Why Long Beach?
This is the primary question people ask whenever they hear us talk about planting a church in Long Beach. The motives are hilariously different depending on who is doing the asking. We have friends from the east coast who, when they hear the word ‘beach,’ comment, "Wow. Long Beach, huh? Was Hawaii not taking any new church plants?" Other friends, who are more familiar with Southern California, seem bewildered that we didn't choose a more appealing area. Our responses to each are the same. We sense the people and culture of Long Beach being a gift to us. And as we move into the second half of our lives, we have acquiesced to the gravity of Long Beach as the people and place to whom we give ourselves away.
Our story isn't primarily shaped by how we interpret city data and statistics. Every city has a population suffering under the weight of injustice living alongside those who are reinforcing the very structures that lean so heavily on their weary backs. We know that God's kingdom doesn't come without justice! That is why we vigilantly pray, “Thy Kingdom come,” as we wait for Christ's appearing. As we are woven into the fabric of the city, we will become more clear as to how we are to embody that prayer. Yet, we do not want to betray the nature of our calling, that is to be found among, as well as, alongside this city's people who the Spirit is always working in and with.
So, let us tell you our story. It is a narrative about how we didn't just choose a city, but how Long Beach chose us. In our sharing, we hope that you hear our attempt at echoing Mary's, "Let it be according to your will," without betraying any notion that what we are carrying and where we are headed to deliver her has been by both divine intervention and invitation.
Maybe you will feel a similar invitation to help shape this story.
A city that chose us
In 2012, we celebrated our 5th anniversary in San Diego because of a collective, yet uncoordinated, gift from friends and family. Our experience was so wonderful that we never stopped joking about planting a church there. Who wouldn’t want to be immersed in its beauty, perfect weather, and rich culture? As appealing as all of that is, we both were impressed with a unique sense of home while we were there. It was as if we had met our tribe. That became initially evident as Teddy anxiously tried on boardshorts at a local surf shop. The sales associate cautioned him to relax because the decision “wasn’t life or death.” The people were fascinating, the questions were different, and we were refreshed experiencing the culture of the city.
After we returned to Charlotte, the playful idea of planting a church in San Diego resurfaced every winter as we complained about the cold. It was only for our own amusement. A completely unrealistic wish dream that neither of us considered serious, until…
In 2014, the church we worked at, Renovatus, went through a significant transition. It opened us up to new possibilities where we proceeded to explore and discern what may be on our horizon. Our prayers were consistently directed toward Luke 2, specifically the Advent story of Mary. We realized we were pregnant and began to seek where we were to give birth to what the Spirit had conceived within us. California was always an option, but it was still nothing more than a fantasy. After months of waiting, we first heard the heartbeat of what we held when listening to a sermon from Dr. Cheryl Johns. It became a prophetic compass and provided a sense of gravity to Southern California that we could not deny.
Listen to Dr. Cheryl Bridges John's sermon <here>
We decided we needed to get back to San Diego, if only to get our feet on the ground with the hopes of finding a bush that might be aflame. Ironically enough, as we told our stories to friends and strangers, Long Beach kept coming up in our conversations. As far as we were concerned, our hearts were settled and only a divine act could divert us, but what could it hurt to visit there as well? At worst, we would get a nice drive down the scenic coast. So, we began our journey there, holding in tension some playful encounters with the mischievousness of God while being underwhelmed by Long Beach itself. We were eager to get to San Diego and left after only a couple of days.
Hear our mischievous encounters <here>
As we continued our journey along the coast through Costa Mesa, Carlsbad, and Encinitas, the further we traveled from Long Beach, the more we longed to return. And though our time in San Diego was fascinating and the neighborhood of NorthPark seemed to embody every idea we had for a space to give birth, we both knew we had to get back to where we began.
We returned to Long Beach with fresh eyes. At first, we were most intrigued by the intense diversity of the city, both culturally and economically. And after meeting with a local pastor, we were overwhelmed by the generosity and openness of the churches to welcome and support what little bit we knew of our calling. It seemed as if every bush were ablaze and we were invited to be kindled with them.
Our affections turned towards a place and people we had yet to know. A story is being written in Long Beach with an open invitation for us to join and our desire is to be immersed in it.