Category Archives: Blog

August 10, 2015

City Square feels like home

By: Kara Kahnke

Kent Simer (left) poses with Kara Kahnke. (right)

Kent Simer (left) poses with Kara Kahnke. (right)

“It’s become a home for me,” Kent Simer said when talking about his experience at City Square. He remembered seeing the City Square signs on his way home from work in downtown Phoenix and one day finally going in. He attended one of the first services, and felt welcome right away. He described it not only as a place he enjoys, but one he needs. “My life just keeps getting richer and richer with all of the people I’ve met here,” he said.

Kent grew up Presbyterian, and much like his experience at City Square, was one of the first members of his home church. He attended youth bible studies and was involved as a participant, counselor, and director at a Presbyterian Church camp. He continues to participate on the Board of Directors of that camp.

Although these experiences helped inform his faith, members of his family also attended church within the Methodist tradition. He sometimes attended church with his grandfather, and noted that the Presbyterian and Methodist traditions don’t feel that different to him. He said that City Square felt like a better fit for him because it felt more welcoming to him as someone who is single without kids.

In addition to the welcoming atmosphere, Kent said he enjoys that City Square is always willing to ask questions. “It’s not afraid to try new things and to experiment with how and where we worship,” he said. He participates in the Spiritual Formation group, and said that has helped cement his place in the church and build strong connections with people while allowing him to more deeply explore his faith. He is also on the church’s Leadership Committee.

Kent said others attending City Square for the first time should know that, “You can come as you are wherever you are in your spiritual journey. It’s just a friendly place to be.”

July 13, 2015

City Square embraces warmth and openness


Josh Woodward (right) poses with Kara Kahnke. (left)

By: Kara Kahnke

Josh Woodward learned about City Square through Pastor Brian. They originally met in 2010 when Brian was doing his externship at Crossroads United Methodist Church. Josh remembered being impressed by Brian’s openness and honesty, and his ability to connect with the congregation. When talking with Brian a few years later, Josh was excited to learn that he was starting a new church.

Josh said Brian’s value of openness has continued at City Square. “It’s a very warm and loving place. At its core it supports the golden rule of treating others as you want to be treated. You feel embraced by a community that truly wants what’s best for you,” Josh said. He noted that this embracing warmth is part of what makes City Square so special.

Josh’s parents didn’t grow up Methodist, but his family eventually found a Methodist church that they enjoyed. He was officially confirmed in 1993. He said a connection to his faith has always been important to him. “At the times when I went away from the church, I felt a call to come back. When I wasn’t involved with the church, I felt that absence.”

In addition to attending church services, Josh recently led the Painting small group. He believes that part of being a good Christian means giving back your time and talent to help others. After doing some soul searching, he realized that he wanted to use his talent for art to enrich the City Square Community. He has always enjoyed drawing and painting, and wanted others to have the same rewarding experience.

Although this was his first time running the Painting group, he said it was an enjoyable experience. “At the end of the day it’s about being together, having fun and enjoying yourselves. Hopefully, it inspired people to try something new.”

The Painting group is currently on hiatus. Josh may bring it back in the future, but he is now participating in the Writing group. He said he’s excited to begin in this new group because it’s yet another way that he can build his fellowship with others in the City Square community.

Josh said that people looking for a church community should know that they don’t need to be of a particular faith background to attend City Square. “We take the approach of asking why. We ask ‘what can we do to make our community a little bit better?’”

June 15, 2015

City Square fosters openness and creativity

11241292_10152895745022405_162548937_oAlthough she considers herself mainly part of the Methodist tradition, Jessica Johnson grew up in a federated church that welcomed several different faith traditions to worship together. “It ran the gamut between people who were pretty conservative and very liberal. It was important to me to find a place that had a wide range of people where I could ask questions,” she said.

Jessica said she has found a similar openness at City Square. In addition to openness regarding faith traditions, she noted that she appreciates the church’s willingness to embrace various forms of creativity. Jessica came to City Square after her pervious church began to decline. She enjoyed the creative music at church, but soon learned that the creative outlets didn’t stop there. “There is space for people to connect with each other and to pursue their own ways of doing that, such as the Painting group or the Beer Brewing group,” she said. Jessica is currently part of the Spiritual Formation group, which meets weekly to discuss various aspects of faith.

