I have had a crash course in real estate development since arriving at Mount Vernon Place in the summer of 2005. Each week, I have learned something new about the selling of property and the construction of buildings as we go through the process of redeveloping the church's property. New words and phrases have been added to my vocabulary often - things they do not teach in seminary.
Last summer, I learned about Retroplate - a polished concrete that will be installed in different places in our new church building. The product can be found in several apartment buildings in Washington, is very durable, and environmentally friendly.
Last month, I learned about "GMP." GMP stands for "guaranteed maximum price." It is a number given to us by the folks at Clark Construction -- a number that is much larger for the historic renovation than we thought it would be when we first started the conversations about restoring Mount Vernon Place two years ago!
The word for this week is "frit." Do you know what frit is? Neither did I.
Frit is a type of glass that is used in office buildings all over the city. It is basically a patterned glass with the patterns designed to provide some privacy in the room to which it is installed. Frit keeps our eyes from seeing everything. The examples of frit that I was shown this week have lines or dots on the glass that can block out anywhere from 30 - 50% of the glass' viewing area.
Our developer has proposed that we use frit on the windows of our new fellowship hall so that people coming into the new office building cannot see everything that the church is doing in that large space. The frit will allow people to see some things - but not everything.
While frit is a new word to me, and I cannot point to any frit in my home or in the buildings that I regularly go in and out of, I believe that we see frit all of the time.
Last year I was having a conversation with a young person who was yearning to be more fully known. She said to me, "You know, in Washington, you are whoever you say you are."
She's right. The most common question asked at happy hours in this city is "What do you do?" It is the Washington question. And you are whoever you say you are. "I am a lawyer." "I am a White House staffer." "I am a lobbyist." "I am a legislative assistant." "I am a pastor." (The last response always begs a second question - "You're a what?")
We are whoever we say we are. Very few people want to learn anything more than what we do or who we work for. Very few people allow the conversation to extend to the point where we share more than what we do from 8:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m. We tend to keep the eye from seeing everything or the ear from hearing more. We are good at revealing only so much, keeping things very superficial. And still, on the inside, we are yearning to be more fully known. We are yearning for more transparency -- for more of us to be seen and known.
The Cheers' cliche still says it all, "Sometimes we want to go where everybody knows our name. And they're always glad we came."
While there may be frit on the new building at Mount Vernon Place, we are trying to foster a community where there is no frit. We are working to become a place where all people are welcome to come just as they are -- where they don't have to hide anything, preventing people from really seeing who they are. We are striving for a community where people can come and share all of their burdens, their joys, their frustrations, their dreams, their fears, and their deepest longings - and be accepted in spite of it all.
I long for a place where the rich and the poor gather together, where the hungry and the full break bread together, where those who have no one and those who have everyone laugh together. I pray for a community where people don't have to cry out "I need to be known, accepted, and loved," because they immediately encounter individuals who are eager to ask more than the question, "What do you do," while offering acceptance and love to everyone.
I catch a glimpse of such a place every time I gather with the Mount Vernon Place congregation. When I am with the people who I am privileged to be in ministry with, I see a man who is 98 and a baby who is 8 months old. On Sunday mornings, I see people at church who have everything that they want and sometimes see people whose only belongings are in the bags on their backs. I see people who have severe mental and physical illnesses and individuals who are a picture of good health. I see people who believe everything that is proclaimed from the pulpit and people who doubt everything that is said. I see individuals who have shared their dark sins with me and individuals who tell me they have never done anything wrong. I see people who were born a few miles from the church and others who were born thousands of miles away on the continent of Africa.
We're far from perfect at Mount Vernon Place. Still, I catch a glimpse of God's kingdom every time we gather. And as we strive for perfection, I pray that we will continue to be a place where people can be seen -- really seen -- where the barriers are broken -- where people can be fully human -- and loved and accepted -- in the midst of it all.