Year of Sundays

Year of Sundays


Theophilus Church: Foursquare Done Right

posted by Amanda P. Westmont

By Amanda P. Westmont

I’ll be honest: part of me hoped this church would suck, just so I could call it THEAWFULEST*, but there was nothing awful about it. In fact, y’all’ll have to excuse me while I gush a bit because I genuinely adored this church, its steeple and how when you opened it up, inside were real people.

Upon arrival at Theophilus, we were greeted first by the heady scent of Spanish soup and then by the equally heady smile of Co-founder and Youth Pastor, Quinn Swoboda. Six months pregnant and so cheerful it should be illegal, she fired a quick hello at Joel and I before squatting down to greet my children at their eye level. Yes, you read that right. SQUATTING. While six months pregnant. She’s my hero.

Any other parent on earth would adore this practice – having her children treated like human beings from the moment they walked into the room – but well, my Genoa. She doesn’t love the attention like her older brother does. We try not to use the word around her lest it become a self-fulfilling prophecy, but the child is SHY. Meanwhile Alex breezed through the hellos and was already manhandling a truck in the play area at the back of the cafeteria, making friends, taking names — his usual M.O. I didn’t lock eyes with him again until we got back in the car to go home.

Quinn welcomed us to line up for dinner and while we waited, she explained the genesis of Theophilus church, how she and A.J. started it in their living room less than two years ago and how they are loosely affiliated with the Foursquare church. Since we’ve already been to Foursquare and weren’t big fans, Joel and I shared a knowing look when she dropped that F-bomb and I tried not to be disappointed. Such nice people! Why do they have to be Foursquare?! I was immediately struck with the fear that Theophilus would be little more than a different chapter of the same book.

I was wrong, of course, but I didn’t know it yet.

We moved on to the Table portion of the evening where the soup was fantastic (cilantro — a.k.a. dish soap to  my taste buds — on the side, thankyouverymuch!) and we broke bread (or tortilla chips) with a restaurant server, a nursing student, a sushi chef and a guy who runs an after-school tennis program for at-risk youth, all of them under thirty. Joel had a great conversation with the group while I waged a war with my soon-to-be-five-year-old about eating what is put before you and saying thank you, damn it.

"Don't ask me for anything else to eat tonight, child. THIS IS YOUR DINNER." I'm so mean.

After trying and failing three times to get Genoa to stay with the kids for Sunday school, she joined us in the pew, where we ended up sitting next to one of our most enthusiastic readers, Andrea The Seminary Student, and her husband, Jason. Good pew karma – we haz it!

When the music started, I got that swooshy, afraid-of-heights stomach roil I feel whenever I fall in lust. Young, blonde, beautiful and gifted, Anna Gilbert looks like Jewel and sounds like a grown-up, less whiny version of Michelle Branch. Unlike her fellow Foursquare divas, she is all soul, none of the usual extraneous Disney-on-ice fanfare. Her band is simple and tight — an acoustic guitar, Anna’s bo-hunky husband (normally her bass player) on cajon and Anna on keyboards. Given my proclivity for hot choir directors, it should come as no surprise that I was instantly smitten. The real surprise was that for the first time all year I found myself singing along. I stood there “Amazing Grace”-ing it and remembering how I used to tag along with my friend Jill to Calvary Baptist church in Los Gatos, CA, where even as a defiant atheist, they had enough grace to give a wretch like me a choir solo. Anna had me wondering how much of this spiritual journey is really just me trying to find that voice again.

See what I mean about the hotness?!

As the music wrapped up, Genoa finally decided she was bored enough to join the other kids, so I held her hand and walked her over to bright, smiling Quinn, who remembered her name (amen!) and encouraged her to sit next to her brother. When I got back to the cathedral, A.J. had started his sermon and I yanked out my pen and began taking what would quickly become nearly 30 pages of notes, twice as many as I’ve ever taken before. That alone should tell you how I feel about pastor A.J. Swoboda – this is a man worth listening to.

