Transforming Engagement: the Podcast

Christ & Cascadia with Rev. Dr. Forrest Inslee | Podcast Season 06, Episode 01

Welcome to a new season of Transforming Engagement, the Podcast! On this podcast, we are dedicated to exploring how each of us can serve God and neighbor in our unique communities and contexts. This season, we’re inviting you into our extended backyard – the unique tapestry of the continental Pacific Northwest, defined by its watershed, and known as the “Cascadia” region. 

Here, ministry takes on its own distinct flavor. This season, we’re asking: What sets Cascadia apart from other regions of the US and Canada? How do those differences shape our ministries, and how do leaders here understand their role in shaping those ministries?

We’re kicking off this season with a conversation with Forrest Inslee, who brought the Christ and Cascadia journal into The Seattle School. Forrest is a professor who is involved in faith-based environmental education and advocacy nonprofit called Circlewood. He also hosts a podcast for that Circlewood called Earthkeepers, which focuses on helping Christ followers to integrate creation care into everyday faith practices.

Join us as we explore:

Wherever you’re listening from, we hope these conversations inspire reflections on how you’re serving in your own context. 

 

Listener Resources: 

About our guest:

Rev. Dr. Forrest Inslee is the Associate Director of Circlewood, and the host of the Earthkeepers podcast. He has also served as a graduate professor of international community development for 20+ years at Northwest University. More recently he helped develop the Resilient Leaders program and the Thriving Congregations program for the Center for Transforming Engagement at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. He earned a BA, MA, and PhD from Northwestern University in Chicago, and an MA in Theology from Regent College. He has a daughter currently studying at SPU, and lives in Edmonds with his dogs Nigel and Suzie.

Episode Transcript

Kate: Welcome to Transforming Engagement: The Podcast where we host conversations about ministries that serve the common good and a higher good. Today we’re talking with Forrest Insley, who is, well actually Forrest, I’ll let you introduce yourself and the many roles that an organizations you’re involved with.

Forrest: Yeah, sure. Thanks Kate. It’s good to be with you as always. I am mostly by vocation and professor, so I teach community development at Northwest University. I’ve also taught at The Seattle School. More recently, I’ve been transitioning away from graduate and education towards involvement in a faith-based environmental education and advocacy nonprofit called Circle Wood. Among other things, I’ve been hosting a podcast for that organization called Earthkeepers, and the focus of The Earthkeepers Podcast is on helping Christ followers to integrate creation care into everyday faith practices.

Kate: Circle Wood is a lovely organization, highly encourage our Northwest listeners to check them out. And also one of your many historical roles was as the managing editor of Christ and Cascadia, you were actually the one who brought the Christ and Cascadia brand from its roots in Fuller Northwest into The Seattle School, and really helped us shape a vision of what Christ and Cascadia is at The Seattle School and what that means for us. Would you share a little bit about how you saw the journal and conference that has historically been it fitting in with The Seattle School and what your hopes for it were in that decision?

Forrest: Sure. I had always really been a fan of Christ and Cascadia, the journal and would always read the articles and essays as they came out and did actually manage to attend a couple of the conferences that Christ and Cascadia sponsored. So I knew of the importance of the organization, of the work through my own experience. And so when Fuller had to pass that on to some other entity as they were shifting their focus out of the Northwest, I thought that The Seattle School would be really in some ways the perfect context because The Seattle School shares a lot of the same values. How do we think about the new, how do we welcome innovation? How do we reimagine maybe tired traditions? I think there’s that newness, that youngness of spirit really that characterizes The Seattle School ethos, and I am happy to see that back to Christ and Cascadia still fits very well with that ethos now that it’s found a new home.

Kate: Yeah, me too. And I love that sense of innovation… and that innovation totally uprooted from tradition, but an innovation that traditions what some of those historic inheritances have meant for us. One thing that I hear from people sometimes is what is Cascadia? What is region does it cover? Why is that a word that we use? What is it?

