2002 was a year of wonderful transition. I had just finished seminary, had begun working full-time as a youth pastor in Pasadena, Ari and I had purchased our first home in Monrovia, and we welcomed Caleb into our family. It was a great year! During this transition Ari and I spent a lot of time getting to know our new neighbors, walking around our new city with Caleb in tow, and enjoying the life that God had granted us. Two of the families that we met were our neighbors on either side. Both households consisted of teenage children and single moms. As we got to know the families better, Ari began bringing the teenagers to youth group on Wednesday nights. We had a growing sense that this is what loving our neighbors looked like. We were thrilled with what God was doing.
As the year went on and we adjusted to becoming new parents, we realized that the late nights at youth group just weren’t working for Caleb. He needed to be home and in bed far earlier than youth group gatherings permitted. What we didn’t anticipate was that Ari and Caleb’s exit from youth group also meant our neighbors’ exit as well. After a few failed attempts at creatively getting them to and from youth group our neighbors’ involvement trickled down to nothing. Their moms could not get off work in time to bring them and we were unable to sustain their involvement.
As this transpired, I experienced a growing angst each day as I drove to work. I began wondering what it meant for Ari, Caleb, and I to follow Jesus’ command to love our neighbors. I found myself asking, “Why am I leaving my neighborhood every day in order to go and minister in another neighborhood?” This “holy angst” ended up being a means of God’s grace as we discerned a call to help with the birth of Mountainside Communion.
It was experiences and circumstances like this that initially got me thinking about starting a church. My wife and I loved the town and neighborhood that we lived in. We loved our neighbors and the friendships we were making. We wanted to be a part of the inbreaking of God’s reign in our community. We also were feeling the massive transition that is going on in the church at large, watching friend after friend leave churches because of a disconnect that they couldn’t put their finger on. Over the months and years, we began to sense that God might be calling us to something that we would have never guessed in years past, to start a church.
18 months after moving into the neighborhood I was at the local coffee shop preparing my teaching for youth group and became restless with what I was working on. I sensed deep within me that I needed to go in a different direction and teach on Micah 6:8 where the prophet Micah says to the people of Israel “[Yahweh] has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” I got up to get a refill of coffee, planning to sit back down and prepare what I was going to teach.
As I approached the counter, a ‘walrus looking’ man that I had seen in the coffee shop many times, grunted at me saying, “I know your mom.” Unsure of how to respond, I began talking with him wanting to hear about the connection. He knew my mom through the church that his wife attended, which happened to be the one that I was working at. I asked him if he was a part of the church and he snarled back at me, “Church is the most wasted hour of anyone’s week!” I was interested. We began to talk about church and I listened to all of the criticisms that he shared, many of which I was sympathetic to. At the end of our conversation he looked at me and asked if I might be interested in hearing about what type of church he would go to. I was obviously intrigued and enthusiastically said, “Yes!” He looked at me and asked, “Have you ever heard of the passage Micah 6:8?” I was blown away. As I have reflected on this experience, the passage from Romans 8:19 seems appropriate, “For the creation awaits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.” I was feeling stronger than ever about starting a church in the city of Monrovia to participate with what God was doing. After a long process of discernment, full of hopeful support and a few roadblocks to overcome, a group of fourteen of us gathered as a church for the first time.