Category Archives: Phoenix

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.

December 8, 2014

City Square Church is Moving (In January 2015)

Ucc Space

After a year of Sunday morning worship at The Bioscience High School, in downtown Phoenix, City Square is moving to a new space in the historic Coronado Neighborhood on January 4, 2015. We will remain at Bioscience for the remainder of 2014, including for our Christmas Eve service.  Beginning in January we will be worshipping regularly at the headquarters of The Southwest Conference of The United Church of Christ located at 917 E Sheridan, Phoenix, 85006, 1.7 miles northeast of Bioscience High School. The UCC made us a generous offer to use the space at a very low cost and our leadership team decided this was the right move for us. The new location will allow us to be in a new neighborhood and will make for an easier setup/breakdown process each week. There is a small parking area and ample street parking. Each Sunday there will also be ample signage so folks will easily know where to go. We’re thankful for the time we had a Bioscience, especially the extremely friendly maintenance staff who worked to make it a great space to be in every Sunday. We’re excited about this new opportunity and hope you will join us in helping us tell other about the move. We’ll see you in January, Coronado!

December 1, 2014

Advent Art Project: Hope

This Advent, City Square Church will be featuring a piece of locally made art, each week in worship, representing that particular week’s Advent theme.

This first piece is “Hope” and was created by Ramon Aguirre.

Csq Advent Final from PJ Szabo on Vimeo.

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.

August 31, 2013

Church Sucks Because…

1002198_501313303283711_841508973_nA few weeks back Rob and I set up a table at TaylorFest, an ASU Downtown event meant to introduce incoming freshmen to the Downtown Phoenix community. There were restaurants, coffee shops, , music venues, and of course, churches represented there. We took a sign and some business cards and, in a last ditch effort to come up with something to differentiate us from other churches, a six foot chalkboard I made for use in worship.

See, when you’re trying hard not to be a soundbite church, it’s hard to say who you are when you only have a soundbite’s worth of time with a person. “We’re not like other churches,” or, “we’re relevant for a younger generation,” ring hollow to a generation of young people who have grown up hearing these mantras. On the other hand, “we’re a faith community striving to recognize where God is already at work in the creative, diverse, emerging community of Downtown Phoenix, honor that work among believers and non-believers alike, and invite all people within the community into an intentional spiritual journey to become more and more who God created us to be,” just doesn’t capture the imagination of college freshmen living away from home for the first time and rushing between hip vendors vying for their attention and tables giving out free goodies.

So, a chalk board. It allowed interaction, an opportunity for students to voice their own opinions, and a chance to move beyond words into creativity. We wrote, “God Looks Like…” at the top of the board and invited folk to draw, write, or express in anyway they cared to what God looked like to them. We got some good responses, but the folk who opted in were by and large folk who were already comfortable with “God” talk. “Jesus” was the first answer put on the board and, while I can appreciate that response, it most likely came from someone comfortable with church. Sandwiched between the new mega church in town and the campus evangelical group, we were talking to the same insiders churches always talk to at public events like this. We knew we had to do something different.

When the board was filled we took a pic, erased it, and replaced the prompt at the top with, “Church Sucks Because…”. We immediately sensed a shift. The mega church to our right wasn’t sure how to react. Students who had been avoiding the “church row” area of the event began taking notice, stopping to read comments or just pointing the prompt out to their friends. Some folk made a B-line for the chalk and began writing their thoughts while several others stood back, contemplating the question. When people asked us who we were or what this was all about we told them that we were a new faith community in town looking for honest conversation about church and how we might strip away the institutional barriers between our community and the work of Christ in the world. Some folk hated it and let us know. Some thanked us for our honesty, for allowing them a voice, and for creating space for a conversation they were having in their heads or with their friends that seemed to separate them from the churches they grew up in.