Forrest: Yeah. Cascadia really is the name for a bio region, which is maybe a term that people aren’t too familiar with. If you were to look at a map and try to trace out boundaries of Cascadia, which are actually pretty fuzzy on the West, you would have the Pacific Coast and not just the coast, but also everything extending out from the continental place, so it’s underwater as well. And the east you have as far west as Western Montana, and then in the north you could go as far as southeast Alaska and then to the south, there are even bits of northern California that are tied into the bio region. Yeah.

Kate: I think I often hear it talked about from a more political frame where people then group really Washington, Oregon, maybe British Columbia, but the way you framed that, it’s much more tied to the water, the way that waterfalls the watershed, the roots that water goes.

Forrest: Sure. It, it’s a more organic way of describing geography. So a bio region contains multiple different, but usually interconnected ecologies and Cascadia is actually really ecologically diverse in that sense. And you’ll find in fact that we have underwater kelp ecologies off the coast or rainforest ecologies or prairies and even deserts in some places. So it’s quite diverse. The interesting way that Cascadia is being used beyond just in terms of flora and fauna and geology, has a lot to do with culture because in fact, human beings are part of the ecology for better or for worse. And as people interact with the environment, they shape it. And in the same way environment shapes people. So in the Cascadia region, you find a lot of shared concerns and values and practices that come from sharing this common land base. It makes us in some ways the same despite the incredible diversity within the bio region.

Kate: It brings a different level of meaning to the phrase, there’s something in the water.

Forrest: Yeah, right!

Kate: I don’t want to skate past that idea that we are a part of the ecology, we are part of nature. I think many of us have been brought up to think of there’s the human civilization part of the world, and then there’s the natural part of the world. And those two things have some kind of divide between them and what your point forward is. No, those two things are in relationship. They’re in conversation. We interact with nature and some peculiar ways, but humans are nature. And I think that makes me think about, well, certain parts of the country like Southwest especially, where humans have settled despite the lack of resources, water, to sustain even human life. And it’s almost coming back around from that natural to that political of organizing by where we get our water sourced from shapes, even where it is that humans will find themselves and how humans relate to each other as well as the environment.

Forrest: Yeah, I think that’s a great point. And you’re noting the separation of people from nature, really that break is maybe one of the maladies of western culture that we inherit. And so we easily gravitate toward more artificial and even arbitrary boundaries, the lines that we draw between countries and states and provinces. As an American who grew up in the Washington states, I did my graduate work both in Chicago but also in Vancouver, BC. And to be honest, even though Vancouver BC is in Canada, a different country, I shared far more in common in terms of my sensibilities and worldview with my Canadian friends than I did with the folks in Chicago. And I think that that just points to what a bio region really is trying to describe. It isn’t describing the sort of human-made boundaries that we use probably more often, but instead tries to do something that’s maybe more holistic, more organic, more actually related to the characteristics of place.

Kate: This year in our gathering upcoming, the Christ & Cascadia Gathering, we’re reinstating it. We’ll take a different look than what it historically has. There’ll be less of an academic conference, much more relationship forward, networking forward. And we’re gathering under a question, the question this year is: what’s distinct about ministry in this region? And before we get into the ministry specific part of that, some of what you’re speaking to is there is something different about this region, even across national borders in contrast to other parts of the US and Canada. How do you think about some of what’s distinct in the life and culture here, and if it’s helpful to speak in contrast?

