About a year ago I was freshly married, freshly crowned a “Master of All Things Divine” (that’s what we call the M.Div, to ward off depression), and about to start my first job. Yep, this small church in Hyde Park had called me to be their senior minister – a risk for all parties involved.

“So why University Church?” they often ask (“they” being everyone who knows I grew up disinterested in church at all, then active in the black church, then a rapper, and a lot of other things that seem disjointed with pastoring in Hyde Park). I appreciated the feigned curiosity that hid genuine concern. Most of all, I appreciated that they never said out loud what they had to be thinking: “J, do they know you’re not an old white man?” I’m guessing so…but I’ll send a picture ahead of me, just in case.

It’s like a relationship. Mallorie and I talked on the phone for hours before we decided to start dating. Even after reaching a certain level of comfort, being exclusive was a scary thought for both of us. But we liked each other, we saw potential, and moving forward was worth the risk. When people ask, “Why did you want to be at University Church?” I say, “Because we like each other.” I could say, “God sent me to you,” or something else super-mystical (and borderline arrogant), but quite honestly, I like you, you like me, and we both see potential. The Spirit has created an opportunity: what happens from inception to termination (because all relationships are terminal, like Life itself) depends on how faithfully we engage one another, our community, and our God.

So far, so good. New energy in the pews. A more solvent financial situation. All press coverage has been positive. I’ve even rapped. But I’ve also danced (and very uncomfortably so, this past Easter). The influx of new and old members, new and old programs, new and old ways of being church, affirms that the Spirit is among us, breathing new life into our future and past. It affirms that we are moving in the right direction, and it all began with risk. The risk of hiring a young, black, first-time pastor. The risk of joining a church with “multiple opinions,” and, “a myriad of ways of expressing said opinions” (understatement?). Risk and Hope.

Every move we make is about risk and hope. Every change in worship. Every new program. Every cup of coffee we pour. We are continuously risking ourselves in saying we want to be a people who are compelled by God to change this world. When we pray during Prayers of the People, we risk. When we change the format of Prayers of the People, we risk. But we press forward in hope that something greater than us is calling us to aim higher, and will catch us when we fall.

Take a risk this November. That will mean something different for each of us, but think about what it means for you. Think about something that has huge potential, and how you can help make that happen. So yes, send in your pledge card, but also go deeper in a relationship: take a risk in your emotional life. There are a lot of ways to translate this, but by all means, take a constructive risk (read: Stay Safe).

What we find — whether in the ministry of Christ, our own personal lives, or in the life of this church — is that it’s okay to risk. Dare we call it a spiritual practice? What we are afraid of almost never occurs.

In fact, the opposite. We’re starting to learn that a few faithful risks and a lot of hope can make things come alive. So take a step.

Happy Anniversary! (to us)

—Pastor Julian