And that’s it. That’s the point. Some folk are happy with their church just the way it is and that’s great! We’re glad they’ve found a place that offers them the salvific love and grace of Jesus Christ. But some folk have not and they don’t know how to tell us that. Some folk desperately want a connection to God but are no longer willing to check their brains, or creativity, or discerning pallets, or friends at the door. Others have given up the notion that there might be a place in a church or even in the kin(g)dom of God for them because they can’t accept the teachings, are bored in worship, or feel that people are disingenuous in the churches they grew up in. These folk are our neighbors, our friends, our family, and they’re having these conversation whether we’re a part of them or not.

So let’s take away the stigma. Church doesn’t always suck, but sometimes it does and no one should be surprised by that. Let’s not make other people say it first. Let’s not let our institutions become such idols that we put their reverence above offering God’s grace and love to the world.

Because that would suck.

June 24, 2013

Phoenix, Faith, and Adaptive Reuse

One of the most interesting things about downtown and Central Phoenix is the practice of what’s called “adaptive reuse.” Arizona is one of our nation’s youngest states, meaning we don’t have a lot of old historic buildings. The ones we do have aren’t that historic by East Coast historic standards, but if something’s been around for a while, here in the desert, there’s a pretty big and vocal group of folks who do their best to preserve it. One of the ways they do this is to encourage reusing a building for a new purpose or business instead of bulldozing it for new construction. This has become a popular option for many locally owned restaurants and coffee shops that have brought new life to some of our older and unique buildings.

These projects are probably not as cost effective as demolishing the original building and then re-building, but they help maintain some uniqueness and history in a metro area infamously known for it’s urban blight and whitewashed urban sprawl. In fact, as I write this, I’m sitting in the new indoor seating area of Shine Coffee, here in midtown Phoenix. This is what they call their “living room,” which is a redesigned and repurposed space in an older building that once served as a dentist’s office where the dentist and his family lived upstairs. It’s one of the most comfortable coffee shop seating areas I’ve experienced and the environment is helping spur my thinking and creativity. There are also plans to add a “pocket park” space outside and plans for a wine bar in another vacant part of the building. It’s things like adaptive reuse that makes Phoenix attractive to creatives who think outside of the box and see possibility in an old vacant building or empty lot and not another opportunity to build a Dunkin’ Donuts.

As I’ve been reflected on our first year of existence, in a way it feels like City Square Church as been an adaptive reuse project. We’ve taken something (religion), that many thought had already made it’s statement, had fallen into disrepair, and by all means should probably be demolished because it doesn’t have much left to offer the world. We’ve taken those bones and we’re trying to breathe new life into them. Our vision has been to preserve the beauty, the uniqueness, and to tap in to what Christianity was originally supposed to be, while at the same time re-invigorating it with new possibilities.

There’s a lot about church that we’ve held on to. We still have small groups that do bible study, encourage accountability, and whose members pray for one another. We’re putting the finishing touches on our Sunday morning service that has the bones of thousands of other Christian worship services, including great music, preaching, and holy communion. We’re proclaiming our love of God and of neighbor and reclaiming that early Methodist spirit of a church not bound by walls and a faith that is personal but equally social.

We came downtown, though, not just to build another church, but because we saw some pretty great things beginning to break through the surface: The arts, the food, ASU, entrepreneurs, community organizing, and exciting new development. Our intention has never been to fix or to rescue Phoenix, but to help in the work that’s already being done. Yet, what we felt might be missing is a public space for faith and spirituality that was as unique and exciting about everything else going on in the core of Phoenix. Well, after a year on the ground we feel like our assumptions were correct.

We’ve met all kinds of people in the community who never thought they would ever explore the topics of faith and spirituality ever again, outside of their own thoughts or private conversations. These are folks who now gather to discuss religion and spirituality every second Sunday evening of the month at Angel’s Trumpet Ale House and those who come to our “Community & Contemplation” service at the Icehouse to be led in a “spiritual but not religious” form of prayer and meditation. Then there are those who have joined us for one of our Sunday morning worship services and confessed that they never thought they would willingly attend a service ever again in their lives. Many folks may still never attend one of our groups or services, but we’ve heard from those who feel that our work has enabled them to re-claim Jesus from a judgmental and hurtful past.