Forrest: Yeah, I would say that when I first began editing the journal, when it came to The Seattle School, I really was relying heavily on the words of the founder of the journal and conference. His name is Matthew Kaemingk, and he had a phrase, he put it that Cascadia is not just an interconnected web of shared plants and animals and geographies, but the way he said it is “Cascadia is also a cultural and spiritual state of mind.” Now, by that, he didn’t mean that everyone’s the same hidden Cascadia. In fact, we are hugely diverse culturally speaking. But his point was that there are some common threads, maybe some common themes that emerge in our practices, in our relationships and our ways of being in our ways of relating to the environment around us. And I think those can really, if you pull them out and identify them, I think it does help us to see that in fact, as a bio region, we’re distinct from other bio regions in North America. Maybe for example, economically speaking, Cascadians tend to be wealthier. I think that has to do in part with our history, but it certainly has to do with the environment because the states and provinces, the regions out here were settled later in history. It means that in some ways the economy was, while it was initially dependent on natural resources like fishing and mining and logging, what happened is that we kind of leapfrogged that development of industry that characterizes, say the eastern parts of the continent and went right to an emphasis on technology and information. And so I think on the one hand, a lot of wealth was generated by the abundance of resources here. Now a lot of the wealth you see is generated by these companies which are really shaping the world in so many ways. Innovators like Amazon has its own in Seattle or Boeing is also a huge world influencer. Starbucks has its home in Seattle. So I think that because of that leapfrog effect, you just have a kind of generally wealthier economy.

Kate: Interesting. I’ve thought of technology seems to be a distinctive of, and almost like a techno optimism that technology will be some of what saves us or certainly will help us progress and advance as a society. But I didn’t tied it to a socioeconomic shift in that way.

Forrest: Yeah. I think that entrepreneurial spirit, that thinking backs, we can always find better ways and always pressing the boundaries of what is that too, I think is distinctive of Cascadia, is this emphasis on creative thinking and innovation. And I think that’s also tied to what you could describe as maybe an inherent sense of independence in people. Whether I think you’re a conservative or a liberal, I think you do find in common this valuation of self-determination, the suspicion of overly regimented or controlling government. And so I think that leads to this idea that if something needs to be changed, we can change. I mean, we have the power to innovate, reinvent, to question, to tear down the old and put in place the new, a real sense of the validity, the desirability really of experimentation for better ways of doing things, and the belief that we have the capacity to do that.

Kate: Yeah, and the capacity. And historically in some sense, the necessity, a lot of, well, a lot of people moved out here were pioneering spirits, but a good number were also people who had been in one way or another, pushed out from the institutions that made up civilization on the eastern half of the continent. So that pushes a kind of resourcefulness, entrepreneurial, you have to figure out something, and in some ways have the freedom to not be, as we might say, constrained by the social expectations, family norms, societal norms of what had been done over there. In some ways, I mean, I’m a transplant to this region, but I think that culture has really held that families don’t have to look the way that they did back where I grew up, framily, friend, family is much more common, different expressions of gender and of cultural connection. There seems to be a lot more freedom for experimenting and trying out different ways of living.

Forrest: Yeah, I really agree with that. And again, I’ll ask you as a transplant why it is you ended up here. Because what I find is that many people are drawn to that. They might already be that way seeking innovative freedom, seeking cultural, rethinking and they come here because they know it’s here, they find it here. I’m wondering if that was the case with you. You came from Michigan?

Kate: Yeah, I came from West Michigan. I was on the fringes of West Michigan Dutch community, which was its own subculture. And when I was in church and with some encouragement from different pastors I worked with, you have to go get your MDiv. And they would usually follow that with, and you know, can’t stay here, you know, can’t go to the West Michigan schools, you’re going to be so far out in left field for what they teach and practice. So part of why I came to The Seattle School was that I knew I’d find more people who were looking for what is next for Christian community. And I think part of why I’ve stayed has been there are people who are innovating, who are experimenting, who are not, it’s not even beholden, but it’s almost like those categories just aren’t even, they don’t make sense. So let’s invent together what the next thing might be.

Forrest: Yeah. My impression has always been that specifically when it comes to the church or with faith practice, that there is similar suspicion of tradition, a similar desire for a degree of independence. And I would say that even within denominations, there’s probably more of a sense of we’ll take the rules as recommendations and then we will create what we need to create for this context. Has that been your experience of the church world?

