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Author Archives: joelnewton
Ever wish you could travel back in time and tell give your younger self some advice?
This summer marks fifteen years of marriage for Hillary and me and so this has caused us to reflect on the last fifteen years. Anna is also entering junior high in the fall which causes us to think back over the last few years as well.
Each morning when I open up Facebook, it displays pictures from years past as part of their “On This Day” feature. Yesterday it popped up this picture above which is my view from the driver’s seat of our moving van as we packed up and moved back to Denver from Champaign, Illinois.
This move back to Denver was a stressful one for our family but we knew it was the right one. Because of a changing role at a church I had been working at, we decided to move back to Denver where we had been eight years prior to Champaign. But we packed up our moving van and started to drive back to Denver without a job or a place to live. You can read about this leap of faith here.
As I look back over the last fifteen years, what’s ironic is that every five years we have made a pretty big jump into the unknown.
In 2002, Hillary and I married and moved to Englewood, Colorado without jobs. Like many folks in their 20’s, Colorado felt like it was a really fun place to live. As I look back at our honeymoon I just remember being anxious about what we were going to do for work when we got back. I worked as a telemarketer, barista and tutor before I finally started my Masters at Denver Seminary. Hillary worked as a bank teller.
It was in 2007, that I decided to leave a stable junior high youth ministry job at Foothills Bible Church in Littleton. I left that job not knowing what would come next though at the time we felt like it was the wise move. That decision led me into a desert time of trying to figure out my calling that would last three years. I thought about the mission field, working at Apple Retail, applied to become a professor and had a short stint as a youth pastor again. Then finally in the summer of 2010, we moved to Champaign.
We can’t go back and change the past. But we can learn from the past. Would I go back and make different decisions about what we would have done at those five year jump points? I don’t know. If I could go back and talk to my younger self in 2002, 2007 and 2012, I would tell myself to:
- Take one day at a time and not try to plan too much into the future
- Be present with people around me instead of letting anxious thoughts rule the day and keep me from truly being with people in the moment
- Trust that God will provide and that I don’t have to handle everything on my own
And now we come to another five year stage, we are learning from our past experiences and not jumping again. Though we could make a lot of money from selling our house, we love where we are in Edgewater and what we are up to as a family. Hillary loves her job as a preschool teacher at Lumberg Elementary and is working toward her Preschool Director License. I love my role with Edgewater Collective investing in our local schools. This summer, I’m moving my office into the Jefferson Community Center at Jefferson Junior/Senior High School and am a part of building an exciting partnership for connecting resources to families and the community. Anna is going to Jefferson Junior High in the fall and Norah will be starting 5th grade. And we are still praying and dreaming of a neighborhood Vineyard church here in Edgewater.
We have learned from our past fifteen years of marriage and the transitions that we went through. Now we are rooted and established in a neighborhood. We are staying! No jump this year!
The Five Year Jumps
2002: Married and moved to Englewood, Colorado without jobs
2007: Left youth ministry job at Foothills Bible Church
2012: Left family ministry job at First Presbyterian Church
2017: Resting and staying in Edgewater!
Four and a half years ago when we moved to Edgewater, we chose to send our daughters to our neighborhood school, Lumberg Elementary. At the time, I wrote a blog post titled “Sacrificing Our Kids’ Education for the Mission.” In September of 2012, we felt like we were taking a chance in sending our children to a low-performing school. Many of my beliefs about education have changed since that blog post including the notion that by choosing Lumberg we were sacrificing something.
Now once again we are making another educational choice. This fall our oldest daughter Anna will attend our neighborhood school for 7th grade, Jefferson Junior/Senior High School. The best part about this decision is that Anna is involved in this decision and feels deeply about wanting to attend Jefferson. Honestly, Anna is making the decision and we agree with her.
It is important to understand the perception surrounding our high school here in Edgewater. It was once a true neighborhood high school and the top option for our proud, working class neighborhood. But starting in the late 1970s, the perception started to change and with changing demographics, more and more neighborhood families chose to send their children to other high schools in the suburbs. For the last twenty years, Jefferson has floundered as a high majority of students are struggling against the roadblocks of poverty.