But like any old building, even though you’ve given it new plumbing, electrical, structure, and a face lift, it can still have unexpected issues and needed repairs. It also needs to live in to it’s new vision and purpose. And this will be our work for our second year as a church. There will be some unexpected quirks and growing pains. There will be new choices, challenges, and opportunities placed in front of us. There will be temptation to fall back into old habits and to focus inward on ourselves. Yet, if we remain faithful to God’s call and the spirit’s work in the community, we will remain, facing outward, ready to serve those who are not a part of us. We will not see them as strangers or as things to be collected, but as neighbors and partners in the work that lies ahead. May we do so in the name of the one who came to lay his own life down for others and calls us to do the same. Amen.

May 24, 2013

Introducing the Official City Square Church Website


One of the things folks have asked us most about is our website. For the past several months we’ve offered a beautifully designed landing page with links to all of our social media sites. A couple of months ago we re-enlisted the services of downtown Phoenix based eeko studio to design and develop a fully functional website that would feature all of our events. Well, like they did with our logo, landing page, and other branding, the folks at eeko studio knocked it out of the park. Our new site offers an easy way to get information about and RSVP for all of our events. You can read our welcoming statement, learn our story, and find out more about our pastors. You can catch the latest posts on our blog and support the work of our ministry through our “Give” page. We hope you’ll take a few moments to explore all of the beautifully designed pages of our site. We’re excited to offer a world-class web site as we continue to ramp up to our public launch on September 8, 2013!

May 9, 2013

Can Anything Good Come Out of Downtown Phoenix?


Photo: Kelsey Wong, Design: Little Giant Design

Have you ever kicked yourself for standing on the sidelines too long? Have you ever failed to follow your heart or your gut and then missed out on something special? In my lifetime I have probably done that more than I like to admit. One of the biggest risk I’ve taken, though, is City Square Church, and it’s been far more rewarding than I could have ever dreamed. City Square, however, was a great risk to take only because Phoenix was, and continues to be, a great risk to take.

This past Sunday I preached at our first ever Sunday morning worship service, or what we new church start pastors call a “preview service” (We’ll have more previews on June 2, July 7, and weekly in August as we head towards our public “launch” or “grand opening” on September 8, 2013).

During the sermon I posed the questions: “Can anything good come out of downtown Phoenix?” and “Can anything good come out of religion?” My answer to both of these is an enthusiastic “yes!”

But we have to go beyond just agreeing that these things, can be, and are indeed, good. We have to be active in making Phoenix and religion good, even if they aren’t perfect and even if they are risky.

When it comes to Phoenix, we have to keep the momentum going in downtown, we have to spread the word about downtown, and we have to bring people downtown so they can experience what is good.

For those who consider themselves religious and who are specifically followers of Jesus, we can’t just talk about what a nice guy Jesus was, we have to live his values of love, compassion, justice, mercy and forgiveness on a daily basis. These can’t just be values we hold, but a way of life through which we transform our community and the world. We have to show that churches and religion aren’t aging buildings or a set of rules and judgments, but are a people who live into the loving and compassionate people God calls us to be.

Most importantly, we have to share and live this “good news” together.

So, if you missed our preview service, I want to extend an invitation to you to join us on this journey. We’re entering an exciting time in the young life of this faith community and we want to include everyone we can. If you’ve been on the periphery waiting for an opportunity to jump in, this is a great time. If you want to know what the next steps are or just want to hear more about who we are and where we are going, join us for “Coffee With the Pastors” at Songbird Coffee & Tea House on May 19th.