Kate: Yeah, I have an acquaintance, I won’t say the denomination, but he was in a kind of church plant context here. And so many church plants in Seattle are people who move here from the Midwest, and they’re going to save Seattle by making it more like the Midwest, which Seattleites don’t appreciate or need. And his community was doing something just so entirely different and from funded by a denominational headquarters back on the East Coast. And I was like, how are you doing this? How do you have permission, resource to do that? He’s like, well, they only know about half of what I do. If they knew what I was doing out here, they wouldn’t be funding me. And it was one of those moments of like, oh, I am somewhere fundamentally different that knows how to negotiate those old world, talk about the East Coast as old world in such a young country, but those old world resources for the sake of something new and emergent.

Forrest: Yeah. Yeah. I did actually have that sense. I did spend 14 years in Chicago, so in some ways I became a midwesterner in a way. And I found that some of the values, especially in terms of faith practice, didn’t translate well. Coming back home when I moved back. And when I moved back again, I moved to Vancouver and British Columbia. I didn’t move back to Seattle, but the tensions were the same, right? I mean, there was, for example, a definition of what it means to be a Christian in terms of witness, what does it mean to share about your faith? And I had learned, I think in Chicago, where I also did my undergrad work, kind of more of a transactional model, and it was a little, what’s the word I want? It was intrusive in some ways, but it wasn’t unusual to say “witness” with a particular description of faith based on four spiritual laws or a bridge diagram. But here, man, that just doesn’t apply in Seattle, I think anywhere in Cascadia. And so I think that there’s a huge suspicion on the part of people here of organized religion in general, but certainly a suspicion of this presumption that someone else would tell them what they should be believing, how they should be living. So I think that really impacts the way Christians live their life in Cascadia. Interestingly though, and I found this more in the last maybe 10 years, there is an openness to talking about spirituality. It’s not that people are not spiritual, but they are almost anti-religious in the sense of the constrictions that a framework like that would prescribe. It’s very easy to talk about spirituality, and I say that in some ways, if you’re going to think about bearing witness in Cascadia, it’s really a matter of relearning language, learning the language of the culture, and then it’s actually quite fun to compare perspectives and to do exploratory thinking together about spiritual topics. So that’s been a shift I had to make early on, and I think I continue to make it actually even now. Has that been your experience?

Kate: Yeah. Yes. Well, I was thinking about some of that institutional distrust would make sense from people and then their descendants who were pushed out of those large institutions. So of course he wouldn’t opt into the big institutional whatever, denominational church. And so in some of the Mars Hill Church here in Mark Driscoll framed itself as so counter-cultural because it was conservative in a liberal haven, but it was also really logical to be a non-denominational, freestanding church in a context that distrust institutions. And of course then that became one more avenue for religious abuse, spiritual wounds where, and I came to Seattle shortly, I’ll say at the tail end of Mars Hill’s dominion, but I realized very quickly I didn’t tell people where I went to school, if I met someone new, I didn’t tell them what I was studying. It was so off-putting to people that I had to find really sideways ways to talk about what I was doing, what I was doing, and to find much more religion neutral terms for spirituality, which in some ways, in ways it felt like a betrayal, but in other ways it felt like new possibilities for finding a more authentic connection and spirituality that wasn’t just repeating the same words back to each other and hoping that we were meaning the same things by them.

Forrest: Well, I appreciate your use of the word authentic because that really is the key. I think people here really appreciate authenticity and are suspicious of those people who are maybe less authentic. And I think authenticity has everything to do with listening. To be a person of faith in Cascadia, you have to learn how to listen and listen, not just as a polite exercise, but as a means of really hearing their perspective and valuing it, understanding that their spirituality actually could even have something to teach someone with an established spirituality in the Christian faith. And I would say that when you talk about churches in Cascadia, that same kind of openness is reflected in church practice. I mean, it’s not unusual in churches to see the incorporation of eastern meditation practices or indigenous drumming. There’s not this resistance, this fear of incorporating new perspectives of being open to new ideas and new understandings of what spirituality is and who God is even.

