2011 Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC 27607


Sunday Service
10:00 a.m.

Our Story

We created this page for folks who don’t know about our community.

It’s a helpful way to check us out before you come. Or, maybe you’ve visited, found us different, and want to know why. It’s the longest page on the site, but again, maybe the most helpful.

Some Background

It is no secret the Christian Church has seen better days. We’ve been in decline for at least 50 years—in numbers, character, and reputation. The word “Christian” used to mean something good. Today it is associated with more negative things …

  • Intolerance, hypocrisy, hatred, ignorance
  • Exploiting adults for money and children for sex
  • Antagonism toward science, women, and LGBT people
  • And a lot more.

When we started Common Thread in 1995 (We were “North Raleigh Community Church” then), we were pretty disillusioned with religion. It was clear that the Church had lost its moral authority.

We are not the first generation to have lost our way. We have a saying in our community. “It is our religion’s way to lose our way. But it is also our way to find it again when we do.”

That’s what we’ve been working on—finding our way again. We’ve joined a growing community of Christians asking a really uncomfortable question. How did things go so wrong?

Here’s a bit of our story.

1995 – 2006

Disillusioned as we were back then, it was a pickle. We couldn’t build a church. We’d already rejected church. But we couldn’t give up either. We’d experienced something beautiful in religion. It was a disorienting time, not being able to trust our own instincts.

For a long time all we did was gather and become friends. We licked our wounds, grieved our losses, and shared our hurt and confusion.

We asked hard questions about what it means to be Christian—and if we wanted to be. We asked what church meant—and if we wanted to be one. We questioned our most basic religious instincts. Why do people pray? Should we? Why do people sing? Should we? Should we gather on Sundays? Why do we sit in rows and listen to a talking head?

Lots of questions. Few answers.
It was a bewildering time.
It was a dismantling time.

We took comfort in the ancient wisdom that there is a time to tear down, and a time to build up. We were pretty focused on the tearing down part.

We gave ourselves permission to question our most cherished beliefs and traditions. We couldn’t really do anything else. Our religion was falling apart anyway.

1995 to 2006 was about stripping down. We did very little outwardly—had very few programs, did very little to care for our city. We were too worn out and spent.

But we did stumble onto our religion’s contemplative tradition. That helped us.

We learned the beauty of quieter, simpler lives.
We rediscovered the ancient practice of meditation.
We stopped settling for secondhand, institutional religion.
We began contending for firsthand spiritual encounter.
We learned to listen carefully for the interior whispers of the Divine.
And to restitch the torn fabric of community, because we do better on the spiritual journey together than we do alone.

By 2006 we’d begun to experience a freer spirituality, fewer sectarian “oughts” or “shoulds.” In the wilderness, we relearned the ancient wisdom of our tradition. Our souls began to heal. Our experience of Divine Life was deepened.

2007 – 2014

We would have stayed quietly in seclusion, savoring our newly restitched spiritual community. Except, in 2007 two things happened.

First, our minister did a bunch of lessons about how the Church is undergoing a new Reformation. He told us that five hundred years ago the last Reformation updated our religion for that time’s new worldview (Newton’s). But now, we have to have our own Reformation—update our religion again for our new worldview (Einstein’s). He kept talking about seeing things differently, rethinking our most basic religious assumptions. It was a lot of change. It was kind of hard.

The bad news: forty percent of the community left that year.
The good news: sixty percent stayed.

We felt a lot of loss and grief that year.

Second, we began to feel a rising sense of restlessness about how isolated we were. We knew something wonderful was happening in our community, but felt like we were hiding it. We knew there were others in our city who could benefit the same way we were.

So in late 2007, our community began talking about opening our hearts and doors to others. We’d talk about it—but then get afraid and back off. Then we’d talk again—and back away again. It went that way for a while.

We were afraid that if our community got bigger, we’d lose something precious. Big numbers had always driven the churches we’d come from. We were in no hurry to go down that road again.

But we just couldn’t shake the restlessness. We felt the nudge to open our hearts, open our doors.

Our minister captured the restlessness for us, and said it in these words: “There are people in our city on the same journey we are. But they’re alone.” Then he’d talk about inviting them to travel with us.