Jessica pointed out that new attendees of City Square should know that this is a new, energized, and diverse community where people are excited to come together to learn about their faith. She said the community’s energy is part of what makes it so special. She also appreciates that City Square offers her the opportunity to participate in communion each week. “It’s a powerful statement of faith that everyone is fed and everyone is welcome at the table.”

May 7, 2015

Phoenix Pride: A Reflection

City Square Pride

This is a guest post from City Square Church member, Tiffany Brown

The morning of April 12 was a morning of celebration. The City Square logo received a colorful Phoenix Pride Parade-worthy makeover and our t-shirts served as symbols of alliance and solidarity. Lisa and Everett Van Aller showed up with a wagon of supplies, City Square-stickered candy to hand out, and baby Elliott in tow – clearly the cutest member of our group. We broke bread and took communion in a Phoenix park-and-ride lot before joining the masses of feathers, leather, glitter, and happiness ready to walk – no, strut down 3rd Street.

Ben and Teneia Eichelberger saved the day, morphing a mic stand into a banner holder. Sam Richard served as our unofficial hype man, handing out candy, running the lines giving high fives, and “getting low” to the club music that poured out of the double-decker bus in front of us. We all made jokes about the possibility of getting lung cancer from the smog billowing out of said bus, but made those jokes while smiling and still committed to walk, our health be damned! I passed out blue feather boas and participated in a dance party or five on the sidelines of the Phoenix Pride Parade as we walked for equality and understanding.

But I dreaded the last quarter of a mile of the parade, that wide, slow turn onto Indian School, because that’s where anti-gay protesters were set up, shouting hurtful rhetoric through megaphones, boasting neon signs that proclaimed people would go to hell, simply for falling in love. The church-affiliated demonstrators quoted Leviticus between their hateful slurs, trying to make scripture stick to rainbow balloons and furry go-go boots. It all seemed so strange against the backdrop of even louder dance music, its volume strategic, trying to drown out the hate.

Our group stood there for awhile in front of the protesters, holding the City Square banner high, taking a stand and showing these picketers that there is place for all of us in religion, faith, love, and peace, because these concepts are not independent of each other, but rather intertwined pieces of a meaningful life, a life everyone should be allowed without prejudice or judgment.

I thought to myself, What are these protesters experiencing? And seriously, what do they hope to gain?

Looking back, I would imagine they were feeling frustration, anxiety, and intolerance?all of those troublesome emotions you generally experience when trying to convince someone that you’re definitively right?simply because your paradigms don’t match up.

I asked myself more questions are I watched them scream and taunt everyone who walked past, trying desperately to be heard.

What good can be found in tearing down others instead of trying to understand them? What good can be found in condemning love in a world that desperately needs all the love it can get? What would these protesters feel when they went home that night?

I suddenly, and gratefully, realized that I would never know the answers to these questions, because City Square is a faith community that would never dream of being on the other side of the barricades.

Instead, we’re a faith community built on the values of acceptance, equality, love, and compassion – a community that doesn’t need a megaphone to be heard – a community willing to walk a mile in another person’s stilettos to show our unity and alliance – a community that accepts every single person trying to figure out this exhausting, joyful, fleeting moment in the sun called life.

And that’s when I felt true pride that day, walking away from the shouts of misunderstanding and unhappiness, leaving it behind and moving forward with my brothers and sisters in faith toward the light.

April 13, 2015

City Square: Genuine people leading by example

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Church member Theresa Thomas (left) poses with author Kara Kahnke.


By: Kara Kahnke

Theresa Thomas has been part of City Square from the beginning. Her friend Allison invited her to a book study group that Pastor Brian had started. Eventually, the small book club helped Pastor Brian and Pastor Rob realize that there was a greater need in Phoenix. What began as a book club grew into City Square Church.

Theresa said she couldn’t be happier to be a part of it. She grew up Chaldean or Iraqian Catholic, which is similar to Roman Catholicism. Although allied with the Roman Catholic pope, they have a different leader. Theresa noted that Catholicism was heavily ingrained in her culture growing up.

Theresa said she never quite felt at home in a Catholic church. In college, she began attending a non-denominational church, which helped her feel like she was better able to build an individual relationship with God. City Square has helped her continue this pattern. “You build your relationship with God, and you’re going to do that with people who are also building a relationship with God,” she said.

