Category Archives: Blog

June 14, 2016

Citizenship and Discipleship

Brian Kemp-Schlemmer, City Square Church

City Square is a non-partisan community of faith. We are a safe place for everyone, regardless of political ideology or affiliation. That doesn’t mean we are apolitical.

In a democratic society our laws are a reflection of our values as a people.

As Christians, we are followers of a God who shows up in flesh, touches people, eats real food, heals physical brokenness as well as spiritual brokenness.

We value bodies.

Then, the God we follow allowed himself/herself to become the victim of violence and murder rather than respond with violence and murder. Jesus became a reflection of God’s grace and love and commitment to reconciliation with the world, even in the midst of death.

We value God’s grace and love and commitment to reconciliation, even more than our own bodies.

Truthfully, most of us are not ready to lay down our bodies in order to take up God’s call in our lives, but it is the heart of the Christian message. We are a people struggling to be our best selves, the people God created us to be, regardless of what others do to us or around us.

That does not mean we are passive.

Family Systems Theory suggests that the only way to heal dysfunctional family systems is to act as a healthy, non-anxious presence. In response, the system of which we are a part will either learn to act in healthy ways, transforming or exiting unhealthy elements within it, or it will exit us.

It exited Jesus. It will often exit us.

When we see mass killings like the one we saw in Orlando over the weekend it is clear that we are living in a dysfunctional family system. Our choices then are to either continue to live as the healthy, non-anxious presence we are striving to become, or allow ourselves to be shaped by, and ultimately become one of, the unhealthy elements within this system.

We will not allow ourselves to be shaped by acts of evil.

Our hope is not in our ability to defend ours bodies or to overcome violence with violence. Our hope is in the belief that we are part of something bigger than our own bodies, that we have the power to resist our own smallness and fear, and that we can be the people we feel called to be, even in the face of death.

Real power is the ability to be unmoved in the face of coercive power.

If you, like me, are a follower of Jesus I pray this post reminds you of who we are and who we are called to be(come): individuals and communities unwilling to sacrifice our commitment to God’s grace, love, and commitment to reconciliation in the pursuit of self defense.

If you are not a follower of Jesus this post is an invitation to join me on a journey toward becoming a healthy, non-anxious presence in the midst of this dysfunctional system.

Whoever you are, I hope you’ll remember that our laws are a reflection of our values. If you value healthy, life-giving communities where all people have the ability to live into their best selves I hope you will share those values – lovingly and firmly – with your loved ones, your neighbors, and especially with your elected officials.

You don’t have to win any debates. You don’t have to pass any judgement. You just have to be a healthy, non-anxious presence in the midst of an unhealthy, fearful world. That is enough.

Here is a link to the non-partisan Americans for Responsible Solutions where you can find contact information for your elected officials as well as other resources to share your values with the world. Take what you need, leave the rest behind, but know you’re not alone on this journey. 

May 9, 2016

Couple Enjoys Giving Time to City Square Community

Lisa Van Aller (right) an Everett Van Aller (left) pose with their son and Kara Kahnke (center).

Lisa Van Aller (right) an Everett Van Aller (left) pose with their son and Kara Kahnke (center).

By Kara Kahnke

Lisa and Everett Van Aller, and their 2-year-old son, have been coming to City Square for the past two and a half years. “Just from the beginning we fit,” Lisa said, noting that the people are warm and welcoming in this community.

Everett and Lisa both grew up in the Methodist tradition, but Everett said City Square is a much more non-traditional atmosphere then where they grew up. “We grew up in churches that weren’t as accepting of change, but City Square is always willing to change and do things better,” Everett said.

Lisa said she felt called to be a deeper part of the City Square community. She does this by being part of the City Square Communications Team and the City Square Financial Committee. The Communications Team is working hard to inform people about events, and to help make City Square an even stronger community. “The Finance Committee works really hard to make sure that what comes in goes out and is used to the best of our ability,” Lisa said. One of the ways that City Square does this is by tithing 10 percent of all funds received each quarter back to an organization it feels is doing God’s work in the community. This quarter, donations are supporting one.n.ten, an organization that helps LGBT youth.

