A Year in Review and a Welcome to 2023Written by John TealJanuary, 2023

Growing up in Michigan, we had water everywhere! My county alone had about 450 lakes. When I was young, we owned a 1950-style Chris Craft wooden boat – like the one in Godfather Part II – only a bit smaller. I remember holding on for dear life as it hammered the waves at full throttle. Thump, thump, thump, and the spray cresting over the bow!

That sense of exhilaration comes to mind as I consider the ride since Common Grounds Unity began.

In 2018, A few leaders came together from various streams of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement to help load a moving truck. Somebody asked, "why are we so divided when we have so much in common?" And the idea that "unity starts with a cup of coffee" was raised. We agreed that unity is best nurtured through local relationships, regularly meeting, sharing a meal, and learning to respect and appreciate one another.

We organized a breakfast, then a quarterly meeting, and from that, it has felt like holding on to that Chris Craft boat at full-throttle!

We had small ambitions. We just wanted to see the prayer of Jesus advanced in our local neighborhood. Well, it seems the Holy Spirit had something bigger in mind.

Despite significant challenges, 2022 has been a remarkable year for Common Grounds Unity! What started as a mustard seed idea has sprouted into something inspiring. In 2022 our Monthly Digital Newsletter rose to about 1,200 subscribers. Our podcast has nearly 70,000 downloads, with roughly 2,300 downloads every week. It is not surprising this platform grows when you see our 2022 guest list. Michael Burns, Douglas Jacoby, Jack Reese, Rubel Shelly, John Mark Hicks, Marty Solomon, Rhonda Lowry, Jeanie Shaw, Casey Tygrett, Tim Robinson, Randy Harris, Steve Kinnard, Robert Carrillo, Tod Vogt, and several more! We are thankful for the partners who share our vision.

In 2022 the CGU private Facebook discussion group grew to nearly 2700 members. This community is creating a safe place for healthy open dialogue, giving me hope for a bright future! I am so thankful for the tone of respect, kindness, and spirituality that permeates this group!

It is safe to say that Covid-19 negatively impacted our objective to establish and support local in-person gatherings worldwide – forcing a focus on digital spaces. And yet, like Jesus's parable of the yeast working through the dough, we now have 17 gatherings and 16 emerging groups spanning the globe. Interestingly, God has used these digital platforms (email, podcast, Facebook Group, and YouTube) to open hearts and cast a vision for a broader and more fulfilling fellowship in Christ. We will continue to invest in all things digital. However, we believe the magic of unity occurs as we gather within our communities – breaking bread or enjoying a beverage with one another. Here, in this space, we learn to love and have mutual respect - despite our differences.

We learned about a beautiful story of friendship, faith, and unity through the Facebook group. As a result, CGU did a YouTube video with Henry Holub (Northside Church of Christ - COC) and Troy Burns (Sunrise Church of Christ - Independent Christian Church) in Spokane, WA. These two ministers began a friendship and led their congregations to host combined Sunday church services. In addition, they have occasionally swapped pulpits. Hosted collaborative events and worked together to reach Spokane with the gospel of Jesus! In March, we will have them on the CGU podcast as guests! God Bless these brothers and their congregations.

In 2023 we want to strengthen and support local gatherings – among other exciting plans. Can you imagine hundreds of local, independently governed gatherings where the goal of the gathering is to gather, seeking to be the answer, in part, to Jesus' prayer (Jn. 17:21-23)? Can you envision individuals and congregations collaborating as the Spirit leads them - however that might manifest itself? We are grossly understaffed and underfunded to advance this mission. And yet, we believe God will provide! We feel called to create unity through in-person and digital spaces because it is our Lord's will, and the world is watching us. This message is good news.

With this in mind, we are raising funds to create a part-time Associate Executive Director role that will eventually become a full-time position. We are excited to announce that we are raising funds to hire Dr. Drew Baker for this role. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation so we can advance the mission by going to www.commongroundsunity.org/donate.

Drew holds an MDiv and Doctorate from Abilene Christian University. He currently serves as a part-time minister and adjunct professor at Abilene Christian University and recently published a book on church leadership titled The Duct Tape Letters. Drew and Sarah live near Winston Salem, North Carolina, with their children, Jude and Rowan. Drew will be an incredible addition to the CGU team and help us bring this dream of unity to the next generation!

Happy New Year, and welcome to 2023!

John Teal has been a member of Stone-Campbell Movement congregations for more than forty years - having experience in three of the major streams. He attended Great Lakes Christian College in Lansing, MI, and graduated from Central Christian College of the Bible with a BS in Biblical Studies. John is a founding Board Member of Common Grounds Unity (CGU). He served in the vocational ministry for a few years before returning to the corporate world where he enjoyed a long career in the waste and recycling industry. He and his wife Danna live near Raleigh, NC. they have two adult daughters. John is now enjoying a post-corporate career as a REALTOR which allows him the flexibility to serve the mission of CGU.