Sanctuary Dives Into the Blue Ocean

For those of you looking for Vineyard Community Church of Iowa City (VCCIC), you’ve come to the right place! What is now Sanctuary Community Church came into being as VCCIC in 1999. Then in 2005 we joined a loose affiliation of churches within Vineyard united by thriving in secular, largely non-church-going settings, and by desiring to do church well for this type of community. The first gathering of this group, which was to become Blue Ocean Faith, was in 2005 at the Cambridge, Massachusetts Vineyard church led by Dave Schmelzer with 8-10 churches represented, including us.

Blue Ocean Faith existed happily within Vineyard until 2012, when Vineyard went through a leadership transition that headed the movement in a direction divergent from the trajectory of Blue Ocean Faith. So in fall of 2014, Blue Ocean emerged as an independent faith movement from Vineyard, and in 2015 we here in Iowa City made our formal transfer of affiliation from Vineyard to Blue Ocean.

The story, of course, has much more to it than this brief summary, and for those who are interested, we’re happy to provide more information. But standing on the far side of the transition, we’re truly excited about where we sense God leading us. We feel that we’re walking through a wide-open door into the next stage of life and mission for our church that is full of possibility, with Jesus at the center.

Let’s go, Sanctuary!

What is Blue Ocean Faith and Why Do We Need It?

We like to think that what we believe about God is just plain true, with religion somehow uninfluenced by all the rest of life going on around us. But how we connect to God through religion is in fact profoundly shaped by our cultural context. When, for example, heaven was just above the sky, it made sense as a religious practice to build tall towers to get to God. But with what’s beyond now vast and amorphous, locating God has become complicated.

The 20th Century Church

Which is relevant for church today because core conceptions of who we are and how the world operates are changing. Twentieth-century Christianity in the U.S. came to be shaped by deeply held cultural beliefs such as:

The magic is gone. Long ago the world was a place of enchantment. God or the devil or their minions spiritually inhabited material things, through which they interacted with us every day. But enlightened largely by the scientific endeavor, we gradually came to realize that stuff is just stuff, containing nothing magical or mysterious, so that what we see is literally what we get.

God is distant. In the enchanted long-ago world, God’s active presence was essential to keep things going. But our new disenchanted world, leached of his presence, seemed to hum along just fine. While God might reconnect with us one day, he appears happy for now looking on as a distant spectator.

The world is small. Until very recently, we believed that the earth was young, the cosmos small, things obeyed rules, and nothing changed. Which meant that given enough time, it could all be figured out. We could learn the things, decipher the rules, and because none of these change, we could come to our natural end as Masters of the Universe.

We’re big. Our mastery was aided by our awesomeness. We evolved big brains, noble hearts, and powerful community. We then employed these to conquer the cosmos, engineer the just society, make all humans flourish, and create the meaningful life.

Disenchanted with Disenchantment and the Challenge Facing Church

Whew—big thoughts! But as the 20th century has bled into the 21st, we’ve begun to wonder. Our attempts to explain everything (e.g., consciousness, altruism) as material stuff that obeys rules are consistently confounded. Many folks, despite prevailing skepticism, search hopefully for a spirituality that is alive, personal, and present. Our small world has exploded into a vast cosmos whose continuing evolution is governed by randomness as much as rules, while our awesome species seems unable to master even the basics of how to treat each other or our planet.

Confronted by these disillusionings, we’ve begun to sift and sort, asking together: What portions of which Grand Truths are actually true? They’re all in play; much will be cast aside, while what’s carried forward will represent a synthesis of transformed beliefs and new metaphors that do their best to capture who we and our universe have become.

All of which has profound implications for church. Many of the church forms that flourished in the 19th and 20th centuries were Christian instantiations of disenchantment, distant God, small world and big us.  So with people moving on from these, the church has struggled to retain its relevance and centrality as the go-to place for God-connection. Existent church forms are trying to adapt, but the effort will require the extremest of makeovers, a dismantling down to the core before being born again can begin.

The Dream of Blue Ocean

Which brings us to the Blue Ocean. The hope of Blue Ocean Faith is to build up a relevant and joyful expression of Christianity from within contemporary culture. We seek to understand how Jesus connects us to God in the context of the radical shifts in our notions of our selves and of our universe that have come into place in the past 50 years. We thus do not reach into culture from somewhere else, but rather as inhabitants we search for the forms and structures for connecting to God that our culture provides.

This pursuit has already been fruitful. Blue Ocean Faith has delineated values that guide our engagement with the wider world:

  • We need connection more than answers
  • Everyone is us
  • There really is something going on out there
  • We flow easily within secular culture
  • There’s no bad news in connecting with God
  • Jesus is our North Star
  • We grow by taking our own unique, high-risk journey
  • Judging other people is a big problem
  • Everything is shot through with meaning
  • (click here to see more on these Blue Ocean Perspectives)

principles that shape Blue Ocean church culture:

  • Alive in Jesus.
  • Diverse
  • Inclusive
  • Politically nuanced
  • Attractive and comprehensible to outsiders
  • (click here for more)

and beliefs that underlie those principles:

Using these structures for thought and practice, an affiliation is forming of like-minded faith communities scattered across the country. Through shared resources and ideas, events and conferences, and significant friendships, we benefit greatly from our connection to Blue Ocean. We here at Sanctuary Community Church, as charter members, have experienced nothing but goodness and joy in joining the Blue Ocean Faith Church Network. We hope, in our community, to provide a place of finding and connecting with God in a complicated and ever-changing world.