In their spare time, Lisa said she and Everett enjoy gardening. Everett is also involved in the City Square Beer Brewing group. In addition, they are always looking for ways to be involved in the community. They both appreciated City Square’s involvement in the Pride Parade for the last two years, which celebrates the LGBT community in Arizona. This year, more than 20 people from City Square attended. “Everyone was so happy and warm. It was a great experience,” Lisa said.

April 25, 2016

Big Changes pt 1: becoming more ourselves


At City Square Church we try hard never to do anything because “it’s what a church is supposed to do.” Whether community events or classes, collecting an offering to serving the community, we try to ask ourselves, “why are we doing this?” It’s really two questions: why us? And why this? What purpose does this serve in our community and what do we offer that’s different than what others might offer who do the same or similar work.

This includes perhaps the biggest “it’s what a church is supposed to do,” Sunday morning worship.

The answer to the first question is that worship is a practice or set of practices that bind us together as a people of faith. While many of us believe the same or similar things we work hard to be a place where folk who aren’t sure what they believe can find a faithful, spiritual community in which to belong and practice and, as we often say, even among “believers” faith can be a fickle thing. And so we gather together to breathe together in song and prayer, reflect with each other in word and silence, and break bread with one another at a common table. These are the things that hold us together through the shifting winds of doctrine and ideology.

The answer to the second question lies in how we gather, and with whom. We have always been committed to worship experiences that are challenging and engaging, that incorporate a diverse set of practices and voices, and that have theological, intellectual, and experiential integrity. This requires a great deal of time and intention as we cultivate the gifts of leaders, artists, activists, and practitioners within the CSQ community and develop relationships with the leaders, artists, activists, and practitioners in the community around us. Then the work begins of weaving those voices together to create a singular experience that is rooted in and transcendent of our context.

That is why it was my great pleasure yesterday to announce that as of May 1st, Alexus Rhone would be joining the City Square team as our first ever Curator of Worship. In the coming weeks and months you will have opportunities to hear Alexus tell her own story and cast her own vision for this position. For my part I will simply say that her theological training, artistic sensibility, production experience, and most of all, clear anointing by the Spirit make her uniquely gifted for the task ahead.

That said, no one could do this job alone. Whether you consider yourself a member of City Square a member of the Downtown Phoenix community, Christian, non-Christian, or unsure, if you are reading this Alexus will need your support. Drop her a note to say hello, offer to take her to breakfast, coffee, happy hour, or dinner (she can’t afford to eat with all of you so offer to buy, yeah?), keep her in your prayers, intentions, or good thoughts. Most of all, build her and the rest of us into your community so that as City Square grows we might grow to reflect more and more of our diverse community.

Because that’s what a church is supposed to do.

April 11, 2016

City Square Fosters Desire to Learn

Kara Kahnke (right) poses with Connor  Descheemaker (left).

Kara Kahnke (right) poses with Connor Descheemaker (left).

By Kara Kahnke

Connor Descheemaker enjoys being involved in Phoenix art and culture, especially music. He developed a passion for punk rock when he was younger through his hobby of skateboarding. His family encouraged his passion by continuing to expose him to different types of music. Because of his artistic interests, he is involved in many different Phoenix events and Facebook groups. He first became involved in City Square after being contacted by former Pastor Rob Rynders on Facebook through one of the groups they had both joined. Rob was recruiting members for the church, which was relatively new at the time.

In addition to his day job, Connor helps to book concerts several times a month around the Valley at venues such as The Trunk Space and The Newton at Changing Hands bookstore. “I just love meeting people from all over the country and world. I love providing a space for people of all ages to experience new and challenging art,” he said.

Connor grew up Catholic, but his family left the church when he was 12 because they didn’t agree with some of its teachings. After leaving the Catholic church, Connor attended evangelical churches for a while, but found that all of the churches he chose to attend remained conservative in their theology. He said that it is refreshing to attend a church with progressive viewpoints.

