Thursday, August 31, 2006

Cleaning out the Closets

We have been busy cleaning the church out for months now. Cleaning out the belongings of a building with over 100 working rooms is no easy task. As with our own homes, we tend to fill whatever space we have with whatever belongings we can acquire. We keep things we do not need just because we have space for them. We fill closets until they get to the point where the door no longer opens.

I have learned in the last several weeks that our church has too many closets -- too many closets that have not been opened in decades. We also have many rooms that have not been organized in years. We have too much clutter, and something had to be done with all of the things we no longer use.

After two yards sales that brought in over $4700 to be used for missions, we turned to Craig's List with a posting for "Free Desks." Having never listed anything on Craig's List before, I have been amazed at the response! People are so eager to receive whatever it is that is free. I have recieved about 30 responses to this posting. Several students want a desk. Many non-profit organizations need desks. Other people simply need furniture to fill their empty space. I have met so many people this week who have come through the doors of our church eager to receive a free desk. They have left with a desk, a chair or two, and many other items as we have not allowed anyone to leave the building with just one thing! And, they have left with huge smiles on their faces.

Needless to say, I have learned a lot this week. We need to be better about cleaning out our clutter more often. We need to spend time periodically going through our closets and our rooms in an effort to get rid of what has not been used for a long time. We need to be careful about what we put in closets -- what we hide away to be dealt with another time. And, we need to constantly look at all that we have and make decisions to share a portion of what we have with those who need it.

The clutter in our lives does not limit itself to our homes or our workplaces. We all have things we are carrying that we need to let go of -- guilt, anger, bitterness, jealousy, and the list goes on and on. We all have "stuff" in our past or in our present that we are not particularly proud of -- stuff we have tried hard to hide away, craming it all into a dark closet in hopes that the door will never be opened by anyone but us. Furthermore, we all have something - no matter how big or how small - that can be shared with someone in need.

I think I'll go clean out some more closets.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Moving Day #2!

My feet are tired. My hands are worn. However, my heart is sincerely grateful for all of hard work that has been completed.

How much stuff can one church possibly have?

Monday, August 28, 2006

Moving Day!

It's moving time at Mount Vernon Place. A dedicated group of men from Federal Moving and Storage arrived today for a massive moving job. During the next three days these men will take hundreds of pictures, nine pianos, thousands of books, several dozen hymnals, many choir robes, a ton (at least the boxes seemed to way a ton!) of dishes, a lot of furniture, several toys, and many other items to a nearby storage unit. The things will remain in storage until the renovation and restoration work is completed in December of 2007.

One of the most difficult things for the movers to load today was our pipe organ. The organ does not fit on the elevator. It's only way in and out of the sanctuary is through the front doors -- the doors through which one can enter only after ascending some twenty stone steps. The movers had to descend these same steps with a heavy, expensive, bulky organ in their hands. As I watched them carry the instrument down the steps, all I could do was hold my breath, snap a few shots, and hope for the best.

As we have been preparing things for storage many thoughts have gone through my mind. One of them is, "Should we trust the movers to care for this item or these items?" "Will the movers be able to keep these things safely for us for fifteen months?"

For example, I found this incredible picture of Mount Vernon Place today, and all I could think about is, "Perhaps this picture is too valuable for storage."

After all, look at it! There is no way we could replace this picture. I wanted desperately to hide the picture away -- to put it on my wall at home where it could safely hang until it could be hung in the new church.

I did not bring the picture home with me, however. Nor did I bring any of the other amazing pictures home tonight. I left them instead for the movers to pack, carry away, and store.

And all afternoon I have thought about the things that have been entrusted to me. I have thought about how my friends have told me many secrets and longings, trusting me to keep what they tell me to myself. I have thought about all that God has given to me, trusting me to be a wise steward of God's generous gifts. And I have thought about how the precious people of Mount Vernon Place for whom I am privileged to be pastor have trusted me with their spiritual needs. What daunting, humbling, and remarkable gifts I have been given.

I pray I never drop, damage or lose whatever it is that has been entrusted to my care.