But again, we were afraid.
Thank you, Reverend Man … No.

He’d back off for a while. But then come back. “There are people in our city,” he’d repeat, “on the same journey we are. Let’s invite them to travel with us.” (He’s a persistent guy.)

So we’d consider it—but then make excuses. Our facility wasn’t finished. We didn’t have coffee in the lobby. We were barely getting the bathrooms clean. It sounded exhausting! We were afraid we’d lose our souls.

He was nice about it, but kept nudging, cajoling, then backing off, then coming back. Until finally our hearts began to soften.

We slowly began to overcome our fears and by 2009, the idea of opening our hearts and doors actually became exciting.

We began to get our facility ready. We began to write down things we’d experienced so we could tell our story. We redesigned our website to help people figure out if our community was a fit for them. And it went really well. People began to join us. Lots of new people. It was a time of new vitality and internal growth. We integrated the new folks who joined us, and it would have become a new normal for us. Except …

2014 – 2023

In 2014, our minister wrote a book about the things we’d learned together in the wilderness. In those years, most of his lessons began with the word “rethinking.” Rethinking God. Rethinking sin. Rethinking salvation. Rethinking the afterlife. At that time, we were part of a pretty traditional denomination. He wrote the book with lots of footnotes and documentation, to help traditional Christians find a way out of this historical pickle we’re all in.

You might be surprised. That traditional denomination didn’t appreciate his help.
They invited him to not be a minister in the denomination anymore (that’s a nice way to say it).

But when he was kicked out, we all voted to go together. It was a challenging time, because the denomination owned our building. So we were both orphaned, and homeless.

As we were wondering if our community would survive, some very kind people from Temple Baptist Church heard about our dilemma. They invited us to share space with them. They had an unused chapel and children’s wing at the back of their campus. Hurt by our denomination, having felt the rug pulled out from under us, we showed up a little bit prickly. We were standoffish, honestly, a little bit pissy toward anything “organized-religion-ish.” But they were patient and kind. They did church much more traditionally than we did, but it didn’t matter to them. They loved us, which was incredibly healing. They reminded us what “Christian” means. It’s not about doctrines or dogmas. It’s about Divine love showing up in our lives, running through us toward others. They did that for us. We were with them for seven years, until they decided to sell their building. But they loved us well while we were there.

It took us eighteen long, hard months to find a new home, but find a new home we did in Ridge Road Baptist Church. Like the folks at Temple, they have been loving, gracious, kind, and accepting—even though they too, are more traditional than we are. What’s different this time, we showed up much better neighbors! We showed up on Day 1, ready to befriend, love, and collaborate. It feels much more the way things should be.

2024 – A Year of Transition

Doug, of course, has always known he wouldn’t be helming this ship forever. But having done it for so long in such a unique community, sometimes it was hard for members to see a future beyond his leadership. In the past, a few potential successors came forward, served the community well, and accepted the opportunity to try on the hat of ordained ministry for a time. In the end, the process did for them what it was intended to do: demonstrate that such a life was not the life for them.

But in 2024, two individuals who went through the process discerned that such a life IS the life for them, and they became ordained members of the clergy on February 11. Heather Luden, Minister of Spiritual Formation, is presently working on building the teen ministry, a young adult ministry, and designing an integrated curriculum to help all our members clearly understand our values, discern how these values inform the priorities of their lives, and use our tools effectively to grow in the spiritual life. Sue Kemple is our new Executive Pastor, having been entrusted by Doug and the board with leading the community through administrative, operational, and personnel management, as well as the planning and execution of Sunday and other liturgical services, our program of contemplative practices, and sharing with Doug the responsibilities for regular preaching and pastoral care. As new clergy leadership emerges, Doug is beginning to imagine what it would look like to take the gifts Common Thread has developed and cultivated over the years and share them widely with like-minded folks beyond our walls.

Learn more about our clergy here.

And Now …

You are here—reading this.
And we are here too—inviting you to share the spiritual journey with us.
If traditional church has stopped working for you …
If you are a church-leaver, but don’t like being alone on the spiritual journey …
If you are weary of empty religious forms, but hungry for authentic spirituality …
… we’d like to invite you to walk this journey with us.

Come see if we would be a fit for you.