Amid the chaos of trying to tie up like a bajillion loose ends before the end of the year, it occurred to me that it would be a good thing to take some time to reflect on what’s happened in Bloomland in the past year. I have a feeling that years from now we’ll look back on 2011 as a defining year for us. And while it is my conviction that we’re still in the process of “planting” this church in the soil of Denver (= we’re still, in many ways, in the “prequel” of the total Bloom story, at least in my opinion), this has been a crucial, and eventful, 12 months.
And so… without further ado… the 2011 Bloom Year in Review – some highlights:
- Our year began marvelously – with a carryover effect from a decision made in late 2010 to scrap the idea of meeting in a “grown up” meeting space (upstairs in the gorgeous sanctuary of First Baptist Church) and to do something more in sync with our roots. So we moved to the basement of FBC in December of last year with the goal of worshipping in a way that more closely reflected our values. We set our space up in the round (with the communion table at the center), worked hard on putting together gatherings that were more participatory and communal than spectatorial, and watched the community come alive in a beautiful way after a very difficult year (2010 – which I’ll get into more below).
It would be easy to dismiss such things as irrelevant to the life and mission of the church – but the truth is that that move was a crucial step in the process of Bloom (re)claiming her identity as a totally authentic community of folks shaped by the Jesus story for the purposes of God in the world. I am glad we made it.
- We had a brilliant Lent, which began with a simple yet powerful Ash Wednesday service in which we committed together to face our “dustiness” in light of the Resurrection. The season of Lent was a powerful time for us as people in our community dared to go to places that most people dare not tread, facing their “stuff” – the places of darkness, hurt, pain, confusion, faithlessness, failure, etc – with brutal honesty.
If you follow our community much, you know that the Christian calendar is something take pretty seriously. We do so not for the sake of slavish conformity to “religion”, but because we believe that the movements of the calendar powerfully shape us. The annual rhythm of facing the “death” of our lives in light of the Resurrection… I have a feeling will be seeing the fruit of this past Lent for years to come.
- Good Friday. MY GOSH. We had the good pleasure of organizing, planning, and leading a “Tenebrae” Good Friday service with a half dozen Denver-area churches.
1,800 people in attendance. 6 churches. Gathered together as one to worship towards the cross. It was SUCH a privilege to lead that gathering – a statement of how beautiful the Church can be when she takes the call to unity seriously. When the gathering was over, I remember walking out and down into a dark hallway to catch some time by myself. As soon as I hit the floor, I started crying. To be able to participate in something like that… what a privilege.
- We baptized four people on Easter Sunday, which was just so much fun. During Lent I led a baptism class which culminated – as it should – with the great public act of dying and rising with Christ on Easter Sunday. So freaking cool.
And then we entered the summer… After a pretty eventful spring, I had planned on making summer a more or less “quiet” time of recalibrating, resting, reading a lot, and thinking about the upcoming ministry year. In reality, it turned out to be almost UNCOMFORTABLY quiet. Maybe I forgot that students tend to go home for the summer and that non-students tend to take vacations. Either way, it was much quieter than I expected it to be…
…which turned out to be a really good thing. I turned 30 this July, which, planted as it was in the middle of what was already going to be a soul-searching time, made the summer a little EXTRA soul-searchingy (not a word, I know). The thing that I kept thinking was, “Am I living the life that I want? Does this community reflect the things I’m most passionate about? Have I planted the flag of what I’m willing to bleed over for the rest of my life deep in the soil of this place? And if not – why not?” And tied into that was a question for those of us in leadership at Bloom: “Are we leaning into the dream of this community – its guiding ideals – with all our strength, articulating that dream and those ideals with clarity, and inviting people to run with us?”
