownups talk. In Lakewood, we exist in a sort of limbo between religious community and small business.

When it comes down to it, it is difficult to define the Phoenix Project as a place. We inhabit a box of a storefront, but we constantly stretch the boundaries of whatever place we are in and whatever place in which we are put. The Phoenix Project isn’t a place, it is a concept, a movement, a community, and a witness. We are a group of people striving together to grow in faith and faithfulness to a Gospel that, at its heart, is about love and God’s radical redemptive grace. Some people would agree that church shouldn’t be somewhere you go, but something you do. The Phoenix Project is something we do every time we recognize God at work in the world and we choose to participate. The Phoenix Project is what we do when we live into our own resurrection on a daily basis, rising from our ashes and flying. The Phoenix Project is what we are doing each time we choose life over death, creation over destruction, mercy over vengeance, and hope over fear.

We are a church, for Christ’s sake.

Sunday Dinners

The Phoenix Project invites you to

 Summer Sunday Dinner

June 30 ~ July 28 ~ August 25 at 5:00pm

On the final Sundays of June, July and August, the Phoenix Project will host a potluck meal for the community.  Anyone is welcome to join us for fellowship and food. Bring a dish, a beverage or snack to share – or just bring yourself.

 The Phoenix Project

13613 Detroit Avenue

Lakewood, Ohio 44107

Fundraiser on Saturday June 22. 1-5pm

The Phoenix Freak Flag group will be holding  a fundraiser on June 22  at Grace Presbyterian Church in Lakewood, Ohio  from 1-5pm to support the Dougbe River Presbyterian School in Liberia.  Join us for live music, food, and information and help support Freak Flag and this excellent project.

  • The Dougbe River Presbyterian School is a mission of the Presbytery of the Western Reserve (based in Cleveland, Ohio) to build a school in a remote, extremely impoverished area in the west African nation of Liberia. We believe there has never been a school in Twarbo (TWI-bo) Region, which is part of Konobo District, which is part of Grand Gedeh County. The mission comes from a call felt by Isaac Monah, a Presbyterian elder who grew up in Twarbo Region. Isaac fled Liberia during a civil war in 1990 and now lives in South Euclid, Ohio, with his wife and three sons. More information is at www.drpsl.com.

Celebrating Five Years at the Phoenix Project

It was a balmy August day in 2007 that the Phoenix Project held our first public gathering.  There were two of us at the local Irish Pub for our first theology pub.  Since then, we have welcomed many friends and said goodbye to others.  We have changed locations because our spot was unexpectedly closed.  We have discussed countless topics and shared our faith (or lack thereof) with each other.  We have learned about Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Atheism – and I think we have all been challenged a bit as we listened and responded to those with whom we may not see eye-to-eye.

It was a chilly winter day in December of 2007 that we gathered for our first worship service in Susan’s apartment.  Since that time we have worshiped in many places and with many people – in a park, in multiple storefronts, with the Occupy Clevelanders, and even in a church (although it was in the parlor, not the sanctuary).  We have shared communion with friends and with strangers and we have prayed, in the words of Michele, for everyone and everything.  We continue to gather for weekly worship and hear the psalms of our day as sung by Black Sabbath, ICP, Bad Religion, Jennifer Knapp, John McCutcheon, Jewel, Sinead O’Conner, and many many more.

It was an even more chilly day in January 2008 that the Phoenix Project gathered to celebrate the ordination of our organizing pastor (that would be me).  Although we had already been establishing ourselves as a community, this particular celebration gave us a seal of approval from the Presbytery of the Western Reserve.  I still remember being surrounded by friends and family, pentecostals and presbyterians, people that watched me grow up and those who would watch me grow old – it was an amazing celebration.

It is hard to believe that it has been five years.  So, imagine my surprise when Susan invited me to the local bar for a beer on January 10, 2013 but said we needed to stop by the church real quick.  As we walked toward the building I noticed my dad sitting in the front room, then I noticed Ooman Thomas, and my mother… I thought… shit, what is this, an intervention?  Susan put her arm around me and said “happy five years of ordination dear’.  Needless to say, I was completely surprised.  It was awesome.  I received blessings and love from so many people that day and I was especially moved to see many of the young folks from our youth group had not only helped to clean the church for the party but also wrote notes to me about what the Phoenix Project has meant to them.  It was an honor and a great joy that I will never forget.