Connor said he loves that City Square acknowledges the mystery of faith and accepts everyone’s viewpoints. “It knows that there’s truth, but it acknowledges that not everyone is 100 percent on the same page.” He pointed to the recent “Questioning Faith” series in which participates discussed questions of their faith without pressure to find answers.

Connor wants people to know that everyone is welcome at City Square. “There is no pressure to be a certain way except to be honorable and to listen to one another.”

City Square is just one of the places that helps Connor explore his passion for learning. “I’m always excited to discover new things and to be challenged in the culture that I’m exposed to,” he said.

February 8, 2016

City Square is More Than a Job

Sarah Potts (right) poses with Kara Kahnke (left).

Sarah Potts (right) poses with Kara Kahnke (left).

By Kara Kahnke

A lifelong Methodist, Sarah Potts has known former Pastor Rob Rynders since her freshman year of college when Rob was her campus minister at ASU. Through Rob, she met Pastor Brian Kemp-Schlemmer, and they all participated in various conference-level activities together. When Rob and Brian decided to start City Square, Rob asked Sarah to consider leaving her current position providing child care at a different church to help care for the children at City Square’s congregation.

Although she has provided child care for other churches, Sarah said this is the first church where she has felt like she is a true part of the congregation. At City Square she is able to hear the sermons and participate in the service. In addition to helping with the child care, she also helps plan some of the Sunday school lessons for the children’s ministry. “I love to see the kids grow and learn,” she said. “It’s such a wonderful thing to see their curiosity as they learn about their faith.”

Something that started as a job became so much more for Sarah. She is grateful for City Square’s strong community. In past churches Sarah had attended, she felt like the people who attended the most often ended up being the people who became the most involved. Regular attendance is great, but at City Square, she noted that people can be involved right away. “I don’t think I’ve seen a single person come in here and not feel like they’re welcome as part of the community,” she said. “That’s such a beautiful and rare thing these days. It’s so nice to come and feel almost like a family.”

Because of this strong family feeling, Sarah knows she can be herself at City Square. “To me, City Square is almost a feeling of coming home,” she said. “Even people who aren’t Christian can still find a place here. I’d love for people to come and experience it.”

January 11, 2016

Co-Creator Cup Recipient Appreciates Strong Community

Kara Kahnke (right) poses with Annie Eldon (left).

Kara Kahnke (right) poses with Annie Eldon (left).

By Kara Kahnke

Annie Eldon first came to City Square after meeting former Pastor Rob Rynders at a community event. Rob invited Annie to a City Square Theology Pub where community members of different faith backgrounds hold an informal monthly discussion about different faith topics Although Annie didn’t continue to go to Theology Pub, she did stay in touch with Rob, and attended City Square’s interfaith series and controversial issues series that were held a couple of years ago. Ultimately, she made the decision to make City Square her home church when another church she was attending got bigger than she preferred and lost its strong small community feeling.

“Every church service was around 200 people and I felt like I didn’t know anyone anymore,” she said. “I love that City Square is so community focused. That’s what I look for when attending a church.”

Annie grew up Christian, but chose to stop attending church at 17 because she felt her church was too focused in talking about the Iraq war, which made her uncomfortable because she didn’t support the war. However, when she began to have some health problems a few years later, she felt it was a call to return to church. She tends to seek out newly forming churches because of their commitment to strong communities.

City Square recognized Annie for her own community involvement. She received the Co-creators Cup, which is a special award the church offers to congregation members who make an extra effort to bring people closer to each other and to God. Recipients of the Co-creators Cup eventually pass it along to the person they believe is most deserving. Annie participates in a bicycle advocacy group that promotes bicycle awareness, infrastructure and education. She has also helped with various events in the Coronado neighborhood such as the recent Porch Concert Tour, at which several neighbors hosted bands in their homes. Within the church, Annie helps out when needed, and participates in the Beer Brewing and Spiritual Formation small groups.

Annie said the Spiritual Formation group is particularly meaningful to her. “When we come to church, we hear Pastor Brian speak, but we might not always have an opportunity to discuss what was said. During small group we have a chance to watch a video or read something, and then discuss it in more detail.”

