Tag Archives: Urban Abbey

Resistance, Reflection, and Retaining One’s Religion

August 20, 2019 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The Rev. Debra McKnight’s journey to the altar hasn’t been without obstacles. The freedom to live out her calling as a pastor came on the heels of immense testing, resistance to conformity, persistent theological reflection, and the pursuit of God’s will.

McKnight, a 42-year-old mother, is the founding pastor of Urban Abbey in the Old Market, which started as a satellite of the First United Methodist Church but became independent nearly four years ago. With the motto “coffee, cause, communion,” Urban Abbey will celebrate its eight-year anniversary in November.

McKnight describes Urban Abbey as a coffee shop, bookstore, and church. They sell fair-trade coffee, books, jewelry, and other gifts, and the shop area is cleared for Sunday church services. She says Urban Abbey’s uniqueness often creates atypical opportunities such as her own.

McKnight was reared in Plattsmouth by God-fearing Methodist parents who served in their community in a variety of ways, from Rotary Club to Plattsmouth Community Schools’ board of education. Debra was in seventh grade when she was struck with the idea of becoming a pastor. “Faith is more than just church,” she explains. “Church was a nurturing place for me.”

Ministering was an idea that came to her in stages. As a teenager, McKnight’s passion was the environment, and she started an ecology club at the Methodist church in Plattsmouth to encourage parishioners to think green. Environmentalism was such a passion, in fact, that she went to college with the idea of majoring in the subject.

She also took women’s studies and American history courses at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the late 1990s, which she says “opened her to seeing the larger fabric” of society and social inequality.

Her faith aligned with her blossoming ideals. The Methodist church has always been concerned with social justice—early Methodists expressed their opposition to societal ills such as slavery, smuggling, inhumane prison conditions, alcohol abuse, and child labor. The church gave her a platform to help others, and she tried to broaden conservative views on gender roles, race relations, and other non-normative lifestyles. Along the way, she developed a strong desire to participate in church leadership, but she was met with opposition when she expressed interest in becoming a female pastor.

“I don’t think I encountered a sense that women weren’t equal until I decided to pursue being a pastor,” McKnight says.

The Methodist church has seen women in the clergy since 1761, but to this day, 70 to 75 percent of clergy people are men. There is still a stigma being a female pastor, says the Rev. Jill Sander-Chali of College Hill United Methodist Church in Wichita, Kansas. McKnight met this longtime friend at Perkins School of Theology. “I went into the seminary not as aware of obstacles that women in the ministry faced,” Sander-Chali says.

Women experience rejection when they seek out a pulpit. Yet, McKnight realized the gravitational pull to pursue ministry service was something she could not ignore.

Before seminary, McKnight earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in English. She lived and worked in Germany as an education counselor for active-duty military personnel. In 2008, she graduated from Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, a place where she discovered a love of liturgy, explored diverse theological perspectives, pushed boundaries on the church’s traditional structures, and experimented with preaching in a rigorous academic community.

“Debra is an amazing teacher,” Sander-Chali says. “She has an amazing, powerful presence in the most nonthreatening way to help people see things differently than they had before.”

Sander-Chali says McKnight has had that gift for a long time, explaining:

“She would debate things in class and challenge our classmates. She always had a way of reframing and renaming things to people. Sometimes people wouldn’t realize that she was challenging them. When in fact, Debra just took over that conversation. Doing it in a way that people would follow. She’s just so good with words.”

Sander-Chali says the two reverends are taught and trained in the art of loving people the way they are and helping them grow. But they need the opportunity to talk, as women and as pastors. “By your hospital bed and in your pulpit, we’re just showing up and being,” she says. “Physical presence communicates a lot. My gender, that becomes powerful and it leads to spiritual healing and awareness.”

In 2010, McKnight was ordained in the United Methodist Church, and she has thrived in her role as pastor. She has a wonderful ability to influence people in positive and healthy ways. McKnight owns a clergy collar for parades and protests because her work focuses on social justice, liturgics, and building community. While in Omaha, she has lead her faith community in starting a pub church, called Wesley Pub, though she doesn’t drink beer, and then a coffee shop (Urban Abbey), though she prefers tea.

“I admire her,” Sander-Chali says. “She indeed has a lot of resilience and tenacity to go into those [male-dominated] spaces and be who she is—herself. She created this amazing Urban Abbey and has an entrepreneurial mind to create a church from the ground up,” adding “It’s a doorway to a relationship with the sacred for those would not normally connect in a traditional church.”


Visit urbanabbeyomaha.com for more information.