I don’t want to end with a selfish invitation to join my “thing,” though. Whether or not you’re ready to take a risk on religion, I want to invite you to help make Phoenix awesome. Phoenix needs not just your presence, but your ideas, your creativity, your passion, and your compassion. So much is already happening and will continue to happen as this city comes alive. So, whether or not you ever step foot into a City Square Church program or activity, please join me and many, many, others in making Phoenix, especially downtown, a great place to live, work, play and be in community with one another. If you’re standing on the sidelines, right now is the time to step into the game. Take a risk on Phoenix, you won’t be sorry.

April 25, 2013

The Importance of Getting to Know Our Neighbors

There’s something that bothers me about seeing neighbors gathering in the streets to celebrate things like the killing or capture of our national enemies. Why does it take tragedy and violence to bring us out of our houses to meet our neighbors through mourning or rejoicing with them? How do we move to a place where we celebrate in the street with our neighbors just because it’s something we practice regularly as a community?

I moved to Phoenix a little less than a year ago, just before starting my work with City Square Church. We looked at a few different houses, but settled on the one we ended up buying because we liked the feel of the neighborhood. It was quiet, yet you could easily walk to a nearby intersection that had various cool restaurants, coffee shops, a gym, and much more. We could take the kids to a nearby park and walk/run on the nearby canal path.

Now, when you move to a new neighborhood, in Phoenix, at the beginning of summer, it’s unlikely you will have much interaction with your neighbors. During our brutally hot summers we tend to stay inside or scurry from one air conditioned place to another.

But when the heat broke, in the fall, we began meeting a lot of our neighbors. We were invited to a few neighborhood barbecues and block parties and found that most of our neighborhood was made-up of families with young children, just like us. Now, when we go on our evening walks with our kids we run into our neighbors. Sometimes we stop and chat for a few minutes, other times we exchange a wave and a hello.

A few months ago our house was broken into and the intruder stole some things from our bedroom. The next day I walked around our block and notified my neighbors, many of whom I had yet to meet, of what had happened. They appreciated knowing about the robbery but I also ended up having more in-depth conversations with them, adding a silver-lining to an unfortunate event. I thought to myself, though, that it shouldn’t take my house getting robbed to get out and get to know my neighbors better.

Recently, I learned that a 2009 Gallup poll found only 12% of Arizonans believe the people in their community care about one another (For this stat and a ton of other good information about Arizona, check out The Arizona We Want 2.0).

In other words, at best, people don’t think their neighbors care about them and, at worst, we don’t think our neighbors trust us and/or we think they hate us.

It’s no secret we have trouble being neighborly, here in Arizona. Suburban sprawl creates cookie-cutter communities with two car garages, high walls and the lack of places for the neighborhood to gather. Freeways and un-friendly streets for bikes and pedestrians discourage walking and biking. All of these things create fewer natural interactions for people to have with one another. In addition, many of our laws promote a self-preservation/no trespassing/I can shoot you if I fear you mentality. We especially fear immigrants and just about anyone who doesn’t look or think like us.

I believe, however, that we can do better than 12% of us who think our neighbors care about us, and we can start by finding out who are neighbors are. In Luke 10:25 a lawyer asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answers with “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” But the lawyer isn’t satisfied so he pushes more, “who is my neighbor?” Jesus then goes on to tell the story of the Good Samaritan. During Jesus’ time, Samaritans were considered anything but neighbors as they were seen as unclean and inferior. Yet, Jesus tells a story where those who society considered to be upstanding citizens and righteous religious leaders pass up a man who has been robbed and beaten and is lying in a ditch. But it’s the Samaritan who comes along, helps the man, and turns out to be the hero. In a scandalous reversal it’s the last person that anyone expects who Jesus identifies as the “neighbor” in the story.

It doesn’t matter who we are, we are all called to be good neighbors. It doesn’t matter who our neighbors are, if we don’t get to know them, we’ll let our stereotypes and misconceptions get the best of us.

If our neighbor is everyone and we are called to be good and compassionate neighbors, ourselves, we don’t have to go far to meet them. Your neighbor lives next door to you, sits in the office down the hall, is sleeping on the sidewalk tonight, comes from another country and might look different than anyone you’ve ever met.