Friday, August 25, 2006

And they danced!

Last night I had the joy of sitting in the center of the front row for the Bruce Hornsby concert at Wolf Trap. I have never sat anywhere but the lawn at Wolf Trap, so coming inside was quite a treat. Walking all the way down to the front row and to the two center seats nearly put me beside myself, as you can imagine.

We sat down, and the band soon came on stage (we missed the opening act since we were enjoying burritos at Chipotle!). Bruce sat down at the piano and began to tickle the Grand Steinway keyboard in a way that I have never seen a grand piano played before. He played a beautiful melody, and then his band started to play with him. The drummer used his sticks to strike a myriad of drums, eliciting an incredible sound. A person played several other electronic keyboards. Two people played bass guitar. And one person played a variety of other instruments, including a mandolin.

At first, it seemed like just another concert -- a concert of a band who I had heard but didn't really love. But then everything changed. I started to watch how the faces of each musician lit up when he played his instrument. I watched as Bruce interacted with each one, delicately lifting a hand, signifying that one was to play louder or join in the vocals with him. Everyone was working together. Everyone on stage was smiling. Everyone seemed to love what they were doing. I had a hard time believing that this performance was their job -- the band members were all enjoying it too much -- as if they did not get to play together very often.

The concert was amazing. I now love Bruce Hornsby and am considering going to see him again when he is in Annapolis later this fall. And, believe it or not, I learned a little about the church last night.

Each band member got to shine at some point during the concert. During each song, the spotlight would shine upon one band member -- not just Bruce Hornsby. Each musician was able to play a solo, with the spotlight shining brightly on his performance -- on his specific talent. Each person took delight in what they were doing. Each person played their part with joy -- with sheer, beautiful, unbound, joy. And Bruce Hornsby made sure that the audience knew that it was an entire band, and not just him, who was making music.

And then something beautiful happened. The joy of performing on stage was shared with many audience members. Towards the end of the show, concert goers were allowed to fill the sides of the stage and dance. A woman danced with a baby on her back. A young boy who appeared to be about ten years old danced. A middle aged woman danced. A gray haired man danced. Many young adults danced. Each person was filled with joy as they joined the band members on stage who had shared the same joy all evening. Everyone was caught up in the rhythm and the beauty of the night.

We gather each week as a church. We come to worship the Lord, to confess our sins, to hear God's Word read and proclaimed, to pray together, to celebrate the sacraments, and to receive nourishment for our weary souls. What would happen if we all did these acts of worship with enormous smiles on our faces? What would happen if we all remembered that each one of us has an instrument to play -- a gift to share? What would happen if we entered God's house with joy, approaching each worship experience as if it were our first time experiencing God's amazing love? Would those watching want to join in the celebration...and maybe even dance?

In the author notes at the very beginning of the book, Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller writes:

"I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn't resolve. But I was outside the Bagdad Theatre in Portland one night when I saw a man playing the saxophone. I stood there for fifteen minutes, and he never opened his eyes.

After that I liked jazz music.

Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way."

It was clear to me last night that Bruce Hornsby loves playing the piano and singing to the delight of fans in the audience. His drummer loves beating the drums, his technical guy loves balancing the speakers, his guitarists love strumming the strings. And, I loved watching much that I danced last night...and woke up wanting to play the piano this play the piano just like Bruce Hornsby.

May we carry out the practices that shape us as Christians with passion, love and delight. May our witness be one that is contagious, one that draws people in, enabling others to want to catch the joy and model the same witness. May "Amen" not be our only response to what we see, hear and experience, but may we also dance!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

What's in the box?

Mount Vernon Place UMC is in the midst of a massive clean up and clean out project in preparation for our upcoming renovation and redevelopment. We had our second yard sale on Saturday morning, and it was a joy to see so many people who needed the things we had to offer take them away to new homes and new uses.

We have found so many different things as we have been cleaning out the building -- an old kiln for firing pottery, a complete woodworking studio, and last week we found a box.

I was reading the history of the church in preparation for Sunday's sermon when I found a note about how a box of memories and materials was inserted into the wall of the 1958 addition, behind the dedication plaque just before the building was dedicated. I called my co-worker immediately and told her we had to get the box out of the wall!

