Several people, ministries and organizations have been displaced as a result of the construction and renovation work being done at Mount Vernon Place. When we vacated two of our buildings last August, the Downtown Cluster of Congregations Geriatric Daycare Center also vacated our building, moving to the nearby Asbury United Methodist Church. The Chinese Community Church discerned it was time for them to buy a church of their own. The Womens Infants and Children's van stopped coming and providing assistance on the church's property. And, our congregation moved from worshipping in the sanctuary to the basement theatre and then across the street to the National Music Center at the Carnegie Library.
We have adjusted to our changes well. The Chinese Community Church is growing, bringing in some 70 new children since they moved closer to Chinatown. I am told that the people at the Geriatric Daycare Center love their new space. And, we have adjusted well, bringing in several new faces along the journey. I learned this week, however, that the displacement is not over.
One of our homeless neighbors has been using a window well at the church for months now. It has become his storage site, and he has stored just about everything next to the church. He has placed as many as four bikes and three grocery carts in the window well. I have seen milk crates and eggs, toys and shoes, shirts and hats, all in the window well. The stuff has grown at times to the point that the well is overflowing while shrinking at other times. Michael has been told about the upcoming demolition for several months now, and he has tried his best to clean his stuff. However, he kept telling us that he had nowhere else to put it. But Michael learned this week that he had to move his belongings because demolition was starting.
I am not sure where Michael took his stuff. But it is gone now. And while I hated at times looking at the mountain of belongings growing next to the church, I am sure that I'll miss seeing Michael outside looking for something each afternoon.
I continued my journey down the sidewalk yesterday and found that Dennis' tree was no longer covered with toys for the children. Instead, the entire tree was empty. Dennis had taken everything down when he saw an orange fence around the tree he decorates. The fence was put up to protect the trees and the land during the renovation project. However, I did not get to tell Dennis about it before he discovered it himself. And, Dennis was nowhere to be found. I was horrified, wondering if I would ever see Dennis again. I was afraid that Dennis would think we were kicking him off the property since I had been unable to talk with him prior to the orange fence being installed around the tree he decorates and the place where he sleeps at night. He had been displaced.
People are displaced in the city all of the time. In my neighborhood of Columbia Heights, there is a massive amount of development taking place. Several old buildings have been demolished in order for a new shopping center, condominiums and grocery store to be built. Property values have escalated. Long time store owners have sold and left the neighborhood. Many newcomers love the change while the old timers crave the past. The changes are a blessing to many and a displacement to others as they are asked to leave - to go somewhere else. We see the same thing happening in cities and neighborhoods across the nation - something new comes in and the old has to go.
I found Dennis before I left the church on Wednesday evening. He was sitting outside and while I had tears in my eyes, he was fine. He assured me that he would still be sleeping nearby. He also told me that he would find another tree somewhere to decorate - to add color to for the enjoyment of others.
We are displaced when we lose our jobs, experience the ending of a relationship, graduate from college, or move to a new place. And while some of the displacement is sought, other displacements come by surprise.
We talk a lot about being displaced every Sunday at Mount Vernon Place. We talk about what it means to be worshipping in a space that is not our own. But we also talk about how we have experienced displacement in our own individual lives as we share our joys and our concerns - as we tell others of our transitions, our losses, our endings and our beginnings.
May we continue to be a community that welcomes the individuals who have lost their footing, experienced a challenging transition, or found themselves pushed aside. May we be sensitive to the needs of those in our city who are impacted the most by the changes around us. May we gather together that which has been torn apart.