Un-microphoned, un-tucked and unpretentious, A.J. is pretty much what Rick McKinley at Imago Dei wishes he could be – an authentic Geek for God. A.J. doesn’t take the stage or stand behind a pulpit. Instead he preaches at aisle-level and he’s tall, rowdy and expressive enough that there isn’t a bad seat in the house. He’s not the first pastor I’ve seen use his glasses as a prop, taking them off and on to emphasize the seriousness of the subject matter, but he was definitely the first one I’ve seen do it without even noticing it himself.

For part of the sermon, A.J. told a story about how he and Quinn had an old college friend visit for the weekend (in case you didn’t like them enough already, you should know they always keep a room open in case anyone ever needs a place to stay). They were up late sweeping the kitchen floor and chatting when he asked his old friend how she first became a believer. Apparently after attending many, many of A.J.’s sermons in Eugene, this particular friend got so sick of hearing about Jesus that she’d finally heard it enough. The way A.J. described it, I could almost hear her saying, “FINE. JESUS. WHATEVER. YOU WIN.” She was basically a “convert by annoyance,” but a convert nonetheless. A.J. mused that he didn’t know about it at the time and that back then things weren’t all sunshine and roses for him. He was struggling and he could’ve used the good news, the encouragement it would have brought him to know that he had helped one of his close friends find her path.

“But sometimes Jesus just says, ‘I’m gonna use you, but I’m not always going to tell you.’” He explained, “Jesus will secretly use you.” I bit off that chunk and chewed on it for a while.

Unlike Joel, I’m not a communion addict. I generally refrain from partaking because as a non-believer, it feels fake, like I’m stealing someone else’s bread when I’m not even hungry. But after hearing A.J.’s sermon on how children have something profound to say and being reminded to watch out for “where [I] need to sit down and look up at my fellow man,” I couldn’t resist taking a chunk of bread from a bright-eyed child. A child who held my gaze without blinking and offered me the bread as if she was handing over her favorite doll. I left the stage with tears in my eyes and a rock in my throat.

It was my first truly authentic religious experience.

After communion, Quinn brought my own bright-eyed girl to me because she needed to go potty. I chased her to the bathroom and before I could even wash my hands, she disappeared, taking the last vestiges of her shyness with her.  By the end of the night, Genoa was chasing the other kids around the stage and talking animatedly to the baby in Quinn’s belly. I could blame Theophilus’ rare mix of eye-contact, respect, enthusiasm and generosity with Ritz crackers and Life Savers mints, but I think it’s probably closer to what A.J. said during the sermon: children have a lot to teach us. The people at Theophilus simply know how to listen.

Before leaving, I hugged Quinn and told her not to worry, she's obviously going to be a TERRIBLE mother.

If you want the heart and the story and the rawness of The Bridge without the punk rock, tattoos and F-bombs? Theophilus is your church. I left on Sunday thinking that if I could find two churches I like this much in the same city, maybe religion isn’t as broken as I thought it was.

And while we’re on the subject, I’d love to hear your own conversion story, if you’re willing to share it. Were you a conversion by annoyance? How did it happen for you? And how did you know it was real?

*Joel named his son Maxim Theophilus Gunz, (which RIGHT THERE is reason enough to stop speaking to your father), but I could never remember the name until Joel told me they started calling him Max The Awfulest during his terrible twos. THAT I could remember.



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Anonymous for now

posted September 2, 2011 at 6:07 pm


I agree I agree! I hope they leave Foursquare because Foursquare is corrupt with all the sex abuse scandals because they could be so great!



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Vato

posted June 28, 2011 at 4:24 pm

brucenorquist

posted June 28, 2011 at 2:16 pm


One of the top rated videos on YouTube is a clip called “Home” It was created by a young Filipina named Christine. She works under the name, Happyslip. In her video, she says, “This Christmas, I am gonna be home. And I wanted to ask, where is home for you? What things do you think of when I say the word, Home?” Besides being well produced and directed, her brief production is popular. Nearly a quarter of a million people watched this video in the first two months of 2007. Some think that this is because the idea of “home” appeals to a certain sense of nostalgia and longing in the viewing audience.

