PSR alumni encourage questions, community at new church

March 18, 2010

Sara Steenhouse and Robert Shively“It’s arrogant to say I can do faith by myself. My spiritual growth demands I interact with people around the biggest questions. It’s challenging, but I treasure it,” says Robert Shively, who earned his Master of Divinity from PSR in 1998. He and another PSR graduate, Sara Steenhouse (MDiv 2006), have started an alternative church in the Lake Merritt neighborhood of Oakland, California, to provide that space for community, support, and reflection.

“What makes our church, which we named insideOUT, work is that people show up as who they are, with questions and doubts and struggles and excitement,” Steenhouse explains. “We have worked hard to live in the spirit of community. It comes from the realization that I can’t be the best I am on my own, without people to challenge, appreciate, and encourage me.”

The non-traditional format of the gatherings is designed to be welcoming to people who feel alienated from formal religious structures. For example, the small community—about ten people—meets on Friday nights, shares meals, encourages spiritual reflection through art projects, and closely reads of the Bible. “We take the frame and patterns of tradition and play with them, but we don’t start with dogma or a strict belief about what’s right and wrong,” says Steenhouse. “Instead, it’s about recognizing and participating in the transforming love of God.”

That openness allows participants to explore spirituality in a personally meaningful way without the barriers more structured religious environments sometimes pose, Steenhouse says.

InsideOUT meets every Friday evening. For more information, visit the new church’s web site at insideoutoakland.org.