We got the box out on Saturday. It is not a very big box - about 8 inches tall and a foot long. It is still melted shut so we do not know what's inside yet. What we do know is that it holds dreams, visions, memories and a rich history. It holds what the members of Mount Vernon Place thought was important in 1958.

I can only imagine what's inside the box. The box was put together when nearly 4,000 people called Mount Vernon Place their church home. It was put together when a large, educational wing was being added -- a building that would tell the stories of our faith to thousands of people each week. It was put together when the church seemed to have everything it needed.

We are going to open the box on this Sunday morning. We'll peer inside and take out the contents. We'll then start thinking about what would be in our box for 2006. What would you put in the box?

Monday, August 21, 2006

All by Ourselves

Mount Vernon Place is on its own again. Yesterday marked the beginning of a new chapter in the life of our congregation. For the last twelve years, Mount Vernon Place has been worshipping with the Chinese Community Church. It has been a beautiful partnership -- one that has enriched both congregations with new understandings and new insights into different cultures and ways of worship.

The Shared Ministry with the Chinese Community Church was created over twelve years ago. At the time, the Chinese Community Church had outgrown its space on L Street and Mount Vernon Place was having a hard time filling its space at 900 Massachusetts Ave. NW. It was believed that if the two congregations came together, then much could be accomplished as we served the needs of the city and worshipped together.

A lot has been done in the last twelve years. Beautiful words of praise have been lifted. Lifelong friendships have been forged. Bible study groups have grown. Incredible music has been sung. Some of the needs of the city have been met through MVP's Geriatric Daycare Center and the CCC's Chinatown Service Center.

Things have changed, however. The Chinese Community Church bought a church at 5th and I Streets, NW and Mount Vernon Place is in the process of selling a portion of its property. As a result, both congregations went through a time of discernment, concluding that it might be time to venture out in faith and strengthen a separate identity once again.

Yesterday was the day of new beginnings for both churches. The Chinese Community Church worshipped in its new home while Mount Vernon Place gathered in our sanctuary by ourselves for the first time in twelve years. I must admit that I had no idea what to expect. How many would we have in worship? Who would be there? Would we remember to turn on the sound system and have people greeting at the doors -- things members of the CCC always assist us with?

God showed up in powerful ways! We were not alone. We had nearly a dozen visitors. The choir sang beautifully. We had a member come back who has not been able to be in church for months because of a bad fall. And, I had two people ask me yesterday about joining the church. In fact, the only discouraging thing that happened yesterday was that the microphone battery went dead halfway through the service!

Our God is an awesome God. God has reminded me again that God is not finished with this little congregation. God has big things in store for Mount Vernon Place. I am excited about our future!

Our task now is to continue to step out in faith, trusting that God is leading us, believing that God will allow us to serve in the city of Washington in ways we have never served before, and claiming that we have something to offer that people in this city need -- fellowship, support, good news, transformation, and a firm foundation.

Stay tuned...and come join us!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Restaurant Week

I participated in Restaurant Week on Friday night. Restaurant Week is held twice each year in Washington, D.C. For two weeks each year, restaurants in the area offer a three-course lunch for $20.06 and a three-course dinner for $30.06. The meal can be quite a bargain given the regular prices of the menu items at many participating restaurants.

I made my reservation at Kinkaed's Restaurant weeks ago, knowing that the tables at this expensive restaurant would be reserved quite quickly once the dates for Restaurant Week were announced. I was excited. I had perused the restaurant's menu several different times, wondering what selections I would make for my appetizer, entree and dessert. I double checked the availability of other restaurants in an effort to make sure that Kinkaed's was the place I wanted to go. I grew more excited as the day for my dinner at Kinkaed's approached.

Finally, Friday night arrived. Craig and I entered the doors of the restaurant at 8:00, the appointed time for our reservation. We were greeted by a hostess and taken upstairs where we were seated at a corner table. The restaurant was not full but rather empty. I asked the waiter why since the reservation system said it was full. The waiter quickly explained how most dinners at Kinkaed's last two and a half hours. "Not so during restaurant week, however. People want to come in and spend their $30.06 and leave." He then laughed and walked off after filling my glass with water.