In fact, the people are what Theresa enjoys most about City Square. “Everyone here is just so genuine,” she said. “They are genuinely excited to see me inside or outside of church. They’re not one thing on paper and a different thing in person.”

Theresa said she loves that City Square sometimes pushes her out of her comfort zone. She has a big personality that helped Brian and Rob recognize her natural leadership qualities. She currently serves as the Chair of the Leadership Committee, which means she helps by directing meetings and bringing issues to a vote.

Theresa wants other people to know that City Square is a church that leads by example. “It’s a church that’s giving Christianity a good name again,” she said, noting that the church always follows through on its mission in a positive way. She is happy and proud to share City Square with others.  Most importantly, Theresa knows that she will always feel accepted at City Square. “The church recognizes that whoever I am is enough.”

Want to be a part of this growing progressive faith community, that is making a positive impact, in Phoenix? Come visit us on a Sunday morning, follow us online, and/or make a donation.

March 9, 2015

Supportive Community, Charitable Outreach Help Make City Square Home

Janet Seely (back) poses for a photo with Kara Khanke (front).

Janet Seely (back) poses for a photo with Kara Kahnke (front).

Guest Post by: Kara Kahnke

Janet Seely recalled growing up in a fundamentalist background that focused on specific rules and tenants of belief in God. She said that this background taught her that asking questions about God demonstrated a lack of faith. Her college experience began to change her perspective. College encouraged her to ask questions and explore different ways of understanding her faith. She said that City Square fit in well with this new way of understanding.

Janet came to City Square shortly after moving to Phoenix. “The first time I came, I knew this was the place for me,” she said. “At City Square, it’s more about what you do than what you believe. It’s about how you live out your faith.” Above all, Janet noted that City Square is about accepting everyone. She said this level of acceptance is much more important than a check list of beliefs.

Despite asking questions at times, Janet noted that her Christian faith has always been important to her. She said the strong community at City Square helps enrich her understanding of God. “I couldn’t stop being a Christian if I wanted to, and I don’t think you can do that alone.” She said this shared sense of support, accountability, and motivation toward spiritual practice, are all part of what inspires her to call City Square her church home.

Janet said one of the most positive aspects of City Square is the way the community challenges her to take everything a step further. When she mentioned to Rev. Rob Rynders that she enjoyed reading “Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road,” Rob encouraged her to start a study group about the book. Janet continues to participate in various City Square groups including the Creative Writing Group, Spiritual Formation Group, the Leadership Committee and the Mission Committee, which chooses City Square’s charitable partners.

Janet stated that City Square’s charitable outreach is another aspect that attracted her to the church. City Square tithes 10 percent of all donated funds back to community partners it believes are doing positive work. “It allows us to be good stewards,” she said. “By contributing to these organizations, City Square makes a much stronger impact than what we could ever do as a church alone.”
To people who are thinking about attending City Square for the first time, Janet encouraged them to give it a try, noting that City Square is better when experienced than when explained. “You can start as big or small as you want,” she said. “You’ll find a place to fit in here.”

December 1, 2014

Chureca (or, Why I Believe in God)

This is a guest post from City Square member Nathan Rosswog

Chureca 3

If I believe in God, it’s because of a garbage dump that smells like shit.

In the summer of 2008, my friend Clay and I backpacked through Central America for three months. We had no structured itinerary for our trip, but our goal was simple: Our desire was to meet people we had never met, to hear their stories and look into their eyes, and find connection between all of humanity. Truthfully, we wanted to find God in a way and place we had never found him before.
Though our trip was well-intentioned, it was poorly planned. In fact, the night before our departure from Florida to Guatemala City, our contact in Guatemala called to say he couldn’t meet us at the airport, but would send his friend Carlos to pick us up instead. Which was great, because we had no idea what Carlos looked like.

That vignette served as a microcosm for our entire trip: any flimsy planning we attempted to do was quickly blown away by the winds of travel, unexpected circumstances and Latin American instability. Still, despite the setbacks-Clay losing his passport, staying in an extremely dilapidated and sketchy hotel in San Salvador, wandering around aimlessly in Guatemala City for hours after taking a “short walk” and getting lost- I have never experienced God more clearly than on that pilgrimage.

I saw God everywhere.

I saw God in the natural beauty of Guatemala and Nicaragua; in the chiseled mountains and rolling fields and rushing, crystal waters.