Thirty-five years ago I was a long way from home. I didn’t know how far I had wandered from home until I stumbled into a rock concert in my college gymnasium. It happened like this: one of the groups inexplicably began to sing, a cappella, in beautiful three-part harmony: “All God’s children get weary when they roam; don’t it make ya wanna go home?” All of a sudden, I was strangely and deeply homesick – for a place I had never been. Later, they did a rendition of a new hit single, “Mama told me not to come.” It was uncanny. It was as though this band was reading my mail. Their lyrics seemed to reflect everything I was going through in my life.

Things were not well with me. After the concert, I was startled by an image I saw in my dorm room mirror; through a drugged out stupor I stammered to the person staring back at me, “What are you doing? Where are you going? You are so screwed up.” The next day, a campus evangelist showed up at my door. The guy we derisively called a Bible-beater snapped to a cheery attention when I answered his insistent rap, “My name’s Ken Osborne. Who are you?”

“I don’t really know.” I answered.

“How have things been going for you lately?”

“Terrible.” I said – my voice trailing off.

Oddly enough, he hadn’t come to preach but to ask questions. “Do you want to tell me about it?” Here was a guy who evidently didn’t know what he was getting himself into. He looked way too establishment to be able to relate to my latest exploits. I thought to myself, I am going to blow this guys mind.

“You got time to listen?” I asked. He apparently had nothing but time, and I had a long and sorry tale to tell. I thought that he would turn tail and run; but nothing I said seemed to surprise or shock him.

After I had finished pouring out my soul, he said, “I see what you mean; things really aren’t going well for you; … Would you mind if I asked you a personal question?”

“What is it?”

“Do you think that somebody could be trying to tell you something?”

“Yeah…Yeah! Maybe someone IS trying to tell me something.”

“Can I ask you another question?”

“What?”

“If someone is trying to tell you something, who do you think it is?” Somewhere deep inside, I knew the answer:

“God; God is trying to tell me something.”

“I think you may be on to something there. Do you mind if I ask you another question?”

“What?”

“If God is trying to tell you something, what do you think it is that he is trying to say?” I knew right away:

“I think He’s trying to tell me that I am going the wrong way.”

“OK, now, can I ask you one more question?” This Bible-beater didn’t preach much but he sure had a lot of questions.

“Why not?”

“How would you like to turn around and go the right way?” In the face of that question, my shoulders slumped and I hung my head.

“I can’t.”

“What do you mean, you can’t?”

“I can’t!” I almost shouted. “I’ve tried; if there is a God, God knows – I’ve tried! Something in me keeps pulling me back into a lifestyle that’s killing me – like a moth circling a flame or a dog returning to its own puke.”

“What if I was to tell you” he said, “that Christ could come into your life and give you the power to become what you’ve always wanted to be and do what you’ve never been able to do on your own?”

“That would be way too good to be true.”

“But it is true. Has anyone ever told you that Christ is no longer dead; that he is risen from the dead; and that he’s still alive today – and by his Spirit he is present with us here in this room?”

“No, not exactly. Hey, I believe in God, I just don’t know about Jesus; how can we know that Jesus is the Son of God?”

“He’s here, why not ask Him?”

“What do you mean?”

“Just pray and ask him to reveal Himself – to come and help you.

“I don’t know…”

“What if you start by just telling Him what you’ve told me?” I paused for a long time. Ken reminded me that nothing I could ever say would surprise or shock the Lord.

“OK. Here goes, God, if you are real all I can say is that, if you’ve been listening to all of this, you must already know that I am pretty screwed up. If Jesus really is your Son, I have made a huge mistake in rejecting Him all these years; I am sorry; I really am, I am sick of what I am doing and I’m sick of what I have become; I feel so lost; I’ve tried everything I know and I still can’t find my way. If you are what I am looking for, please help me to find you. If you are real, show me. Help me find my way home.” There, I said it.

Almost at once, I felt a wave of relief wash over me. For the first time in months, I thought to myself, I can make it; I will survive; God is real, He loves me; I will find what I am looking for; everything is going to be alright.

“Now, how would you like to ask Jesus into your life?” Ken asked.