Rev. Jill Sander-Chali was formerly at Chapel Hill United Methodist Church but is now at College Hill United Methodist Church in Wichita, Kansas. The online version of this story has been changed to reflect that. 

This article was printed in the September 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe

Rev. Deb McKnight at Urban Abbey.

Rev. Deb McKnight at Urban Abbey.

Check Your Resolutions Here

December 27, 2018 by

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Monday,  Dec. 31: Well, I think we all know this weekend is really all about New Year’s Eve. Here are our top picks for this year’s NYE celebrations.

—Don’t miss your chance this year to attend the second annual To The Nynes party at Omaha Design Center. Get your tickets now. Besides the food, drinks, and dancing to East Coast DJ Alex Nepa, guests may enjoy red carpet pictures and GIFs from their photographers, available immediately so you can share the experience. Click here for more info.

—Looking for some fun for the kiddos? Head to one of your local libraries, as there are several in Omaha and surrounding areas planning some Noon Year’s Eve events. There is also a Noon Year’s Eve celebration going on at The Durham Museum, and you can have a fun night out with the little ones at the Bubbly New Year’s Eve celebration at Omaha Children’s Museum. Check your closest library’s website (here for Omaha Public Library) for event times and details. For more information on the Durham celebration, go here. To learn what’s popping at the Bubbly New Year’s Eve party, click here. 

—If fireworks are as big a part of your NYE celebration as the countdown, head downtown to catch the annual fireworks show at Gene Leahy Mall. It’s the closing event of the Holiday Lights Festival and one of the largest displays in the region. This is also a free event, so if you’re on a budget, the price is perfect. Learn more here.

—Perhaps you’re looking for a more low-key New Year’s Eve celebration? Check out the Chicken & Champagne (of beers) New Year’s Eve at Nite Owl here. Or just head to your favorite local dive bar and skip all the pomp and circumstance. They’re bound to have something special going on and you’ll get to see your favorite fellow patrons, servers, and bartenders.

However you like to celebrate, remember to do so safely to ensure a happy new year!

Friday, Dec. 28: We know. Christmas is over. But that doesn’t mean we can’t keep the spirit going. The Shadow Ridge Christmas Dinner and Dance at the Eagles Club #38 will do just that. While there is no cover for the food, donations are accepted. Dinner is from 6-7 p.m., and the band will play from 7:30 to 10:30. Learn more about this event here, and more about the band here.

Saturday, Dec. 29: With the new year coming up, now is as good a time as any to clean out your closet. Sort through your wardrobe for the perfect dancing outfit, get rid of items you don’t need anymore, and head to The Max for their Clothing Drive for Youth Emergency Services (YES), happening from 5-9 p.m. Make your drop-off, have a cocktail, and stick around to hit the dance floor starting at 9. The mission of YES is to serve homeless and at-risk youth by providing critical resources, one of which is clothing. And you know you have some stuff you don’t need! To find out more about the event, head here. To learn more about Youth Emergency Services and how you can help, click here.

Sunday, Dec. 30: If you’ve been away from church for a while, it may be that you just need a little ukulele in your life. Catch the Wesley Covenant Service’s Ukulele Mass at Urban Abbey this Sunday. There’s a service at 9 a.m. and another at 11 a.m. Think that’s too early? Maybe you need to get your coffee and a little nosh in beforehand? No problem. Urban Abbey is also a nonprofit, fair trade coffee shop, and bookstore. Find out more about them here, and more about this special mass here.

NEXT WEEK:

Save the Date:  Omaha Magazine and Sol’s Jewelry & Loan invite you to the January/February Omaha Magazine Launch Party. We’ll have performances by flautists from the Nebraska Medical Orchestra with speakers Dr. Langnas and Houston Alexander. Appetizers and (adult) beverages are compliments of Sols. Please RSVP here.


Planting Seeds for the (Chinese) New Year

March 1, 2018 by

Pick of the Week—Saturday, March 3: They say those born in the Year of the Dog possess the best traits of human nature—kindness, honesty, loyalty, etc. Celebrate all that goodness at the Nebraska Chinese Association’s Lunar New Year Gala this weekend. One of the largest annual celebrations of Asian culture in the Midwest, you do not want to miss out on this year’s celebration. Omaha Magazine will be there with our latest issue, marking our 35th year and featuring several stories on the history (and future) of Chinese people in Omaha. The gala showcases Chinese culture and heritage using cuisine, traditional performances, and of course, the lion dance. Let’s hope this new year brings out those good traits in all of us. Purchase your tickets to this festive yet educational event here, or you can pick them up at Asian Market on 76th Street in the Heritage Plaza.