The sense in the Edgewater community is that if you truly want the best education for your student, then you should send them to Wheat Ridge High School or Lakewood High School.
If this is the perception, then why would we follow Anna’s desires and choose to send her to Jefferson in the fall? Hillary and I do want the best education for our daughters and that is why Anna will attend Jefferson.
Here are some of the elements of Jefferson that led us to this decision:
Gifted and Talented/Honors Pathway
As we researched Jefferson’s curriculum options, we were excited to find out that Jefferson offers a Gifted and Talented/Honors Pathway from 7th grade through 12th grade. Anna can be in an accelerated track in which she will start Advanced Placement (AP) classes in 9th grade. By the time she graduates, she will have had the opportunity to take at least 10 AP classes and receive college credit. The other great aspect of this pathway is that she will be able to take other elective classes with students who are not in the honors pathway and broaden her relationships.
Value of Diversity and Continuing Relationships
One of the aspects of being part of the Lumberg community is that our daughters are in the minority. For all her elementary years, Anna has always been in the minority. In Champaign, Illinois, a majority of Anna’s classmates in kindergarten and 1st grade were African-American. Our daughters learn from students who are immigrants and who come from family experiences that are different from their own. They develop a heart for others and their eyes are opened to the reality of those who struggle to make ends meet. This has enhanced their learning beyond what they can read in a book. They sat in classrooms the day after the presidential election and felt and heard the pain of their classmates who were undocumented. For Anna, it is important that these relationships continue into 7th grade at Jefferson.
It’s Our Neighborhood School
I can’t fault parents for choosing to send their children to another school than the one in their neighborhood. It’s hard to believe that every school can truly serve all students. But for our family, we deeply value our Edgewater community and this means choosing to send our children to the neighborhood schools. If we want to see our schools continue their forward progress, then we need to be part of the solution. For too long, our Edgewater community has not truly owned our schools. It would be strange to load Anna into the car and drive by Jefferson on the way to a school in Lakewood or Wheat Ridge. And on top of that Jefferson is literally right around the corner from our house. As we live a more urban, walkable lifestyle I wonder if Anna will even want to drive.
In August, Anna will take that leap to junior high and cross Pierce Street to start her six year journey to graduate in the Class of 2023 as a Jefferson Saint. As a father, I couldn’t be prouder of who she is and who she will become as a result of attending Lumberg Elementary and Jefferson Junior/Senior High School.
Our neighborhood, our schools.
From the moment I was born I noticed things in the eyes of my parents. I noticed I was loved, and I noticed that a conflict was brewing in the Tall Oak Forest. At least, that’s what we call home. It was a conflict, a conflict between the humans and the animals. It is a battle that has lasted for centuries. Tall Oaks once was a peaceful community, but when the humans came, centuries ago, they just decided to settle down, and live on our land! Of course we were infuriated about this. So long story short, we declared war on them. They don’t know that though. They can’t understand us. But we can understand them. That’s the way it is to this day. I know my parents wanted me to live in a peaceful environment. They did not get their wish.
The day I was born was a, warm, sunny, spring day. I stared into my mom’s eyes with wonder. Like I said, I could read their expressions that day. Loving, yet worried expressions. All the surrounding creatures had similar expressions, joyful and fearful. Read the rest of this entry
Chapter 1: The Mysterious Conversation
The sun shined, and a light breeze blew. For once, Maria was happy. She and her mother had been sailing on the Monarch, and elegant private cruise bound for Holland. She loved the smell of the salty sea air instead of the reeking city air of San Francisco, the place she had once called home. She also loved the clear, cloudless sky instead of the gray, stormy sky that had been looming over the ship for days. It was a wonderful day at sea.
“Maria! Come down! Dinner!”
“Coming mother!” Maria scurried down the stairs to the dining room. The smell of beef stew overcame her senses. She ran faster.