Kate: Yeah. That’s something I so appreciate about you and our conversations together, is you have a very loose hold on what is certain, which I think is really a marker of spiritual maturity, is the ability to both know, here’s where I am, but also to know that that’s not the whole everything and that there might be something else. And you might set down parts of that belief anytime as you encounter other parts of the world. I think that’s, when I talk to my counterparts who work in the American South, the East Coast of both US and Canada, they’re almost like they’re trying to be sympathetic, but it comes across a little bit pitying of like, “oh, you’re in such a hard context.”

And I think really the gift that this region’s spirit has to offer the world is that embrace of uncertainty and throwing off the expectation that church would be, or that God is at all concerned about offering us certainty. There aren’t moments in Jesus’ life that come to mind where he’s just trying to offer really clear, well, here’s what it is. I’m saying it straightforward, and that’s taken care of and solved. Now, I’m very certain. He came to question and tell stories and use metaphor and expand our thinking. And what makes me really excited about ministry in this region is exactly that. It’s that embrace of uncertainty and everything that follows from it, because we’re not so beholden to the idea of the way something should be as though it should is the same thing as God.

Forrest: Yeah. I think whenever you talk about the strengths of Cascadian culture, there’s almost always a weakness attached to it. And so I do, I love the spiritual openness of the region, and yet what that can translate into is just kind of a mishmash of appropriation in some ways. Any spirituality of the day, I’m going to embrace, make it my own and move on to something else. There’s nothing coherent and cohesive. And I think in that stance that state, you really lose the value of tradition. I mean, there’s a lot that the historical church has to teach us a lot of guidance that it prescribes. There are ethical and moral frameworks that we can live within that are taught to us by the traditional church. And when you’re suspicious of anything traditional, I think you lose the strength of those resources that the church provides.

Kate: Yeah. I think some of what was wanting in non-denominational, freestanding churches is exactly the accountability structures where you have people some level of oversight or at least checking in and structures for what happens when power is misused, abused, mishandled. And I think that’s something that we’re coming to learn here still, is that some structures and policies actually are for the good of a community that seems a newer, seems like an ongoing growth edge.

Forrest: Yeah. Yeah. It’s going to be interesting to see what the future of Christian community and faith practice is here in Cascadia. You do. I think you pointed out that people lament that the Pacific Northwest, which is how they describe part of Cascadia, is the most unchurched region. And so that makes it this difficult place to be and to practice faith. But I think at the same time, it’s the most generative place to be. And even though, yes, there are fewer people in Cascadia who would claim to follow Christ, I still wonder if the future of the church isn’t still tied to our region because we have this freedom to innovate, because we’re not afraid to look at other spiritualities at traditions because I think we’re good at innovating based on current culture, current needs, current market demands. We have this orientation to the now, to the present, and I think that has the potential really to help create the new expressions of church that will carry us into the future.

Kate: I think so too. And I hope so.

Forrest: Yeah.

Kate: There’s so much potential. And I think in some ways it’s frightening. It’s frightening if you’re really committed to the way that it’s been to see something else, taking shape and taking form. And going back to Genesis one, it’s always been in the unshapen where God is hovering and spirit is hovering. And I think the opportunity for pastors here is not necessarily to replicate the models of church we’ve been taught so much as to follow Jesus by following what Jesus did, which was being present to the culture and the people in your midst, and finding where spirit is already at work there. So it is a very different ministerial stance than even what we’re taught in our divinity programs. Are there any models or innovations for ministry that you are particularly interested in or excited about?