Annie encouraged others who are thinking about attending City Square to give it a try, noting that opportunities like the Beer Brewing group and monthly happy hour allow people to participate in the church community without having to attend a service. “We are a very open and welcoming community that accepts people of different faiths, sexualities and backgrounds. If they are uncomfortable that’s OK, but at least they can give it a shot.”

December 14, 2015

Community Focus Makes City Square Special

Kara Kahnke (left) poses with Scott Jeffries (right).

Kara Kahnke (left) poses with Scott Jeffries (right).

By: Kara Kahnke

Scott Jeffries came to City Square at the invitation of his sister and brother-in-law. Scott grew up Methodist, but said previous church experiences made him apprehensive. “I would get very nervous about what people were thinking about me or how they were looking at me. I didn’t want to experience that anymore.”

After about a year of declining to come to City Square, Scott finally decided to give it a try. What he found surprised him. His nervousness disappeared in such an accepting congregation. “We are all different, yet we are able to come together,” he said.

Scott praised City Square’s strong community focus. City Square tithes 10 percent of its income to a different local charity each quarter, and makes an effort to remind church goers to be active in giving back. City Square currently has a “deep listening” committee evaluating how the church can be more effective in the Coronado neighborhood that surrounds it. Committee members survey people and businesses in the neighborhood to find out what’s important to them and to make new connections. The committee hopes that this project will help City Square understand every part of the Coronado community. “I really do believe that this message of community focus is the truth,” Scott said.

Although he didn’t always have the most positive experience with church growing up, Scott did enjoy going to United Methodist Outreach Ministry with his mother to feed the homeless. “That was probably the first time I had a faith connection with my mom, the church, and the community,” he said. He believes the connection he felt between church and community is part of what makes City Square so meaningful to him.

Scott said someone coming to City Square for the first time would find it different from traditional churches because traditions and rituals are less emphasized. Although he finds a certain amount of comfort in predictability, at City Square, his comfort comes from the congregation and the knowledge that the church is having a true impact. “It’s truly a congregation and community-focused church and movement,” he said.

November 9, 2015

City Square Emphasizes Acceptance and Exploration

Kara Kahnke (center) poses with Jon Rodis (left) and Sam Rodis (right).

Kara Kahnke (center) poses with Jon Rodis (left) and Sam Rodis (right).

By Kara Kahnke

Jon and Sam Rodis came to City Square because Pastor Brian was looking for musicians to play in the band. Although he wasn’t necessarily looking for a church, Jon said he’s found a place where he can be himself. He is able to play and write the spiritual music he loves, which he said he never thought he’d be playing in a church.

Sam agreed that City Square has helped her feel accepted in a religious community for the first time. She said her family never attended church when she was growing up. “The few times I attended church with friends, I felt like I didn’t belong and everyone knew it.” But City Square has been completely different for her. “I’ve never encountered this many people in one place who really care about each other. It inspires me to be the best version of myself and to be a more genuine and caring person,” she added.

In addition to the strong community, Jon noted that City Square has helped him grow theologically as well. He said growing up his hesitation about God and spirituality stemmed from his observation that some religious communities are more hierarchically based and seem to select an elect few who are qualified to understand God and matters of the universe. “Through reflecting on songs, prayer, and scripture, I’ve come to understand that there doesn’t have to be any pretense of me understanding the entirety of what God or the universe means.”

In terms of how City Square might be different from other churches, Jon believes that practice is emphasized over belief and spirituality is emphasized over religion. “We ask our people to think about how they might lead a spiritually healthy life rather than counting on a certain belief system to carry them through,” he said.

Sam said this emphasis on exploration is one of the things she loves most about City Square. “I haven’t found another spiritual community that is open to so many different ways of exploring faith. For someone like me, who is relatively new to a faith community, it’s refreshing to be around people who are strong in their beliefs as well as people who are just beginning their faith journey.”

Jon added that while City Square has a strong community, he believes that the church emphasizes individual strengths rather than focusing on the community as a whole. Sam agreed. “When everyone is the best version of themselves they are able to give the best to our church community and our neighborhood community.”