In many ways, this summer wound up being “put up or shut up” time for all of us. I remember having several conversations with Mandi in which I said, “Honey, I’m not going to do this halfway, dragging you and the kids through a decade of mediocrity. We’re either gonna make a good solid run here at what we believe most deeply in, or we need to move on.” Likewise, those conversations were had with Michael and Lisa Gungor, who resonated deeply. Let’s do this, or not do this… but nothing in the middle.
Can I just pause and say… those are liberating and DEEPLY innervating moments. It’s easy to let things settle. To let the dreams die. To let the ideals slip into obscurity. To just accept things as they are. And then every so often… there is a watershed; a moment in which you decide to fight for what you see in the depths of your soul, to go “all in” for what you think is right. Those are the best moments. Would to God that we had more of them.
And it was well we did. 2010 was an “identity crisis” sort of year for Bloom. I don’t think that any of us saw it as being that at the time, but it certainly was. The Arndts coming to Denver in late 2009 destabilized the identity of Bloom. Moving twice destabilized the identity of Bloom. The Gungors being gone much of 2010 destabilized the identity of Bloom. It was a very hard year.
Which is what was so important about this past summer. It was a time of coming together and saying, “What are the hills we’re willing to die on?” And for both families, the dream of reverse-engineering a community in which the guiding intuition was “If you put spiritual formation and mission on the front end of everything you do, the rest will follow…” was central. To see the Front Range saturated with communities of folks (house churches) learning to calibrate the whole of their lives to the reign of God in Christ and then living that reign before the watching world, causing the kingdom to “Bloom” wherever they were… that’s a dream to die for.
So we got up one Sunday night this past Fall, talked about our dreams and goals, and then announced what we were going to do about it. These were the results:
- We jumped from 2 to 7 house churches, as the Lord was kind enough to send us a handful of couples who had bought into the vision of Bloom and were ready-made to lead such communities.
- Those house churches have thrived and become exactly what we intend them to be: Gardens of resurrection planted in the middle of a culture of cynicism, despair, and ultimately, death. They are places where identity is being shaped and redemption is becoming a daily, lived reality. How glorious.
- We’ve seen attendance steadily climb to 150+ worshipping with us on Sunday nights, with most of those folks belonging to one of our house churches…
- We’ve seen giving steadily increase as people are owning the dream together…
- More and more folks have stepped into leadership and are owning their roles brilliantly… the Dave and Elise Overcashes, the Rusty Gateses, the Amy Bangtsons, the Nick Stevenses, the Jamie Mertenses of the world… and then our house church leaders: the Raulses, the Reitenours, the Hayeses, the Barretts, the Pendletons… strong shoulders pulling our community forward… how delightful to serve with these friends!
A “garden of resurrection”… it’s a guiding image for us. A month ago we held our first annual all-church Thanksgiving dinner. We had our normal gathering, then broke for dinner, reconvening around tables in our main worship space. The goal of the night was to build community by eating together and then hearing stories of what God’s been up to in people’s lives the past year… “testimonies”, if you will 🙂
We had no intention of this night turning into what it turned into. One by one, folks came up to the microphone and – to our great surprise – started sharing about what Bloom has meant to them.
I was in this really dark place, and then I came here… and things are totally turning around…
I can’t tell you what it’s meant to me to be in a community where it’s this safe to be honest…
I had pretty much given up hope on church when I wandered into this place… I’m starting to believe again in how beautiful the church can be…
It was quite frankly shocking. I fully expected people to share stories more or less “out there” about what God had been up to in their lives… to have them told in such a way that they wouldn’t make sense apart from their involvement in our community… Gardens of Resurrection… Michael put it beautifully in a leadership meeting several weeks later: “If that night was a physical checkup for Bloom, she passed it with flying colors.”
And so it is that I sit here at the end of the year (planning our first ever Christmas Eve service… woot!), unbelievably grateful for all that God is working in our midst and totally jacked up about the future.
So when you think about us – pray for us. And if your heart so moves you – give to us as well. Your prayers and gifts help make what we do possible… so thanks for being part of the story with us.
Grace and peace to you.