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!