Why do we need to get to know our neighbors? Because if we don’t, when people are in trouble, when they are disillusioned, when they are broken, they may have no one else to lean on. When we don’t know our neighbors it’s easy for distrust to take hold, for our fears to get the best of us and see our neighbors as “the other.” But when we know our neighbors fear and mistrust turn to love and compassion, and those are things worth celebrating in the streets.

So what are you waiting for? Go meet your neighbors.

April 10, 2013

Our Limits, and Beyond

Tonight, below the window of my 1st Ave. and Adams apartment I overheard two people shouting at each other. That happens sometime, the (additional) price you pay for living in the heart of downtown, but tonight I heard words that alarmed me: hit, scared, get away, don’t touch me. Now, I’m not the kind of guy who thinks he’s tough enough to step into any situation, but I couldn’t ignore this one so I pulled up the non-emergency police number on my phone and I headed downstairs.

It was ugly. A man and a woman, close to each other and off to one side of the sidewalk, like folk only get when they know they’re being inappropriately intimate or aggressive with each other in public. Their voices were low and angry, escalating into shouting then self-consciously dropping back down into strained, hushed tones. From the street I heard another word that put the whole scene into context for me: drunk. She was drunk. He was drunk. They were clearly drunk.

I’ve worked with enough hard-living folk to know better than to engage people when they’re drunk but I also know that sometimes drawing a private moment of anger out into public can embarrass even drunk folk into deescalation. I asked them if everything was okay.

“Yes, everything’s fine.” Him.

“No, it’s not okay.” Her.

“Do you need me to call the cops?” Me.

“No.” Her.

“Sure.” Him.

“Yeah, go ahead.” Her.

For the moment we were all in agreement. I called the cops and then hung out for about 10 minutes waiting for them to show. He’s feeling pretty smug. She punched him in the face and he’s going to find witnesses. He rides off and she tells me he has her keys and she’s afraid to go home, and by the way, she needs a shot if I’m drinking tonight. I’m not. He comes back. They fight about who’s house it is that he has the keys to. She pays the bills. He buys food. She bought the dog. He pays for it with love. I’m not judging. He rides off again. She asks about nearby bars. I express sympathy for what appears to be a bad night. He comes back and claims not to have her keys anymore. She stomps off toward home. He stays and smugly tells me he’ll wait for the cops. He gets bored, tells me his name and says he’s going home. He rides off. I walk to the corner and can no longer see either of them.

Epic fail.

I stepped out of my house and into other people’s business so I could try to keep a bad situation from getting worse and in the end I accomplished absolutely nothing. They’re both still drunk and angry, only now they’ve presumably gone home to fight rather than doing it where someone my be able to intercede. I feel… awful.

So what do I do? I walk back to my apartment, head swimming with all the ways I’ll intervene more effectively next time (“If you’re scared he’ll come to your house do you have a safe place you could go instead?” “If you think this is all because she’s drunk, do you have a place you can go tonight until you both sleep it off?” The list goes on) and I do the only thing I know to do when I’ve failed. I pray.

Believe me, I’m not the kind of guy who asks God to step in so I don’t have to. I’m not a passive pray-er. I am a roll-my-sleeves-up-and-get-in-the-mess kind of guy but I’ve been doing this long enough to know that more often than I’d care to admit their comes a point where I have to recognize my own inability to effect change in a situation. I hate it, but there it is, none the less. I am infinitely fallible.

If you have ideas about how I could have handled the situation better, I do too. I’d love to hear yours. Also, if you’re in an unhealthy situation in your home and need some support please contact our friends at Sojourner Center ( They’re fantastic and they’re ready to help. But if you’re just like me and you regularly find yourself in situations where you come face to face with your own limitations, know you’re not alone. I’m right there with you, along with every other social worker, nurse, chaplain, paramedic, teacher and anyone else who cares enough to help all the way up to that point where they can’t help anymore. And God is with you too.

It’s a humbling experience, but it’s pretty good company to keep.