When she reached the bottom, she took her seat in between the captain and her mother.
“My darling Maria. Are you hungry?”
“Oh yes I am.”
Every Thanksgiving was the same. My grandparents would drive down from New Mexico and stay the night. They slept in my sister’s queen bed so that my sister had to sleep with me on my bunk bed. The next day, we would see a movie and drive to my aunt and uncle’s. I would always throw up on the way, no matter what. When we got there we greeted the rest of the family and watched Netflix while my grandma went to the store. She brought home a fat, juicy turkey. After that, we would make biscuits, in all different shapes. I made a snowman, while my sister made a star. My parents always made us take pictures in the snowy backyard. Afterward, I would play in the snow and peek in the rabbit holes. I knew it was useless, but that was the fun part. My sister would torment the cat while I played ping-pong. We would do this all day until it was dinner. We passed around food and stories, until it was time to play Things. In things we had to answer a question and guess who wrote what. I never was good at it, but it was fun anyway! We stayed the night in one of the empty rooms, but we could never fall asleep. The next day we would go out to breakfast and then back home. I’m always waiting for thanksgiving!
One day in Aurora, “Thank you sooooo much!!!” I shook from the excitement. I had gotten a fluffy cat stuffed animal that looked just my aunt’s cat, Choncho.
“I still think you should of gotten the Barbie closet,” My sister said. She had gotten a Barbie car.
Later, “Choncho, NO!!!” I think Choncho thought my toy was for him. He was staring mischievously at my cat.
“He didn’t do anything,”He tried to snap at my sister, but missed.
Still later, “Hey, hey, Barbie…Life in the Dreeeeeamhouse.”
“Aaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!” I screamed.
Choncho was climbing up the couch to my cat! I snatched up my toy and put it on the table. Choncho thrashed at the table and walked away, his tail in the air.
Fifteen years ago, on September 11, 2001, I started my first shift as a Chaplain Intern at Ball Memorial Hospital in Muncie, Indiana. My role was to go room to room, check-in on patients and let them know that as chaplains we were there to listen and pray with them if they would like.
I still remember the first news reports playing on the in-room televisions saying that a small plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers. There was not much know about the incident but it seemed strange.
Then, very quickly, the reports changed as the second plane crashed into the other tower and it was clear that it was a commercial airline. Needless to say, it was one day when conversation was inevitable in each room as we all looked on in disbelief at what was unfolding.
By the end of that long shift, we were leading a multi-faith prayer service at the hospital. I just remember a state of fear at what was happening and no one knew if there were going to be more attacks like that in other areas of the country.
The shift ended and I drove back to Upland, Indiana where I was a senior at Taylor University. Fighter jets flew overhead and the line of cars waiting to get gas was over a mile long.
Weeks after that fateful day, I remember researching pathways into the military and ranks for college graduates. I felt like I wanted to do something in response to what had happened.
Then in January 2002, our Christian Education Department took seniors to New York City to visit different ministries in the city. We toured the rubble of the Twin Towers and listened to first hand accounts of those who suffered through that day. We walked by the fences with pictures of loved ones who were in the towers. Hillary was also in New York City that week with majors from her Communication Studies Department and that week sealed our new relationship as we walked through the city.
Though we weren’t personally connected to those who perished that day, September 11, 2011, it changed our outlook on the world. As we were married in the summer of 2002, we started our new life in a very different world than the pre-9/11 world.
It was three years ago that I informed the Mountair Christian Church community that I would be transitioning from the Interim Pastor role into full-time leadership of Edgewater Collective. Since then we have been attending Mile High Vineyard and seeking the common good of our city. As I left leadership in the church, I thought I would never return. Honestly, I have loved serving my city outside the walls of the church and rallying folks to create a thriving city regardless of what they believe.