“I guess I’ve already tried everything else…”

“OK,” Ken said, “if what I say sounds like what you would like to say to God repeat after me … God, I believe that you are real and that you have showed your love for me by sending Jesus to suffer and die in my place…I trust, in your great mercy, you will forgive me of all my sin…Please send your Holy Spirit to come and take over my life and give me the strength to be what you have always wanted me to be… In surrendering my life to you, I believe that I have passed from death to life; Jesus is now my Lord and I am now your child…As you enable me to do so, I will serve you for the rest of life…Thank you for hearing my prayer…Amen.”

When I opened my eyes, I looked out my dorm room window. I know it sounds like a cliché; and I guess it is. But everything looked different. I saw the world with new eyes. The grass was a different color of green. The leaves on the trees were veined with reds and purples I had never seen before. Something had changed. It was as if a river of life had flowed through me – sweeping away all of my past and making me brand new.”

It reminded me of when I was a boy; I used to go with my friends to a place in Oregon called Beaver Falls. The falls were fed by a small stream which, depending on the time of year, was about a foot deep and maybe 15 feet wide. When this stream crested the cliff, it cascaded 20 feet to a rocky shelf on one side of a small pond. The rocky face behind the falls was shaped in such a way that a person could shimmy to the backside of the falls; from that vantage point we could look through a sheet of water that looked like a shimmering wall of undulating glass. Then, by taking one step forward, we would plunge ourselves under the full force of a falling river; if you didn’t brace yourself, the force of the falls would drive you to your knees. But, if you could stand up under it, it felt like you were being scrubbed clean from the inside out.

When I stepped into the grace of God, I was like I became a whole new person. I will be the first to admit, that my life since then has not always been easy. Life has its trials. But through Christ I have undertaken a journey to become the person God always intended for me to be. I have finally found a place of rest in the presence of the Lord. I can remember about that same time that Eric Clapton wrote a song that included these lyrics:

I have finally found a way to live
Just like I never could before.
I know that I don’t have much to give,
But I can open any door.

Everybody knows the secret,
Everybody knows the score.
I have finally found a place to live
In the presence of the Lord.

Sometimes we say, as a euphemism for death, “He’s gone home to be with the Lord.” When I gave my life to Christ, I did not die and go to heaven, but I did find my way home. And I wanted to ask in closing, where is home for you? What things do you think of when I say the word, “home”? Does it make you homesick – sick enough to turn around and come home? An early saint once observed, “Restless is the heart until if finds its rest in God.”

Jesus said, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me, get away with me and you will recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” (Matthew 11:28 MSG) Here you can see that Jesus is not trying to turn you into a religious person; rather, He is inviting you to enter into a relationship with Him. He wants you to be a person who is at home in His presence.



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Life Guy 101

posted June 19, 2011 at 7:51 pm


Wow again! My conversion. I had just quit my job with the magic show and was living in a tent in the Coeur D’Alene national forest with horses, ducks, chickens, (the rangers said we were squatting) and looking for work. Went to employment office, line was backed into the street due to recent mine layoffs. Guy came behind me after I had been there ten minutes looking for someone to work building fences, I volunteered. He had a farm in E. Washington, went there and on that farm was a Christian. The real kind, former Army Ranger. I wanted to have what he had so I said yes to Jesus. Sometimes still not sure it is real so sorry about that part. Just live by faith, pastored two churches, try to love my wife, family and friends. Hope you are blessed on your wonderful journey. I love your blog!



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Shayne

posted June 16, 2011 at 10:07 am


Hi Amanda,

I’m here via Ragamuffin Soul. First let me say…I just love this project. Thanks to you and Joel for being brave enough to go back in to places where you may have been burned in the past just to look for authenticity…to give them a chance to redeem themselves.

I think that’s awesome.

Kudos to Theophilus (oh I hope I spelled that right) for giving you a glimpse into what communities of believers have the potential to be and should be…a place of rest for people who are just plain tired and worn out.

I plan to continue to follow your project and if you ever write the book…I’ll definitely purchase a copy. If you’re ever in the East Tennessee area…I hope you’ll come and give Foothills Worship Center a try. I’d love to meet you and your precious family.