I looked around and realized that most of the people in the restaurant were probably a lot like us. They were not the typical Kinkaed's crowd -- the kind of people who are willing to drop several $100 bills on dinner. For most in the room, the experience of dining in Kinkaed's was a rare opportunity. I love people watching, and I continued to observe the people around me.

Soon, a table of four was filled with a husband and wife, and two young adult children. The man opened his menu within a few moments of being seated only to realize that the menu was not several pages long but instead rather brief. He asked his server about the change, and she said, "It's restaurant week." The man said, "What?" and she continued to explain how restaurant week gives people the opportunity to come in and enjoy a meal for $30.06. The man then asked, "Does this mean I am surrounded by trash tonight? Does all the trash come in during this week?" Sadly, the server laughed at his joke and looked as if she was almost nodding her head in agreement.

It's been a while since I have been referred to as "trash." Craig and I were splurging when we spent $60.06 on one dinner. We can eat for an entire two weeks on $60. Needless to say, I was appalled. I wish I would have gone over and introduced myself to the man, letting him know how much he offended me. I resisted, however. Still, I cannot stop thinking about his comment.

Without a doubt dozens of people splurged last week when they shelled out $20.06 for lunch and $30.06 for dinner. Many people treated themselves to meals they do not normally consume.

I treated myself to a dose of reality.

There are always some people who believe that they are worth more than others. There are always individuals who believe that wealth can buy them whatever they want -- including more respect than individuals with less money. The man who came to Kinkaed's with the expectation of spending several hundred dollars lost my respect in a heartbeat. The woman serving him lost my respect as well. And I even disappointed myself.

My experience with Restaurant Week was like a little girl dressing up in her mother's clothes. I wanted to "try on" the good life -- the life of being served a salmon appetizer and a grilled swordfish entree -- in a fancy restaurant that was really too much for me.

Next time I'll stick with Chipotle.

In the meantime, I am praying for all of the "trash" like me, and for those with eyes who cannot see how much good they could do if they spent the money they are trashing on extravagant meals on ensuring that every stomach in this city has a little food in it. They need not share the salmon and the swordfish. A little bread, some peanut butter and a banana would be a good place to start.

Friday, August 11, 2006


My friend, Frances, died this morning. Frances was a member of Mount Vernon Place. A lover of music and an accomplished musician, she was drawn to the church many years ago by our choir. There was a place for Frances to sing in the choir. Frances loved music. She loved people. She loved helping out wherever she could. She loved her apartment in Falls Church and the freedom she had to use public transportation whenever she needed to get around the city.

Frances has been in and out of hospitals and rehab centers since I was appointed to Mount Vernon Place. For the last 14 months I have seen her regularly in her 'temporary' homes. I've visited her in several different hospitals. I have seen her in numerous nursing homes. I have talked with her in her home, and I have seen her at the church when she was strong enough to come.

One of the gifts of being a pastor is having the privilege of praying with people wherever they are. At the conclusion of each visit I would turn to Frances with a simple question, "What should I pray for today Frances?" Each time she would reply, "Please pray for the church and for you." While Frances was the one struggling to regain strength or find the capacity to return home, Frances never asked for prayers for herself. She was always more concerned with what was happening at the church she loved. She was always interested in supporting her pastor instead of her pastor giving her support. Frances was one of the most unselfish individuals I have ever met.

We'll celebrate Frances' life sometime next week. We'll gather in the sanctuary at 900 Massachusetts. Hymns will be sung. Soloists will sing. The scriptures will be read and proclaimed. Our faith will be affirmed. And a life -- a beautiful, generous, precious life -- will be celebrated.

"I want to go home, Donna." These words are words that were spoken often by Frances during our visits. I am quite convinced that Frances is, indeed, home on this day.

Thank you, Lord, for Frances. Thank you for sharing her with us. Thank you for allowing her to be my friend.