Finding God

Finding God
On the pathway to Petra

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Finding a Path Forward

Where are we?
I think it's Israel, on a scholarly trip I took to the Middle East and Greece in 2004

When I look back at my calendar from April and May this year, I am struck by all the meetings.  These were not just church conversations, but meetings about what has become one of my least favorite topics: the buying and selling of property in a town known for its restrictions. Let’s not forget that Holy Week and Easter fell right in the middle of all these meetings.

There were regular house showings with Kitty, a residential real estate agent who had fallen from heaven (or so it seemed) into our Thursday afternoon bible study. Kitty is a somewhat estranged United Methodist who used to be very involved in a different church. She came to our bible study because someone in the group invited her.  During April, May, and June, Kitty showed me (and then church members) houses in the Chapel Hill area that might work for a future house-church.

I met with commercial realtors, too. Strangely, several of them hardly gave me the time of day, and one of them stood me up for a meeting. I thought this was odd, considering how much the property potentially was worth. In retrospect, I wonder if they believed the church would never agree to sell, and that meeting with me would be a waste of their time.  Finally, we found a great agent, Mike, who sat down with the chair of Trustees and me, explained things, and told us we needed to get a commercial appraisal done. Placing a price on the property would be tricky because church buildings seldom come up for sale in Chapel Hill, and the property was zoned residential.  I came to respect Mike hugely when he became a calming influence during several Trustee meetings.

I met with the commercial appraiser that Mike recommended, and showed her around the building.

I met with a United Methodist contractor who was able to advise me about Chapel Hill zoning and permitting challenges. Turns out he is the son of an U.M. elder who was my supervisor when I did a chaplaincy internship one summer at UNC Hospitals. His dad was a mentor to me and played a critical role in encouraging me to stay in ministry.

The district superintendent was always willing to talk on the phone whenever I needed clarification on what I and/or the church could or should do.

I met with the pastor of the Episcopal Church of the Advocate in Chapel Hill, to talk with her about the challenges of proper zoning and permitting. I loved the worship space of this little, growing church! They found a one-room, old country building of a closed Episcopal church, moved it to Chapel Hill, and plopped it down on the acreage they had purchased. As soon as I walked inside the little old sanctuary and saw the padded chairs arranged in a circle, I exclaimed, “You’re doing house church here!”  The pastor, Lisa, laughed and said she often changes the positioning of the chairs, piano, and Communion table. The former chancel has become a slightly elevated space for small children to play quietly under adult supervision so that they remain in the worship service.  The Advocate’s worship services always include Eucharist and end with a covered-dish meal.  I was so charmed by the whole set-up that I actually felt sad I couldn’t attend that church.  

In my office, I met with the representative of the Wesley Foundation at UNC, to gauge that group's interest in sharing space or living in a house, if Aldersgate bought one. The group was intentional about staying on campus, I was told. Even Aldersgate's current building (which is in walking distance of campus), would not work, I was told.  

I met several times with folks from the Missional Wisdom Foundation – the people who are “seasoned” in forming intentional living communities. One of these is a published spiritual director who, with her husband, lives in community with the dean of Duke Divinity and her husband.  After an uncomfortable two-hour conversation at their home, she needled me – yes, “needled” is the right word, or perhaps “provoked” is more scriptural – into contacting the priest at St. Thomas More Catholic Church, located next door to Aldersgate.

I was in an snit when I contacted him. But God was at work, and I ended up with a healthy dose of awe.

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