Hudson Wisconsin didn’t need another church. There were already 15 of them in April of 2013 – and many of them were functioning well and growing. But what Hudson was looking for, perhaps even asking for – was our church. Let me explain a little bit more…
I grew up in Hudson. Some people would call me a lifer. A guy I went to high school with recently called us “townies.” I guess I would just say I never left. I went to college in a couple neighboring cities, and there was a brief stint (6 months) when I lived in the far off land of River Falls (10 whole minutes away), but otherwise my address had always been finished off by the line – Hudson, WI 54016. It’s a unique place to live, close enough to the Twin Cities to be cool, but with a downtown quaint and small enough to make us a destination for those looking for the small town America feel – and I think the people here like to be thought of as fitting in with both those crowds.
My church was small enough to be communal, a big white building with a beautiful organ and an iconic steeple, but at times was big enough to contain all the excitement that helps people realize what we’re capable of. I still have relationships with MANY of the people there – and they were incredibly meaningful. There were politics and drama to be sure, but for the most part it was a great way to grow up – both in life, and in my faith. It really was the best of both worlds, in many regards.
Over the course of my young adulthood, I worked and belonged in other places. A church with exciting and dynamic worship, where I leaned into my gifts as a drummer and a youth leader. A ginormous church in the metro area, where I honed my gifts as a speaker and a leader. And a church that met in what was from the outside an outbuilding, but on the inside, a place where people came to belong – where I learned valuable lessons in patience, humility, and navigating change. All of these people and places molded me and prepared me for the moment I was about to experience – one I had truthfully never dreamt of, and I know I wasn’t ready for – but one that was coming nonetheless.
After walking across the stage at my 3rd college graduation, my wife and I spent the summer hanging out with our new baby son. In the fall, we decided to make a getaway of an opportunity she had to take some photos in Chicago, and had a wonderful trip to the windiest city, as a new family of three. On the car ride home, I decided to make things even more eventful. Over the summer months we had re-connected with some people who like us were from the Hudson area, and followers of Jesus. Most of them were ATTENDING church somewhere, but didn’t feel as though they BELONGED anywhere. I believe it is fair to say, Emily and I felt the same way Throughout those conversations, I had felt a tug on my heart to consider giving all of us the chance to start something that had the potential to be a special place of belonging for all of us. Now, on the long car ride home, after a huge weekends of firsts, seemed like as good a time as any to broach the topic. It was not without its dangers, the greatest of which was the idea that after spending nearly $60,000 on Masters degree, I would be working for next to nothing. Nevertheless, I leaned over, looked my wife in the eyes, and began the conversation.
“I think you’re going to kill me” I said, “but I think we should start a church.”
It almost sounded ridiculous coming out of my mouth. I wondered if I should pull the words back as quickly as I had uttered them. But she shot back so quickly that I didn’t even have the chance to fully experience my insecurity.
“REALLY?!?! That’s what I’ve been thinking too!”
And in that moment – HILLCITY Church was born. It was DEFINITELY not all us. 6 couples met first as a Bible study for 6 months. Many more helped us find our first building and launch our first service. Over the years we have had more help than I can fathom or even begin to explain. All of it, coming at just the right time, with just the right talents, and through circumstances that can only be explained as divine. There have been moments when it looked bleak, and we didn’t know what was coming next. There have been experiences that have brought us so much joy we thought we might burst at the seams. It has been an incredible ride, with so many “only God could’ve done this” moments, and so much that has been unplanned and unexpected. But, I can honestly say, if I had to pick one word that describes the whole “experiment” in its entirety – it would have to be, “intentional.”
From the very beginning we have tried to make every decision on purpose, for a purpose. That purpose is helping people to experience the life-giving, life changing message of Jesus. Jesus lived his life in community, surrounded and supported by the people He loved, and who loved Him. They took care of each other. They challenged one another. They grew together. We want to do the same. Jesus wanted those far from God to have a place where they could meet Him more intimately, on a level that made sense to them, and then He helped them to mature. We want to be that place for the people in our communities that are far from Him as well. Jesus served. He healed. He showed grace and forgiveness. Those are things we want to be about too. Above all, Jesus demonstrated who God is, and what He’s all about, to a world who in many ways seemed as though it had forgotten. If we could do that – we could all sleep well at night, knowing our calling is being fulfilled.
Life groups, kid’s ministry, marriage retreats, mentoring programs, community events centered around food and conversation – all intentional places for relationship and growth. Flag football, softball, kick-offs, Sunday services, and holiday events – all avenues to welcome in new people to the family of God. Silly videos to show God has and delights in a sense of humor. Partnering with local organizations that help those in our community that can’t help themselves. Meeting in a school gymnasium to give us as much financial freedom as possible to do MINISTRY with our money instead of keeping up a building. All of these choices and more – were made INTENTIONALLY, on purpose and for the purpose of helping to bring Jesus and His message, to the city that we love, and that we call home. It doesn’t always work the way we plan, but even then we are intentional, making sure not to hang on to something out of tradition or because it’s the way we’ve always done it. Sometimes following Jesus means making the hard choice to get rid of something good, so that you can move on to something great. Even if it hurts.
I hope you’ll notice something else. Not once in all of that description I just went through did I say anything about a building other than to point out where we met. That’s because HILLCITY Church isn’t a building. I pray it never will be. Instead, it is the PEOPLE who gather and make each other their community, their family, their ekklessia (church). Together, we are a living, breathing organism, that impacts the neighborhoods in which we live, all with the hope of making our church larger by bringing more people into the fold. There will never be enough chairs, a sanctuary large enough, or a piece of land that can hold a building big enough to meet the mission we have of changing lives, one personal relationship at a time.
Six years, two buildings and hundreds of people later, God is just getting started with us. In many ways, the success of our church is a testimony to what can happen when people lay down their own desires and opinions and make a church about following after Jesus with all they have and all that they are. The city of Hudson didn’t need another church, but I have seen firsthand that the people of Hudson did, and there are so many more God isn’t finished with yet. May we be as intentional about reaching them as He is.
Dawn MarquartMay 9, 2019