Thursday, March 1: Start talking, and listening, tonight at Me Too: A Community Dialogue about Coercion and Consent at Urban Abbey. This is a community conversation regarding sexual violence and how we can do better. The #MeToo movement serves as a catalyst to discussion regarding coercion, consent, and change. Hosted by the Women’s Center for Advancement, The Women’s Fund of Greater Omaha, and Urban Abbey, this event is open to everyone. Find out more here.

Friday, March 2: Kick off this beautiful weekend with some sweet live music at Slowdown at 8 p.m. Kait Berreckman is leaving her new home in Denver and bringing it back to Omaha, She’ll be killing it Friday night with Edge of Arbor and Miwi La Lupa. Support your favorite local (and formerly local) acts now. Tickets are only $7, so this is a don’t-miss-it show. Better get your tickets here.

Friday, March 2 and Saturday, March 3: Get out and enjoy the promised (fingers crossed) good weather this weekend during the Historic Preservation Conference and Exhibition, courtesy of Restoration Exchange Omaha. There will be speakers, building tours, walking tours, and even some free food and drinks. See the up-and-coming areas around Omaha and talk to the people making it all happen. For the complete schedule of events, go here.

Sunday, March 4: Have you been thinking about sprucing up your yard, but aren’t sure where to start? Worried that you have more of a black thumb than a green one? Then get to Starting Seeds: An Informative Discussion and Hands-on Workshop at Lanoha Nurseries. The informative discussion starts at 1 p.m. and will cover everything from picking the perfect seed to transplanting that grownup seed. There’s also a hands-on workshop you can sign up for, though that part isn’t free. Learn more here.

Sunday, March 4: There are only two shows remaining in the Omaha Symphony’s Family Series, and this next one promises a little mystery for your Sunday afternoon. Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Missing Music is playing out at the Holland Performing Arts Center at 2 p.m. Everyone is a suspect in the case of the orchestra’s missing melody, so you’d better have a solid alibi. Watch Holmes investigate to Gershwin, Shostakovich, and, fittingly, Mancini’s “The Pink Panther Theme.” Get your tickets to this mystery adventure here.
Or, take your chances and visit Omaha Magazine’s Facebook page (@omahamagazine) to learn more out more about winning free tickets to Omaha Symphony performances of Sherlock Holmes: Case of the Missing Music and Symphony in Space.

Weekend Picks

January 18, 2018 by
Photography by Contributed

PICK OF THE WEEK: Thursday, Jan. 18: Scotch aficionados, rejoice. Tonight is the first night of Joslyn Castles Speakeasy Series, and they are kicking it off with a Scotch Tasting. Omaha’s own Scotch expert Mary Tomes of the Dundee Dell will be there to guide you through. Certified cheese professional Miranda McQuillan will be on hand with pairings for the flight of six Scottish whiskeys you’ll get to try. Start the evening with a rare tour of George Joslyn’s “mancave” basement. What better way to combine a love of history and booze? To keep an eye out for future speakeasy events, ring the buzzer here.

 

Friday, Jan. 19: If you’re in the mood for some hip-hop, but you like to keep it refined, A Night of Symphonic Hip-Hop featuring Wyclef Jean is a show you’ve got to see. Not only do you get to see the Grammy Award-winning former Fugee present his fusion hip-hop with a live orchestra, you’ll also get to see Omaha’s own Kethro and CJ Mills open for him at the Holland Performing Arts Center. Get your tickets here now, and don’t forget to show your support for the local acts.

Saturday, Jan. 20: In what looks to be an annual event, this Saturday you can get out and show your support for women and resist what has become the status quo by attending the 2018 Omaha Women’s March. LGBTQIA people and any people who don’t quite identify with those labels are all welcome here. Design your own sign beforehand at Urban Abbey downtown, but be sure to get to the starting point on 14th Street by 1 p.m. Don’t forget the after party at Slowdown starts at 6 p.m., so you’ll have plenty of time to warm up before dancing any lingering anger away. March on over here to find out more.

Saturday, Jan. 20: If you haven’t been to The Trap Room yet (and weirdly, some of you haven’t) you now have the perfect excuse. This Saturday is the Inaugural Trap Room Showcase with Brad Hoshaw. Listen to some sweet acoustic music while sipping the finest cocktails made by the finest bartenders in town. The music only lasts from 5 p.m. until 6:30 p.m., so be sure to get there and find a comfy seat early. For more details, click here.