Forrest: Yeah, I will say at the outset of my response to that question, which is a really good one, that I think there are probably a lot of things that I just don’t know about and not heard about because I think innovation is practiced on such a dispersed level. People everywhere are doing new and interesting things, and they haven’t yet become movements that we’re all more collectively aware of. But I will say one of the movement that maybe excites me most, it gives me most hope to the church, has to do with this Cascadian trait, this characteristic of connecting spirituality to nature. I mean, people, whether they’re religious or not, many, many people in Cascadia will say that they encounter spirit in nature, that God is mediated to them through the created world. And I would say even a lot of Christians, if you ask them, where do you more powerfully sense God, it isn’t on Sunday morning inside of a dedicated building with other Christ followers. It’s out in nature where God makes God’s self real to them through the beauty, the aesthetics. Yeah, just the experience of the wildness that we have access to, pretty easy access to in Cascadia, no matter where we live in. So I think what excites me is those churches who are paying attention to that fact and not making the claim that the Bible is the only revelation of God that’s valid and authoritative, but it backs are saying, yeah, the Bible is authoritative, but so are the trees, and so is the ocean and the beach and the desert, that God reveals God’s self also in those contexts, and in many cases more powerfully. And so you’ll find Christian communities making space for incorporating that sensibility into their liturgical practices. And one of the movements that is a movement that is doing really well here is the wild church movement where a lot of times people will simply meet outside and won’t meet inside of buildings, but actually be in context where they’re exposed to the elements where they can feel the wind on their skin, where they can walk out and meditate on a tree where they can ask the hard questions and listen for answers in the sound of water.

It sounds scary to more traditionalists, I think, that idea, but I think it is really giving such new life to people who really believe that there is a God, believe that Jesus is a valid expression of God, but there’s something missing in the communal experience of Jesus and a God and of Spirit.

Kate: To bring us a little bit full circle of the relationship and conversational relationship between humans and geography, people in place. I think I’ve been in churches that do more acknowledging of nature within a service that’s a traditional indoor service. And I know of churches that do install rain gardens or even vegetable gardens or beehives, have different kinds of land care ministries. I’ve not yet been to a service that is outdoors, and that is really compelling. And then also how being outdoors will in turn shape the liturgy and change liturgy. It’s not going to be playing the organ and singing hymns, the one, you might sing hymns, but you won’t have the organ outdoors. So yeah, I’m curious how that conversation will continue to develop over time.

Forrest: Yeah. I think another thing that excites me about possibilities for the church in Cascadia, it stems from the Canadian, sorry, edit that part. The Cascadian impulse, not to follow the rules sometimes. And it’s tied also to the entrepreneurial spirit of the region. I think what that means in a Christian context is that there’s a lot more openness to listening to other traditions, to borrowing or adapting elements of religious practice and understanding from other contexts that aren’t Christian. And where I think some elements of the church, maybe particularly the evangelical church in North America would teach against that, would call it syncretism, would call it dissolution of the faith. I think here it’s more and more respected that we have to look outside ourselves. If we want to keep our faith fresh, we have to look outside ourselves. If we want to understand the other possibilities of spiritual encounter, we need that inspiration.

And I think there’s a lot of freedom in Cascadia to find that inspiration outside of ourselves. And I’m also excited for those churches who are, say, paying attention to Indigenous voices, again, because the history of settlement and such, there are still healthy and thriving native communities in the region who can speak to us, who can teach us, who can inform our faith practices even. And there are a lot of churches who are looking to Native American teachings to give new life to their faith and to help them really to live a more context relevant faith in Cascadia, because native people have been doing that forever. I mean, their spirituality is deeply tied to the environment, to the ecologies, to the community of creation. And so I think that means that native folks have much to teach us in the more mainstream churches about how to live in place, to live well in place, how to love our place, how to belong to the community of place. I think that’s another maybe trend in Cascadia that really excites me and gives me a lot of hope for the future of the church. 