I saw God on the top of the mountain in Guatemala where we were living and
working: He was in the strength of quiet and serious women who carried baskets of fruit on their heads every day; He was in the dedication of the calloused machete men who went into the fields to work the land, and of course he was in the laughter of the children as they played soccer.

I saw God in the funeral processions for loved ones, complete with pinatas, banners, and flowers; and I saw God in the general commitment to relationships and people that is lacking here in the United States.

I saw God in conversations, in lifestyles, in the street and on the mountaintop, in
the alleyways and hotels and buses and smiles and tears.

I saw God everywhere.

But mostly, I saw God in La Chureca, a Nicaraguan garbage dump community that was home to over 800 people. It was hell on Earth.

On the first day that Clay and I ventured into the dump, I noticed a blackened, soot-filled Teddy Bear that was suspended by its neck with wire hanging over the entrance. Below the bear fires burned, and the smoke that rose from these burning pyres had darkened the Teddy Bear’s coat to a deep soot-grey. I couldn’t help but ruminate on the imagery: though an ominous welcome, the blackened bear was an appropriate portrayal of the brokenness and death that lay inside. Once inside, my suspicions were confirmed: one quick glance revealed three-legged dogs that scoured for food, heaps of trash that burned incessantly, creating a canvas of ash and soot that blanketed the community, and children who, despite their surroundings, used the mountains of trash to play King of the Hill and Hide and Seek (children are the best of every culture, aren’t they?) People’s eyes were downcast and lifeless, shoulders were heavy from the weight of the discarded garbage and discarded lives. Literally, the place I was standing had “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” I was in hell.

The questions began immediately, and furiously: Where was God in this place? If these people are in Hell now, what kind of God would send them to an eternal one? What does salvation mean to these people? What relevance does church have in this place, when survival is the goal and trust is unknown?

Though most of my questions weren’t answered and many of them rage to this day, I began to see clearly -probably for the first time- that all of my preconceived notions about Sin, Hell, Salvation, Heaven and God were rapidly dismantled. It was unsettling to realize that Sin was tangibly real, and not simply a vague theological concept: It was clear to me that the greed and selfishness that created this dump, and the structures in place that perpetuated it, were nothing short of an abomination before God. Hell was real: I was in it. Salvation was real: In a palpable and desperate way, this place needed saved.

Oh, but the joy I felt when I realized that if Hell was real, Heaven was too! As I spent time with the people and heard stories of hope, of families sticking together, of neighbor helping neighbor, I knew all was not lost. As I spoke with the children about their dreams for the future, I knew that Death had not completely won, and that Life was still breathing there, though softly. I knew, or rather I choose to believe, that God hears the prayers of the nine year old girl there who prays every night to be a doctor, and that one day he will take the bones of poverty and sin that reside in that dump and breathe life into them until they are dancing upon the injustice that they now know. I choose to believe.

I believe in God, and it’s because of a garbage dump that smells like shit.

October 17, 2014

Statement on Marriage Equality in Arizona

As proud members of the Arizona family, we at City Square Church celebrate the thousands of families whose love and commitment have gained legal recognition in the place they call home. As proud members of the United Methodist family, we grieve our denomination’s continued failure to recognize all who are called into covenant relationship by God. As proud members of the City Square movement we remain committed to our call, acknowledge the sacred worth of all people regardless of gender or sexual orientation, race or ethnicity, political ideology or mental/physical ability. We believe that by strengthening the bonds of love and grace within our communities we live more fully into Christ’s call to create God’s kingdom on earth. That is why our pastors, Rev. Rob Rynders and Rev. Brian Kemp-Schlemmer are prepared to serve any couple seeking to enter into the covenant of marriage. May we celebrate together as we seek to connect people to God and each other for the transformation of our lives, our communities, and our world.

May 19, 2014

Adventures in Missing the Point :: Faith & Science Part 1 :: The Beginning

Sermon from Rob Rynders based on Acts 17:24-28

Additional resources:

Mike McHargue (Especially his reading list, which helped with much of the research for this sermon)
Lawrence Krauss – A Universe From Nothing
Neil de Grasse Tyson
Carl Sagan
Cosmos Television Series (2014)
Brian Greene – Interview on “On Being With Krista Tippet”
David Montgomery – The Rocks Don’t Lie
Francis Collins – “Why This Scientist Believes in God”
The BioLogos Foundation