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Michelle Watson

posted May 21, 2011 at 12:48 am


Thanks AJ for the idea about checking out B4 again. And Amanda, I’m the one who wrote you after you visited Beaverton 4 and said I’d love to meet you. Like you, I am a fan of AJ’s authenticity and heart. He’s a great guy (I have yet to meet Quinn though) with incredible depth of insight into God and the Bible, and he’s been a great influence on us across the river. I know you’re right in so much of what you’ve said about the church and yet in the middle of all the wacky experiences you and Joel have had around town, I’m just glad to hear that you and your family had a great Sunday at Theophilus. Yay! :o)

p.s. If you ever do take AJ’s advice and decide to come to Beaverton 4 on another Sunday, look me up and I’ll sit with you guys!!



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A.J. Swoboda

posted May 19, 2011 at 6:19 pm


Amanda.

It was so wonderful to be able to meet you. I am so thankful our paths have crossed. In honesty, I think if you managed to come back a couple of times you would quickly realize we are as radically screwed up and flawed as any other church. But, nonetheless, it is wonderful to me that you had a good experience. Frankly, so many of my dearest friends are a part of Imago Dei and Beaverton Foursquare. At the end of the day, it is hard for me to hear anyone bemoan or criticize any community. Thus, I would HIGHLY recommend you go back to both and give another chance. Ultimately, they are both beautiful places filled with imperfect people. As are we…

Where there are humans, there are problems.

Our table is always open to you and Joel. Again, your children were so darling!!!

AJ



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Al Doyle

posted May 19, 2011 at 12:44 pm


“But sometimes Jesus just says, ‘I’m gonna use you, but I’m not always going to tell you.’” He explained, “Jesus will secretly use you.” I bit off that chunk and chewed on it for a while.

Amanda— I’ve been watching that phenomenon for quite a while. We get used in other people’s lives in profound ways and often never know about it, be when we do know, it’s like getting a peek behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz! I do like to blame it on Jesus! — Al



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mom2twoboys

posted May 19, 2011 at 11:53 am


Both your and Joel’s comments brought tears to my eyes.

Conversion. Born in a family in a certain denomination. Went to religious schools. In my heart, I left off believing when I was about 15 and my dad was screwed over by “religious leaders.” But I still went through the actions. Ended up going to China 10 years later to teach English. While I was there, and having students ask me what I believed and why, I did a lot of searching, in the Bible and in myself. My heart returned to God. Now, 17 years later, I find myself longing for a church community like you’ve found here. So many churches in my denomination are concerned with “being right” but not so much with community. I feel the loss of community deep within me.



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Austin

posted May 19, 2011 at 1:52 am


Amanda it was great meeting you and Joel this last Sunday. I was one of the people that sat and ate with you and Joel and enjoyed the conversation. Always great getting a different perspective (yours) of the church. I enjoy the honest uncensored approach you use to your reviews. I particularly found your Imago Dei post very true as I kinda got burned by that church to the point where I took 2 years off of Sundays. Looking forward to seeing your posts in the future.



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Andrea The Seminary Student

posted May 18, 2011 at 11:28 pm


Amanda, you rock!! I was delighted that my husband picked the same pew you were sitting in. Sitting next to you was a delight. I love who you are and what you are doing. I know some people disagree, but I will cheer you on all the way! I think you are just what the church needs – a bit of reality! I can’t deny I would love if you became converted by annoyance, or whatever way. Regardless, I think your great!



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LizP

posted May 18, 2011 at 7:13 pm


Do you know where in Eugene A.J. did sermons? This was an awesome post! I think, despite what the comment trolls like to say, that you’re making progress on your spiritual journey. Sometimes you have to know what you don’t like to find what you like.

Mazel Tov! ;-)



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Jules

posted May 18, 2011 at 12:11 pm


I LOVE this! The community of people is what makes up a church and this group sounds amazing. Kinda makes me wish I had time to attend 2 church services on Sunday mornings.

Methinks the goal of finding a spiritual home will happen for you. Now if you ever get baptised I’m coming with a camera crew! You know-to document the pigs flying!



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