Onto the shores (at the end of Urban Bridge Church)

One only dies once, and if one does not die well, a good opportunity is lost and will not present itself again.

José Rizal

The problem was we loved the bridge too much. We got used to the rush of water under our feet. The non-committal straddle between the shores. The longing glances of the land-lovers. 

The bridge was never built to be a home. An exit? Sometimes. An entrance? Always. But a home. Never.

This Sunday we voted to close the best church I’ve ever been a part of. Urban Bridge Church is ending after nine years. We were asked whether we should continue, or not. It was the hardest ‘no’ I’ve ever had to write. It feels painfully cruel and heart-poundingly necessary at once. My ‘no’ met with other ‘no’s’ to seal the fate of our little community. 

I am proud of those no’s. They may turn out to be the most courageous thing our church has ever done.

And we have done many courageous things. 

Years before it seemed obvious, we opened our doors to the LGBTQ conversation. We screened a documentary on Lonnie Frisbee, the hippie preacher who struggled with his sexuality at the height of the Jesus People movement. We brought in the director, invited the community, and lo and behold, they showed up. We let the questions fly amongst 400 people. Through that difficult terrain, we walked in love. 

We walked in love each fall with the HIV/AIDS Walk for Life, up until this past year. We stood with those afflicted by this terrible desease and the stigma it carries. We made some of them dinner, for hundreds of Sundays, at the Kairos House hospice. We still do. We attended some of their funerals and played music for their vigils.  

We sent more money than made sense all around the world. And next door. We paid for new teeth to heal a broken smile. We built Mercy Homes in Rwanda to help young mothers. We helped a church thrive there. We invested in the future of friends serving Bangladesh, and just this spring sponsored more than 30 children from there. Those investments will outlive Urban Bridge by decades. 

We told stories and wrote songs and made art and designed liturgies. We wrote beautiful confessions and benedictions. 

We roasted pigs with Farm Doug and boiled endless pots of soup and went vegetarian at Padmanati. We were very good at hospitality.

More times than I can remember, we stood with our community members, offering money in tight spots, prayer in times of weakness and friendship when doubts and questions led us away from former communities. 

We had to courage to walk people into faith, but perhaps even more difficult, to stay with people on their way out. And beyond. 

As bad as we were at making our way out of the fog, we have remained pretty good and holding hands all through it. 

We believed in punk rock church planters and traveling folk singers in a 60 ft RV. We engaged the edges of ideas and paid our money and attention to philosophers and poets with something vital to say. We launched a church for University students and finally, this year, an art space for the Alberta Avenue community. 

Many of us left cozy homes and safer neighbourhoods to be with our new friends in the inner city. 

Many of us left solid standings with our denominations to move away from the shore, onto this bridge. Some of us will never return.

For nine years the waters have not stopped flowing beneath our feet. For nine years, we lived here, not quite home, but not where we’d left either.

But bridges are liminal. Temporary. Transitional by nature. And perhaps many of us have stayed here longer than we should have. 

There were problems we never could solve. How to get comittment from the non-comittal. How to lead a church that stressed not living life in churches. How to lead well without exerting control. How to worship expressively without making anyone express themselves. How to stay creative and inexhaustively inspiring without exhausting our limited resources. How to care for our children well. 

Urban Bridge was right for so many of us for so long, but everything changes. 

The world has changed around us. What was radical nine years ago is now happening in pockets everywhere. There are so many new places we can call home. So many ways to belong that didn’t exist before. We have even created some of those spaces. As the world has changed, so has the need for our existence as a community.

Over the years, we have said so many goodbyes. Many of them good. Some of them not. People have crossed this bridge to new faith communities. New cities. New countries. Some have crossed in the other direction. Followed their questions into the dark. For them, we have to trust other bridges. Other travellers. Other paths. 

The end of this community does not mean the end of our prayers and our loves and our dreams. This ending means we must choose a shore, or be cast into the flowing river. 

This moment, here and now, is critical. You and I must choose a new beginning. 

This is why this ending is hopeful. Because I believe so strongly in every one of us. I have seen our potential to love and to care and to make a difference. To bloom where we are planted. 

We have never been a flower that belongs in the garden. We have been a dandelion. Beautiful in its own right, but not in the eyes of all. Or even the eyes of many. We were planted nine years ago. We grew up tall and strong and bloomed fully perhaps 3 years ago. Bright and yellow as the sun. Then we began to change. To lose our petals. To molt into gray-white puffs. And now we are those softened seeds. Now the Holy Spirit is blowing on us. And we are needing to let go. To be carried on His wind. On Her breath. To plant our questions and our creativity and our mercy elsewhere. To spread.

We are an invasive species. This could never be the end. We are not the type that ends. We are into resurrection.

As we share our stories we are learning that each of us have felt a pull to one shore or another. We are learning that this was going to happen, with or without Darrell Muth’s resignation. But we have loved this bridge so much that we could not leave.  

In his resignation, Pastor Darrell has given us the gift of awakening. Of discomfort. Of unsettling. Of calling to the shores. Darrell and Cheryl, in their leaving, have given each one of us the gift of a new question; 

‘This bridge is worn right through by our use. Do I want to rebuild it? Do I need it anymore? Or is it time I move to a new shore? Or a new bridge?'

For my part, I’m choosing a new shore. I’ve had one foot off of the bridge, into the Alberta Avenue community, for quite some time. This moment gives me the courage to step fully onto that shore. To continue the Bleeding Heart Art Space we have planted. That’s my dandelion, and I will watch it grow. My family and I will worship with St.Faith’s Anglican Church. A community church here in our own neighbourhood, following the path of Liturgical worship we have moved towards as Urban Bridge Church. For us, this transition feels natural. Difficult, but perfectly in line with the story God has been writing for our own family.

For others, a different church experience calls. A new spiritual home. A United church. A Baptist church. Another PAOC church. One that is able to care better for the several young children born these past few years. One more in tune with our liturgical leanings. Or our wild edges. Or our ancient roots. Or our family rhythms.

Still others among us will build some new bridge. Not all of us are ready for a shore just yet. Some among us will take this bridge apart and from its pieces salvage a raft. Some of us may float long the river together for a time. It is for these friends that I will be praying hardest these coming days. 

And for Darrell, the one who heard the Master’s call to build this Bridge in the first place. The one who led us to believe it was possible. He was right. It was doable, and we did it. 

My prayer is that Pastor Darrell knows that. That we built what we set out to build and that within its design was its own demise. That there is no inherent value in going on forever. That all things die and become new things. That all seeds come from deaths. That this is no failure. 

Maybe we stayed too long, but if so we did that from love. Love for one another. Comfort among friends. Concern for where we’d end up if this were to end.

Certainly we said goodbye poorly at times. Dozens and dozens have left us over the years and it is a tragedy to not even know why. We could have done better. Always. And yeah, we need to own that. Learn from that. Grow from that.

But, my God, did we make a dent!

None of us will forget this bridge. Without it, we could never have crossed from one shore to another. Without it, we would have never learned just what it takes to build a bridge. The work involved and the glorious payoff. 

That will come in handy when the time comes to build another bridge. For some of us that time will come soon, for some later. But we are all bridge builders now. We just graduated.

We remain a restless crew. We still long for that rushing river. We continue to love bridges a bit too much.

May that never cease.

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