But throughout this process, God has been tugging at my heart and for a few years I ran from his call. A little over two years ago, I had a pretty vivid of dream of baptizing people in Sloan’s Lake at the beach on the northwest corner. That dream made a strong impression on me but I didn’t think I would play a role in that. I waited for others to create a new type of church in our community that would be welcoming to families and those who had never attended church.
After a year of poking and prodding by the Lord, I’ve realized that he might want me to step out in faith and lead a new faith community in our area. The beauty of this new possibility is that I continue my fulfilling work with Edgewater Collective during the week and lead a neighborhood church on the weekends with a great team of folks who live locally.
Our church, Mile High Vineyard, believes strongly in neighborhood churches that love a community and take on the Catholic idea of being committed to a parish. So we are starting to gather folks that live in Edgewater, Wheat Ridge and northeast Lakewood that are drawn to following Jesus and loving a community. On Sundays we are gathering at the Mile High Vineyard churches in the Highlands and Arvada until we have the critical mass to gather on our own in the Edgewater area on Sunday mornings. On Thursday nights we will all come together for a meal and connecting with each other through conversation and prayer.
We are excited for this new season because it builds on our rootedness in the Edgewater community. Our dream is to start gathering on Sunday mornings by Easter of next year. And God willing, one day we will baptize new Jesus followers in Sloan’s Lake.
As I was looking back over my blog posts, I realized that it was just over two years ago that we decided to step away from working at Mountair Christian Church and jump into Edgewater Collective full-time. This made me reflect on the last two years of loving my city in a full-time role. Here are some of my realizations from this work:
People are yearning for relationships
As we have taken part in block parties, holiday gatherings in our home and other events, it is amazing how many people are yearning for relationships. Even in a hyper-connected, online world, people are lonely. Last Christmas, we had our neighbors into our home for holiday dessert and fun trivia. An older gentleman on our block sat and told stories about our street from when his kids were young. It is amazing how community can form by just opening up your home or your front yard for people to come together and tell stories.
Community change starts in neighborhoods
When I started connecting in Edgewater, I had grand dreams of community transformation. The more time I spend investing in our city, the more I have realized that true change starts when neighbors begin to connect with each other. Even small things like connecting with an elderly neighbor and receiving their phone number in case on an emergency can make a big difference. Building relationships with a family on the block can play a role in them sending their kindergarten child to the local neighborhood school.
Cities need connectors
Edgewater Collective is an outlier in the nonprofit world. We don’t have any programs, but focus our work on being connectors and catalysts. Much of my work is spent connecting different organizations and community stakeholders to needs and assets in our community. My role is to empower citizen led initiatives in our city through the community newspaper that Edgewater Collective publishes, the Edgewater Echo. As a connector, my role is to make others look great and not to draw attention to the work that we do. This makes fundraising hard, but it is essential to our role and mission.
Leading an initiative like this takes faith
Though Edgewater Collective is not a faith-based organization, I am faith-motivated. Leading a nonprofit takes a lot of faith. Edgewater Collective is a shoestring operation that exists only by the generosity of partners who believe in our work. This role has taught me to have faith that God will provide, but still realizing that I have a role in telling the stories of what is happening in our community as a result of our work.
I love Edgewater
Our family lives, works and plays in an area that is less than a square mile called Edgewater. We love our city. I love the generational and racial diversity that exists in our city. I love the diversity of opinions that exist here. I love the history of Edgewater and hearing the stories of people who have lived here for years. Throughout the month of September I will be connecting with numerous Edgewater residents at block parties through the city. We have partnered with our local brewery to offer Joyride beer to the block parties along with information about community resources. I love connecting with residents in gatherings like this and hearing their stories. I truly believe that Edgewater can be a community where each person can thrive. If we can’t see community change in a small area like Edgewater, we won’t be able to see it at a state or country level.
If you would like to partner with us in this important work, I would love to connect with you. Send me an email at email@example.com and I’ll treat you to coffee at our local coffee shop or a brew at Joyride. I would love to take you on a tour of our city and tell you some of the stories of Edgewater. It is through the generosity of people like you that we can continue to do this important work.