I came to The Seattle School last August with, to put it lightly, a shaky faith in God and an even shakier faith in local churches. After years of volunteering in a church without acknowledging my own doubts, I had grown increasingly cynical about the whole thing: the services modeled after a successful church someplace faraway; the sermons that were generic enough to apply to any community in the country; the endless tasks required to present the church itself as an appealing product. Eventually I wanted out. I assumed that my church experience was indicative of the whole, and I was done with it all.

But my heart began to soften in the months before moving to Seattle; I found myself wanting to believe, more than I had in years, in the goodness of God and the power of communal faith expressions. My first term at The Seattle School stirred and amplified that first belief. As I began the hard work of telling my own story and learning to be fully present in my relationships, I was amazed by how much I wanted to believe more deeply—to believe that God is present even in my shame and trauma, that God can bring light out of the darkest places of my story, and that I can somehow play a part in the grand narrative that God is telling.

This rekindling of my heart toward God was not immediately echoed by a rekindling of my heart toward the church. The bitterness and cynicism I had fed for years began to fade, but it wasn’t replaced by anything—it just left a vacuum of sorts, the equivalent of an apathetic shrug whenever I thought about joining a church community. That’s where Inhabit comes in.

I started working as Content Coordinator at The Seattle School in January, and a large part of my job has been managing the Inhabit blog. That meant diving into the heart of Inhabit—wrestling with what it means to let our communal faith shape how we interact with the people in our day-to-day lives, asking hard questions about the brokenness in our neighborhoods, and sharing the beautiful, inspiring stories of the presenters at this year’s conference.

As I did this work of wrestling, questioning, and sharing, I felt a growing conviction that this is something unique, something I hadn’t encountered before. That feeling culminated at the conference earlier this month. I was tasked with live-tweeting the event, which meant roaming between the different conversations and workshops, meeting some of the people I’d been writing about, and interacting with many of you through @InhabitCon.

And let me tell you, you’re an amazing bunch. My hope for local churches—the hope that the church matters and that it can make a real difference—is more present and vibrant than I can ever remember. This is a gritty, hands-on hope that leads us into messy, beautiful, difficult work. It’s grounded in a belief that, as Rebecca Sumner wrote recently, we do not serve a placeless God but a God who is thoroughly rooted in specific places, breathing, mourning, struggling, and rejoicing alongside the people we see every day.

“My hope for local churches is more present and vibrant than I can ever remember.”

The idea that—instead of sleek presentations or marketing ploys—churches are called to love neighbors and work toward the restoration of the entire parish is profound in its simplicity and staggering in its scope. That was my recurring feeling during the conference: as we were telling stories, sharing ideas, and dreaming together, we were participating in a movement that—in small, local, humble ways—is changing the world.

So I sat at the back of every session with my phone in my hands and tears in my eyes. I am thrilled and grateful to be a part of this family and to help share your stories, ideas, prayers, and visions. Thank you for the work you do, and thank you for inviting me to find God already at work in the places around me and, in doing so, to rediscover the beauty and hope of the local church.