We have had our growing pains.  We will always struggle with finances and stewardship.  Our space isn’t big enough and we would love to have more people.  However, after five years, I am still humbled by the trust and faith of so many people that have enabled me to lead this ministry.  I am encouraged by those who have found in the Phoenix Project, a safe space to explore the questions of faith.  I am proud of the folks who have stepped up to the challenges that emerging ministry presents.  and I am deeply deeply grateful to those who have made this experience possible.  From the very first participants who saw a vision before it was fully formed, to the members of presbytery and the denomination who have continued to support us financially even when they don’t completely understand what we do, to my family who have endured my endless rambling and exposition about our church, to the participants who have continued to step up and do whatever needs doing, and to Earl for leading our youth program and being a great friend and lastly to my partner Susan who has been my rock, my touchstone from the very beginning.

Thank You all,  Here’s to another five years!

What’s Happening at the Phoenix Project?

Join us at the Lakewood Village Tavern every Monday night at 8pm for Theology Pub.  An open discussion about topics involving life, faith, and other random stuff.

Stay tuned in September for Friday Night activities at the Phoenix Project…open mic night, watching Rent, and a DJ night.

Worship is every Sunday at 5pm and Bible Study happens every Saturday at noon.

sunday worship

we won’t be gathering for ‘official’ worship this sunday as many of us will be in Pittsburgh for the General Assembly of the PCUSA but… Jerome will be there to welcome anyone who shows up and if you would like to read a sermon… read this one:  Proud of Us

This is going to be an fabulous week.  Please keep me and and all the other commissioners in your prayers as we seek to be guided by the holy spirit and her wisdom to help the Presbyterian Church (usa) be a strong witness to the Creative Divine in our world.

 

 

General Assembly of the PC(USA)

Please pray for myself and all the other commissioners to the upcoming gathering of the General Assembly in Pittsburgh.  We will be discussing, discerning, and debating many issues currently facing our denomination including: ordination standards, marriage equality, our investments and peace in the Middle East, peacemaking, and global mission.  You can follow the conversations, the issues, and the news at this event here.  Also, you can find a live stream video of the plenary sessions here

I am honored to have been elected as a commissioner and I am looking forward to what should be a awesome and spiritual event.

Welcome Friends from Cleveland Pride Festival

On Saturday, June 23, the Phoenix Project and our youth group (Freak Flag) celebrated Gay Pride with thousands of others.  We had a great time meeting you all and hope that at least a few of you will take the opportunity to visit us at 13613 Detroit Ave in Lakewood.

We have open hours Monday through Friday from 12pm – 8pm and you can always join us for Worship at 5pm on Sundays.  Please note that we will not be having a worship service on July 1st or July 8th (although someone will be here to welcome you should you decide to stop in).

Our Theology Pub on Monday nights is also a great time to visit the community, enjoy a cold beer, and have riveting theological discussion.  Theology Pub will start again on August 6 at Sullivan’s Pub and Restaurant in Lakewood.

Phoenix Underground… June Schedule

June 8th – 8:30pm – Open Mic Night

bring your poems, your music, your spirit and enjoy the creativity that will jump off

June 15th – 830pm – Movie Night

Slumdog MIllionaire – watch the movie and discuss afterward. bring your own beverage, popcorn provided.

June 22nd – 8:30pm – Band Night featuring Vitrus

other bands to be announced

Phoenix Underground in May

Here are the dates for the Friday Night Events for The Phoenix Underground: On May 11th- Open Mic Night ; on the 18th, Film Night, “Once Upon A Time in the West” a Sergio Leone classic; on the 25th we kick off the Memorial Day Weekend with an all out Phoenix Underground jam fest. If you are a new band and haven’t played out yet, you are encouraged to look us up.