To those thinking about attending City Square for the first time Sam said, “If you know who you are come and be yourself here. If you don’t know who you are, come and explore it with us.”

October 12, 2015

Accepting and Progressive Community on the Verge of Wonderful Things

By: Kara Kahnke

Kara Kahnke (left) poses with Tiffany Flaming (right).

Kara Kahnke (left) poses with Tiffany Flaming (right).

Tiffany Flaming found City Square online when searching for a church after moving from the Bay area. She said she was looking for a church that was both accepting of the LGBTQ community and supportive of women in leadership. While City Square meets both of these requirements, she said there are so many other reasons she loves it.

Tiffany likes that it’s an informal organization that isn’t controlled by the wishes of one person. People are free to pursue their own interests through various activities and small groups with the church’s blessing. She said she enjoys that City Square doesn’t choose to isolate itself in general. She was looking for a church that didn’t spend all of its time focused on its own people. “Finding a church like City Square that has an outreach focus and gives money and time to community organizations was really important to me.”

Tiffany comes from a varied faith background. She has been part of the Presbyterian tradition most of her adult life, but was raised practicing Mennonite and Baptist traditions, and attended Baptist seminary. Tiffany noted that she chooses to attend a church based on the individual church itself rather than any given belief system it represents. She knows she’ll never agree with every tenet of a particular denomination. She said she has alternated between belief systems that focus on original sin and those that focus on original blessing, noting that her own belief system is somewhere in the middle. She knows that City Square will accept her no matter what she believes.

“City Square is a safe place to explore your faith without a hard sell,” Tiffany said. “Anyone who attends here is going to find a place where a relationship with God is encouraged, but we’re not going to tell them how to do it. We are also going to tell everyone that they are valued and loved. Everyone can be themselves here.”

To her, City Square represents the small, engaged young, friendly and progressive community she had hoped to find when she moved here.

Because City Square recently celebrated its two-year anniversary, Tiffany noted that it’s exciting to be on the ground floor of something. “There are so many people here who pursue their own passions and service to the community in so many interesting ways. We are on the verge of so many wonderful things.”

September 14, 2015

Welcoming Young Community Draws Couple to City Square

By: Kara Kahnke

Dennis Skinner (left) and Janine Skinner (right) pose with Kara Kahnke. (center)

Dennis Skinner (left) and Janine Skinner (right) pose with Kara Kahnke. (center)

Dennis and Janine Skinner came to City Square at the suggestion of a friend. Because they have a transgender son and lesbian daughter, they were looking for a place that embraced diversity, particularly the LGBT community. They came to City Square for one of the first services. “We looked around the room and there was a diverse range of ages and ethnicities. There were lesbian couples holding hands. So, the diversity made us feel completely at home,” Janine said.

City Square tithes a portion of its weekly offering to a different charity each quarter. Dennis noted that he was impressed that the money from that quarter was being contributed to One-n-ten, an organization that helps LGBT youth. He remembered being happy to see One-n-ten’s logo proudly displayed at City Square.

Dennis described City Square as a great paradox. He said that it’s a place that’s in line with his belief system and challenges him to think about things differently. “I love that City Square is willing to take on topics that other churches might consider too controversial or political.” For example, Pastor Brian recently discussed immigration in a sermon series.

In addition to learning and growing from City Square, Janine said the City Square congregation has become like family to her and played a part in their decision to move to downtown Phoenix. As a couple in their 50s, Dennis and Janine said they love being embraced by a young church community because having friends their kids’ age gives them a fresh perspective and allows them to stay young.

Dennis said he wants people to know that, “City Square is a really cool place. It doesn’t matter if you know what you believe or which labels apply to you. You are going to feel welcome.” Janine said she loves that there are other opportunities for people to be involved in City Square even if they don’t want to come to church. They have invited friends of theirs to participate in other City Square social events such as theology pub and happy hour. “City Square is a unique place, and I’d encourage people to give it a shot,” Janine said.