Sunday, Jan. 21: Get your nostalgia fix this Sunday with the Tom Petty Celebration/Benefit with Ventura Boulevard at Chrome Lounge. Ventura Boulevard is a supergroup of Omaha musicians coming together in their love and appreciation of Petty and his music. This doesn’t have to be your last dance. Come out and help them celebrate the weird one’s life while supporting a good cause, or causes in this case, including two of Petty’s own favorites. Time to move on—over here for more information.

 

Artist Erin Blayney

October 2, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

For visual artist Erin Blayney, who grew up in the great outdoors, it’s all about light and space. She has plenty of both at her Old Market apartment that doubles as her studio.

Natural light from six large, south-facing windows cascades over her easel and houseplants. “Not only is that perfect for the type of lighting I need to do my best work, it’s healthy for my overall well-being,” says Blayney.

erinblayney2Exposed brickwork, high ceilings, and an open floor plan contribute to a sense of spaciousness. Extra-wide windowsills provide great perches for her collection of succulents.

“I love nature and the outdoors,” she says. “This apartment allows me to integrate that love into my living quarters, and not feel cramped or experience cabin fever.”

Her spot above Urban Abbey in the historic Windsor Hotel building puts her right in the thick of things. “The Old Market for me is very welcoming, unique, and nourishes a diverse group of people of all ages and backgrounds,” she says. “It’s urban yet has some aspect of a small neighborhood as well.”

A Florida transplant and Art Institute of Chicago graduate, Blayney creates figurative drawings and paintings. She previously worked as an art preparator for California museums.

Her mother preceded her to Omaha to be near a sister, and Erin followed. “My mom lives three blocks away from me, so it’s wonderful to conveniently meet for coffee or go for a bike ride together,” she says.

This self-described “people person” is drawn to the human form. She variously works from live models or photographs.

“Drawing and painting people, mostly gestural, seems to be pretty consistent for me,” she says. “It’s capturing the physicality of a person expressed through facial expression or movement. I love capturing the realness of their character, even if it’s subtle.”

Recently, Omaha restaurant mogul Willy Theisen commissioned her portrait of his granddaughter for his new Paragon eatery in Dundee.

When approaching a new work, she says, “I never know how it’s going to look, so it’s a little adventurous. If I stop thinking about what I’m doing and just let it flow, it comes out naturally. That ‘diving into it’ mindset is what I have to be in for the work to really evolve. It’s mysterious.”

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Blayney’s work is not all figurative. “Occasionally, I’ll do still life,” she says, gesturing to an in-progress oyster shell rendered in a swirl of pastels. She is contemplating an oceanic-themed series motivated by her love of the water, marine life, and nature.

“I was brought up on water. I swam in the Gulf of Mexico. So that’s in my bones.”

In Omaha, she has twice worked at Jun Kaneko’s studio (most recently in 2006 as a painting assistant). Of the celebrated artist, she says, “We had a good connection. He’s very quiet, polite, observant, receptive. He was very trusting of me. Like when I did some mixing of colors, pigments—he trusted my instincts. I’m not a ceramicist, but I felt in my natural element.”

She feels at home in Omaha, where she says, “The connections I’ve made are so important.” The same for her day job at Alley Poyner Macchietto, where she curates art shows. She admires the local art-culture scene.

“I feel the creative community in Omaha is very supportive rather than super competitive. The friends I’ve made here are very authentic, genuine, and loyal.”

She enjoys what the Bemis and Joslyn offer as well as how “smaller, contemporary, progressive galleries like Project Project and Darger HQ are pushing the envelope. I’m a huge fan of Garden of the Zodiac. 1516 Gallery is just gorgeous.”

In the spring of 2016, Petshop Gallery in Benson exhibited her portraiture work. She regularly shows in the Bemis Benefit Art Auction and had a piece in the October 28 show (she described the colorful abstract portrait as “a little mysterious looking”).

Blayney also contributed to the Old Market Art Project; hers was one of 37 banners selected (from nearly 300 submissions) to be displayed outside the Mercer Building as renovations followed the M’s Pub fire.

“It’s an abstract painting that took forever,” she says. “There’s a lot going on in it. Finally, it just came together. I collaborated with another artist in the process of painting it, and then I finished it.”

She sees many opportunities for local artists in Omaha, but there is room for improvement, too. “There’s definitely room to grow—I’d like to see even more galleries because there’s so much talent here,” she says.

Going into the fall, several commission projects were “consuming” Blayney’s time. Her projects come from anywhere and everywhere. “Lately, it’s been more people coming to me and asking either for a portrait of themselves or of a family member. I can be surprised. I’ve given my card to someone and then a year later gotten a commission. It’s unpredictable.”

Visit erinblayney.com for more information.

Encounter

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