Kate: Yeah, that’s beautiful. It’s an innovation that’s more of a going, searching back into older religions, the oldest religion, the religion that is what are their rituals that help us live in harmony with the Earth that is us, and that we are responsible for caring for.

Forrest: One of the dangers, of course, of being open to others traditions is appropriation, is thinking that we can take on practices from another people and own them ourselves. That’s really unhealthy and dangerous. But some of the more generous native teachers and scholars are saying, you absolutely learn from Indigenous ways of being Indigenous faith practice, but learn in a more general sense without following our practices specifically. And in fact, Randy Woodley, who for me is a great teacher, one of the things that he has written about that’s really changed my life, my perspective, is the concept of indigeneity. He says, yes, learn from Indigenous people, capital I, the people who have always lived here before you or European settlers came. But he says, everyone has some indigeneity. Everyone comes from somewhere. Everyone can trace their roots back to a people that was more tied to the land, who understood more about living closely with the cycles of nature, the seasons, and more tied to what the land was providing in terms of resources. And so he challenges people who are not Indigenous, capital I, to find their indigeneity, to actually trace their roots, to try to find that place where it came from. And so for me, that’s meant a lot of focus on the culture of Wales and Ireland, which most of my family is from there. And it’s made a big difference to me. And I think, again, that’s just a characteristic of Cascadia, that kind of openness, that kind of conversation can take place, that can actually take root, can actually have a large influence on people. Because I think that the fact that we listen to Randy Woodley as an Indigenous teacher and scholar says a lot about who we are as Cascadian Christians,

Kate: Beautiful and such a globalized culture to be connecting something of your ancestry in Ireland into something of your life here. And seeing that as a continuous, and not only as a transience, which I think in nomadic culture is how we’ve been taught to view as, oh, you’ve left that, now you’re somewhere else. And to re-link, re-member those parts of you. Lovely.

Forrest: I’m curious about you. What have you seen in terms of really exciting or inspirational movements in the region? Experiments we’ll say?

Kate: How church is a good one. And I’m with you. I know that there’s, there’s more happening than that I know is happening in part because even asking the question kind of keeps us closer to some of the more established church structures. And it can be hard to find the way into faith community structures that wouldn’t necessarily use the word church. So part of what I’m hoping happening into the future with this gathering is that people join us who and self-identify as “we’re doing faith community, and it doesn’t look like church looks like something else.” So I’m probably most excited for what I know is out there, but I don’t yet know how to find and then hopefully have the opportunity to feature some of those in the Christ and Cascadia Journal.

The other big category of types of innovations that I think I’m interested in is really in social enterprise and nonprofit. I think a lot of people, and not always people even from here, but people who end up here because they see their faith is inviting them to ask questions about the world in different ways and service and resources and how to connect people and move goods around in a different way for the good of everyone involved and not just for the consumer or the shareholder. So I think social enterprise is one of those models that’s coming for many people from their faith journey that doesn’t look anything like church, but it’s very much a service to the community and making people’s lives better through giving them careers, giving… What I’m thinking of is a coffee shop that employs at risk youth. I also know a woman who would connect farmers with coffee shops so that the farmer and their family and the coffee shop have a relationship and are ensuring that everyone has livable wages in that relationship. Those are very different kinds of ministries than the way I grew up thinking of as ministry.

