Saturday, December 23, 2006

What I Would Have Written

Do you need any holiday stamps?

She asked me this question two weeks ago, and I said, "No thank you." However, when the woman at the Post Office asked me this question again last Saturday, I replied, "Yes, I'll take 120 of the Virgin Mary stamps."

What was I thinking? I was thinking that I would have time this week to get all of the cards addressed and the letters in the mail. I was thinking that there would be a few hours before today when I could get the cards off to everyone expecting one. After all, I always write a holiday letter. I always send Christmas cards.

But not this year. There is just not enough time with preparations for my Doctor of Ministry courses, cookie baking and church responsiblities. I have put the cards back in a drawer and will save them for next year.

However, had you received a Christmas card with a letter inside, this is what I would have written:

Greetings from Washington! While I would love to say that it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas, I write to you when the temperatures are over 60 degrees outside and my Christmas tree is still boxed away in the coat closet at home. Where on earth has 2006 gone?

If anyone ever tells you that changing a declining church into a growing church is easy, please tell the person they are crazy – absolutely, positively crazy. My appointment at Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church continues to amaze me and challenge me on so many levels. The people who make this place their church home have undergone some significant challenges this year, none of which have been easy. We spent all summer packing, cleaning, storing and selling things in preparation for the church’s upcoming renovation and demolition. The church had two yard sales, bringing in close to $5,000 for missions. One of the most meaningful contributions, however, was sending a load of things (several pews, a piano, baptismal font and altar) to a church in Mississippi that had sustained damage as a result of Hurricane Katrina. When the church sent us a picture of the sanctuary with their ‘new’ things in it, we were delighted to see how everything seemed to fit like a glove. God is so good! In August, the church ended its shared ministry with the Chinese Community Church, a twelve-year-old relationship that has guaranteed at least 70 more people in the pews for our Sunday morning worship. We then moved out of the sanctuary on the last Sunday in August in anticipation of the arrival of an office trailer and the commencement of a massive asbestos abatement project in September with demolition of two buildings to follow in December. But, we’re still waiting. Our development has been significantly impacted by the sale of our developer to an investment firm that is now in the process of selling the Washington portfolio to another developer. In the meantime, I am learning more about real estate development, contracts, and construction than I ever dreamed was possible. My negotiating skills are improving each day. I also try hard to remember to ask God for forgiveness every time I say out loud how I really feel about New York City developers.

The wonderful part of all of these transitions is that the church is starting to grow again. We have taken in seven new members this year. While this number is about half of what we took in each month when I was at First UMC in Hendersonville, this number represents a 700% increase over last year. Even more exciting is the rich diversity of our worshipping congregation. And, our 80 and 90 year olds are rallying in ways that continue to cause me to smile and laugh often. One of my members – a 94 year old woman who I affectionately call “spit-fire” – even told a newspaper reporter recently how her main mission in life is to see me through the construction project before my hair turns gray!

Life in Washington is transforming me, too. I remember well some of the prayers I spoke when I was discerning a call to leave Duke and return to the local church. “Take me out of my place of comfort. Make me more prophetic. Give me a heart for hurting people.” Certainly God has removed me from my place of comfort as there are times when I realize I do not have any idea how to really make this church grow again. I am trying hard to become more prophetic each day as I speak truth to power – not a hard thing to do when the White House is less than a mile away. However, it is having a heart for hurting people that has caused the most pain in my life. I cannot escape the gap between those who have and those who have not whether I am walking down the street on which I live or standing outside the doors of the church. There are poor people everywhere. I watch them dig through the trash cans that fill the city streets. I wake them up each morning when I arrive at the church, asking them to leave the space right outside the doors during the day. I see their blankets, and I smell their odors. I wonder who to give money to and who to ignore. And, I read the Gospel in ways I have never read it before – especially the words spoken by Jesus about whosoever does it to the least of these does it onto me. These words haunt me at times and make me realize how far the church has fallen short of being the community Christ has called it to be. If I have one dream for Mount Vernon Place, it is that people will come here and see something different. I pray that people will see this church being the hands, eyes, ears, mouth and feet of Jesus – the church Christ has called it to be – and not a place that entertains or performs or has people walking in and out without allowing the Gospel to transform all of us in hopes that our community will be transformed, too.

There are magnificent people in my life who make me laugh, sing, think and want to be a better person. Amongst this year’s blessings was the opportunity to officiate at my best friend, Jenni’s wedding in October. In addition, I have met the kindest, most sensitive, joy-filled individual with whom I share most of my free-time. Craig adds beautiful balance to my life, and our relationship is certainly a gift from God. My family is all doing great, too. Dad visited in November, and I so enjoyed him. Mom still loves being mayor. Dana is engaged to be married sometime next year.

You are thought of often, especially during this time of year. Please come and visit. I always love sharing Washington with others.


Oh, and let me know if you need any holiday stamps. I have 120 of them.

Merry Christmas!

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