I was smoking a cigarette on the porch when Kyle called me. It was spring and I had just got done with finals at Portland State University. I was sitting on my tiny porch off Sixth Avenue in downtown Portland, looking out across the stream of cars crawling towards the city center, like ants.
“Hey man,” I said.
“Hey. What are you up to?”
“Cool. You leaving for camp soon?”
“Yeah, next Monday.”
“Well look, I have a question for you, and I’d like to run it by you before I leave.”
“How about tomorrow morning?”
“Where do you want to meet?”
The next day I rode my bike over the Hawthorne Bridge, turned right on the Esplanade, then left, and rode all the way to Division. Genies was a breakfast joint on 11th and Division.
Kyle was already there. We ordered breakfast and he told me the generals. People wanted him to start a church in Salt Lake. He asked me about my experience starting a church in Denver. I told him what I thought.
Two years ago I lived in Denver with 18 people. Fourteen adults, three kids and one baby. We pooled all our resources for funds, worked together, lived together, did church together. It was great.
“Why’d you leave?” Kyle asked.
“Mostly, I wanted to move to Portland. Kevin kept pressuring me. And I didn’t want to live in Colorado my whole life. Also, I didn’t agree with everything the church was doing.
“Yeah, like what?”
“Well, nothing big, I still love everyone there. Just things like they wanted to be a mega-church, and market themselves all over the place and there was lots of drama, and nothing necessarily wrong with those things, just personal preference I guess.”
“And I have always loved Imago, since I visited back in the day, when it was small, meeting in Laurelhurst.”
“Also, I think there’s enough churches in the world. I don’t think we need any more buildings. I do think we need CHURCH though, you know capital church with capital letters.
“Yeah.” Kyle said. Then with a very excited face said, “Check this out.”
Kyle told me his whole story. Then he asked if I would be interested in something like that. I said yes. That since Denver, it had been on my heart, church planting that is. Kyle said nothing was for sure yet. He said he would keep me updated over the summer.
I said, “Okay.”
After summer was over, we talked again. I was in a weird place, had been for a year, and still am I guess. I was disillusioned, tired of church, had so many doubts I didn’t know what to do with, angry at God. The reasons were many. I was also depressed, slightly lonely, drinking a fair amount and sometimes silently prayed that a bus would hit me on the way to work and it would all be over.
Mostly I just didn’t care. I wished I cared more. I really did.
So I met with Kyle at the Imago offices at Evangel and as we conversed I watched the yellow leaves of fall start to slip off the great big tree outside his second story window.
He told me that everything was on track. The Imago elders had met with the Orchard group, both Rick and Luke (the executive pastor) felt like it was a good thing, and basically everything was falling into place and there wasn’t a reason not to go.
Kyle asked me if I was still interested. I was. I was very much excited in fact. But I also wanted to be honest with Kyle about where I was at. So I said to him, “Look man, I am interested and I’d love to go but…I don’t really have my shit together.”
“Yeah.” I said, and explained.
I explained that I didn’t know what I thought about the Bible, didn’t know what I thought about hell, didn’t know what the meaning of life was, how most days I didn’t want to be a Christian, how most days I just wanted to get drunk and sleep with a pretty girl, how I felt like less of a Christian than I have my entire life, how I just wanted it all to be over, how I felt like David Bazan, etc. Maybe this was young 20’s angst, maybe not.
Kyle listened intently, and then said, “Look man, that’s fine. I’m okay with that, I know who you are and I like your honesty and I think people in that city could use some good ol’ fashioned grit and authenticity.”
So it was then that I said, “I’ll go.”
Though, as Woody Allen says in Annie Hall, I was a little nervous about a club that would have me as a member.
Slowly the word gets out. First Kyle and Joy announce the news to their home community (which I am a part of). Most everyone nods and says that this would be a great idea, and good luck and blessings and so forth and then Kyle says, “And if anyone wants to join, we’d love to have you.”
Then there is silence.
But people start thinking. First Jeremy and Emily decide to think about it, they have three kids—Cole, Avianna and Alidia. They decide to go.
Lucas decides to go. He is a bible student at Multnomah University, is part of our home community, and helped Kyle with the Junior High. He also has a mustache and an Elliot Smith tattoo.
Beth and Howie say no. Then after a few months, say yes. They live in Gresham and have two twin boys named Noah and Nate. Howie is finishing his degree at Western Seminary.
Becca is on the fence. She decides to go. Then decides not to.
Other people think about it. And this is just our home community.
Next comes Eric and Nish. Eric is a raft guide. Nish works for Imago. They just had a baby. Then comes Noah and Katie, newlyweds.
Then comes the big kicker. Kevin and Karen. You see Kevin and Karen have been with Imago from the beginning. I think Karen was the first paid staff member. So for them to leave is a big deal, but Kevin remarked that one of the things that got him stoked about Imago in the first place was Rick’s desire to be a church that plants other churches. He just kinda forgot about that. Neither of them would ever have imagined leaving Portland, or Imago. Yet, they decide to go.
After a few months Imago announces it to the congregation. It is December 2009. More people start thinking. A guy named Jonathan hears this and can’t believe his ears. He goes to Imago Dei Vancouver and for years has wanted to move to Salt Lake or Park City for ministry, but just didn’t feel like the timing was right. Now he knows why.
Then another surprise, Nash and Kora and their daughter Bellie, they lead the Buckman home community. Nash used to be an arts pastor in Seattle, when Mars Hill was just starting out.
And the list slowly grows. By May 2010, over 25 people from Portland have committed to moving to Salt Lake. Noah and Katie, both musicians at Imago, decide to come to.
The amount of talent is staggering. And I don’t mean talent in just the superficial way, like we have the best musicians. I mean the depths of everyone involved is staggering. The richness of people’s souls. The love dripping through their pores. The solid marble character. The truth, the beauty, the community.
But we do have musicians, and artists, and writers, and speakers, and justice workers, and moms, and dads, and raft guides, and children’s pastors, seminary students, interior designers, vegans, gardeners, paralegals, etc.
We have so much talent, but like I said what’s even more staggering is the depths beneath. It is unprecedented I’m sure, although probably not, but I like to think so, it appears so, has to be so.
So we start to have prayer meetings and gatherings, informational sessions, vision casting, storytelling.
Everyone is excited. This all takes place from about September 2009 to December 2009. And before we know it January rolls in the new decade and Kyle and Joy are the first to move to Salt Lake towards the end of the month. Kevin and Karen go next in the middle of February. So does Jonathan. Next comes me. Then Nash and Kora in May.
And throughout the summer everyone trickles in. Like a small creek, melting from the peaks of Northwest, and steadily driving over the hills, the desert, through Eastern Oregon, Idaho, Nevada maybe, over the Wasatch range, and down into the valley of the Salt Lake.