The message is as clear as the custom license plate on the back of the Rev. Soni Cantrell-Smith's sparkling Toyota Corolla: Ahava.
Ahava is Hebrew for love and is one of the principles of the "transdenominational" three-year-old congregation at 168 Burt Road.
Don't call it a church. It is a congregation that emphasizes service, prayer and meditation.
The congregation is affiliated with the Centers for Spiritual Living, headquartered in Golden, Colo., which takes under its wing the ideas of Religious Science and Science of Mind, which hold that the principles of science and religion are complementary.
While Jesus is a divine figure in their belief system, he is not as prominent as in some fundamentalist churches. The group believes that Jesus was the son of God and all beings are children of God.
Cantrell-Smith considers Ahava more of a synthesis of, and complement to, a variety of other religious traditions. For example, some Catholics attend Ahava services and go to Mass, she said.
Sonya Cunningham first attended a spiritual living center while visiting Seattle and is now a member of the Lexington congregation.
"As soon as I walked in I somehow knew I was home," she wrote in an email about her visit in Seattle.
Nedra Rhodes, another member of the Lexington congregation, said, "Ahava does not teach you what to think, but reminds us that God is alive in all of us, and that despite who we are or where we came from, we are all truly one and that love is ultimately the answer."
Sunday worship draws 85 to 120 people, with a youth program attendance that ranges from 12 to 40. The congregation is outgrowing its current building, a former physician's office at 168 Burt Road, Cantrell-Smith said.
A wall near the sanctuary is filled with photos of volunteers honored for "giving without expecting anything in return."
Although she has roots in Ohio and Kentucky, Cantrell-Smith was happy in California until a few years ago. Then, in ministerial school, she was introduced to "visioning," a form of meditation in which the central idea is that what you seek is also seeking you. One day she heard a call.
"At that time I heard, as clearly as I'm talking to you right now, 'You're going to Kentucky,'" Cantrell-Smith said. "I thought it was a cosmic joke. The first thing you do is try to argue with God. But it wouldn't leave me alone."
She was worried that her message meant that she was moving to Louisville: "I've always been a University of Kentucky fan."
The message became clearer when a friend announced that he was moving to Lexington to spend time with his ailing mother. She then understood that the place she didn't know she was seeking was Lexington.
Cantrell-Smith moved to Lexington and started looking for people to help her start a church. She found a core group of about 30 people interested in the spiritual living center brand of worship.
"When you set an intention, the universe says 'yes,'" Cantrell-Smith said. "I said, 'God, show me the way,' and it unfolded like dominoes: boom boom boom."
Ahava began holding services in August 2009, sharing space with a Pentecostal church before moving to its current location.
Said Cantrell-Smith: "Our whole premise is: Can't we all get along?"
Ahava is based on the tenets of education, meditation, prayer, tithing and service. The message is as practical as it is spiritual: help others.
"In my experience, it comes down to people just want to be loved," Cantrell-Smith said.
She greets visitors with a hug rather than a handshake. Her style is forthright and no-nonsense. In a video clip on the church's website, she is seen exhorting people to take charge of their lives and realize their potential.
"We believe in the power of prayer," Cantrell-Smith said. "We also believe we can change our lives by changing our thinking."
Ahava is different in some ways from more traditional religious groups. Several of the seats in its sanctuary are marked "practitioner," short for "religious science practitioner."
Practitioners have completed a four-year program based on Religious Science principles in order to address spiritual, emotional, mental and physical aspects of the person with whom they're working.
Cantrell-Smith said Religious Science is not like Christian Science. Religious Science allows doctors and medical care and believes there are a variety of methods of healing.
Richard Burdsal, who moved to Lexington in 2009 with his wife Mary, said that he has talked to many people "who have felt at home here the first time they come."
"The positive message and prayer is very important to me as an ever-present reminder that God is the life I am, regardless of my emotional involvement in my human drama," Burdsal wrote in an email. "This faith has provided me with a source of stability that I used to seek in the world and gives meaningful insights to the Christian message. I feel comforted, challenged and enlivened by what is taught here at Ahava."
Cheryl Truman: (859)231-3202. Twitter: @CherylTruman.