The story of how City Beautiful LA came to be

Instructions for living a life:

Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.
- Mary Oliver

This poem by Mary Oliver, courageously entitled, “Instructions for living a life,” is an inspiration. The most astonishing part of her claim is its simplicity.

All we are asked to do is take notice, to be in awe, and to proclaim to the world what we know.

It is no surprise that this advice translates well to my specific vocation as a preacher, for we are tasked with the beautiful gift of telling a story. But not just any story. THE story. The story of our salvation.

But, telling the story today has new challenges. Gone are the days when Sunday morning church attendance was no less optional than Monday morning work attendance. People can find God in the sunset, on the beach, or, they can choose not to find God at all. 

I feel clear that God is calling me to build a faith community in Los Angeles that can provide the sort of worship and community people are drawn to, but also offers an understanding of God’s inclusive love and grace which people are hungering to receive. I feel a particular draw to the urban center of LA because it represents what I understand to be the Kingdom of God. City Beautiful LA exists to gather a congregation that is truly diverse in age, gender, sexuality, ethnicity and status. 

I also believe that our expectations for church cannot be contained in the walls of a building, because our God cannot be contained there. 

Previous generations have built a temple for their children to maintain. Now, these temples have become our idols. We strive to fill them, we take on debt to repair them and we force temples to meet the needs of an ever-changing congregation. It is virtually impossible to fulfill our mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” when our primary responsibility is paying the insurance bill on time. We have become disciples of our physical plants, rather than disciples of Christ, the cornerstone.

We have a particular challenge in this modern era of church, in that we have the privilege of re-defining how we understand ecclesiology. We know that the numbers are changing. There are fewer people in worship on Sunday mornings, and a smaller percentage of those people are in their 20s and 30s every year. This means that the church cannot be about the institutions that we’ve built. Our temples are decaying, but despite any evidence to the contrary, the body of Christ is not. As we look back, we know that "The apostles saw Christ in the flesh, but they did not see the church. We, on the other hand, see the church, but not the incarnate Christ. For both the Apostles and later Christians, that which is visible leads to faith in the invisible."

           The church is changing.

           People are changing.

           Our fear is that the church is dying.

With all that I am, I believe that the church is not going to die. The Body of Christ is much stronger and vital than we may ever realize.

Last year, I had the privilege of getting to know and work with the people who lead the Beer and Hymns OC Gathering. This is not a denominational movement, it's not a non-denominational gathering. It is simply excellent music, traditional hymns and people, young and old, packed wall to wall.

I was so moved at the sight. People are out there, finding church in a bar. Singing hymns that our grandmothers sang. Singing with vigor, with spirit, with a pint of IPA. They are becoming the body of Christ, praising the name of the Lord. But not just millennials, older people, married people, gay people, straight people, un-churched people, life-long churched people, rich, poor, all of them are represented in this room, where the only invitation is to lift a voice in song.

I believe that we don’t need to fret about the church's death. It's not dying. It's changing. The metamorphosis of the church and the way in which we gather and worship means that we have to adapt to how we do our sacred work, because God cannot be contained in a box or a tent or a temple. And, neither can the body of Christ.

It is my goal to work to build a faith community that embodies what the whole of the UMC proclaims to be: a church with Open Hearts, Open Minds and Open Doors. I hope to encourage a faith community that is a place to question, doubt and struggle. I envision a community that offers offer spiritual formation, and fellowship, with an emphasis on service and mission. I envision a community who strives to model kindness and compassion, acceptance and an open welcome to all, which offers the sacraments as a means of grace. I envision a community who offers the love and grace of the crucified and risen Christ.   

I believe that it is not our duty to build a temple for God. It is not even our duty to maintain the temples that were built before us. It is our job to receive the kingdom that God has built for US. We do not make the house… God does. This is the true nature of our ecclesiology, the church – God has built it for us, and we are the good stewards of God’s name. Who we are is church. God’s presence cannot be contained, and so we must continue to look for God in the myriad of places in which God may appear. For, we are not stewards of the temple. We are the Temple, which God has built. Paul writes that, “Christ is building you into a place where God lives through the Spirit!” So, my calling is to build a faith community which can share that Spirit with all who seek to know the loving and ever-present God.

Revelation 21:1-6: A City Beautiful Like No Other

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. 

Mandy McDow