Forrest: Yeah, yeah. That’s interesting when you talk about that, it reminds me of a lot of the essays that we published in Christ and Cascadia, which talk about those very things. And I’m thinking of an article that looks at the Forge Ministries in Vancouver, Washington. Columbia Pres is behind this movement, but they’ve kind of tossed out the model of youth ministry that we’re typically taught that we might experience in more conventional contexts. And they’ve tossed it out, not because, Hey, we want to do something new, but it wasn’t working. The old models, the youth showed no interest at all in what was being offered to them in terms of church community. And so the Future Forge that this article is about church for them is not meeting on a Thursday night and singing songs. Instead, it takes place in mentoring relationships where high school kids who are not certain about college, for example, our apprentice to someone who can teach them a vocational skill. And then along the way comes some character formation and transformation as well as job skills. Their main place of gathering isn’t one of the rooms in the church hall, it’s actually a gym that they built with weights and treadmills and such. And the gym offers free classes to youth about healthy eating, about body image, about proper weightlifting technique. And I just love that example because it’s so exemplary of this freedom to redefine church. I mean, this is where it’s going to happen because we have to innovate or die. We’re going to see some really interesting experiments. Many of them will be failures, but some will be crazy successes that others can emulate, like the Future Forge. And I don’t think that’s just about Cascadia. Cascadia in itself is a forge, right? It’s the place where the church is under pressure to survive, but because of that pressure to innovate and rethink and reimagine, I think we’re going to be creating models of faith life that will be relevant for everyone in North America, if not other places in the world. I think it will be a place where new thinking and new practice will be born.

Kate: Yeah, I think that we’re some of those leaving church trends are starting on the coast and moving more towards the middle part of the continent. And I think part of what we offer is not just that we are ahead of those trends, but also that we’re an environment where we’ll just experiment with more things than someone else might have the freedom to.

Forrest: Absolutely.

Kate: And the more you experiment, the more likely you are to stumble upon an idea that works.

Forrest: A term keeps coming to mind as we talk about the gathering that we’re planning, but also about what shows up in Christ and Cascadia Journal. But that term is edge walkers, and my friend Victoria Lus, who is the founder of the Wild Church Movement interestingly enough.  She talks about the need to make space on freedom for edge walkers, people who are on the edge of tradition, on the boundaries of the conventions, people who, as you say, are willing to try these new things and to innovate towards something fresh and new, even if it means failure along the way.

Kate: So as a concluding question, which I probably should have given you ahead of time, but didn’t have it until right now, we have this gathering coming up April 25th, we’ll put links to it and everything in the show notes, we’re gathering for conversation. We’re gathering to meet people who are asking similar questions to us. We’re gathering very much from this place of, we don’t know, let’s not know together and learn about how other people are walking with these questions and what we’re discovering. So to that point, we’re bringing our questions. What are some questions that you are bringing that you’re hoping to learn about at that gathering and into the future?

Forrest: Yeah. Well, one of the complaints that transplants have about some parts of Cascadia is their experience of Cascadians not always the friendliest people. Well friendly, but maybe not welcoming in terms of real community. And so everyone’s nice, but people aren’t necessarily going to have you over for dinner. They aren’t necessarily going to invite you into their social circles. I think that really is a big challenge for the church as much as it is for every other part of society, and it makes it hard to think about maybe more conventional approaches to home groups or to community-based ministries. I think in some ways, some context in Cascadia, they don’t always fit well. They don’t always work, and it’s because I think of this independent streak, the Cascadian,

Kate: The Seattle freeze, or the Portland polite,

Forrest: Right. And so my question is, I’m coming from the other side of it. I know very well that that’s the way I am, but I’m happy with who I am, so don’t change me. But I do want to know. It’s like, alright, if it’s not the community group once a week in someone’s house, then what is it? Right? What is the thing that will meet people’s needs in a way that doesn’t threaten kind of the core of their independent identity? We got to work against isolation. We need community. We acknowledge that, but I’m not always sure what that looks like. I’ve not really even seen a lot of great innovation so far toward that end.

Kate: Yeah. Yeah. I’m hearing the question almost like what are the third spaces that people can gather in? Yeah, that’s a good question. That’s a good question. Well, we’ll leave that with our listeners and encourage them to bring their questions or maybe reflections on that one with them to our gathering in April. And for today, just thank you so much for sharing what you do know and holding it loosely and inviting us to ask some more questions with you. 

Forrest: It’s always good to talk to you, Kate. Thanks.

Kate: Thank you.