My visits to the gym have become more routine lately. They are so routine that the man at the front desk even knows my name! Now while this feat may not seem that unique to many of you, the fact that the person who checks membership cards at the gym knows my name is a huge feat to me because it confirms that I have actually become somewhat of a regular at the neighborhood gym. Who knew?!
The Monday spinning class has become one of my favorite activities at the gym. Spinning is a group activity in which approximately 16 people get on a stationery bike. The instructor comes in and turns the lights down low and the music up high. Each of the bikes have a knob on them that the participant can adjust, making it seem as though you are climbing a mountain or coasting along a flat road on your bike. There are times in the class when the instructor asks you to set the knob at a 5 and there are other times when you are asked to adjust the knob at a 10 - implying that it is taking everything you have to get up a steep incline. There are times when you stand up and peddle and times when you sit down to peddle. There are times when you sit up straight and there are times when you bend your body over your bike.
The first time I went spinning I nearly made myself sick, and I was afraid to get off the bike when class was over, unsure of whether I would ever be able to walk again. The ensuing times have been quite remarkable for a variety of reasons. And, I have recently discerned that spinning has a lot in common with my appointment at Mount Vernon Place -- with trying to turn around a church that has been in decline for nearly 50 years.
Spinning class starts at 6:30. Each Monday night, I am completely covered in sweat by 6:35. My heart rate escalates within a matter of moments. I know almost immediately that my body is working....hard. The same is true with serving a church that has been in decline for a long time. It does not take long to figure out that the task is going to take all that you've got and then some. The honeymoon does not last long in appointments to declining churches. One must get started immediately and push as hard as she can. Some of the pushes gain instant supporters in the congregation while other pushes gain instant critiques. Still, one must keep pushing.
Spinning class makes you feel like you have traveled for miles when in fact you have gone no where. The class is 45 minutes long and my legs swear that they have peddled across the state of Texas by the time class ends. Yet, I find myself still in Washington with no odometer to prove how far I have peddled when all is said and done. The same is true with an appointment to a declining church. You try new things, anticipating that at least a dozen new people will come -- to the movie night, or the book club, or the after church discussion -- and then get started with 2 or 3 people in the room. You place advertisements in the Washington Post, convinced that you'll have the biggest Easter attendance ever. Yet, when the Easter service has ended you find yourself being able to account for every person who was there - knowing who brought them or who told them about the church.
After a few weeks of spinning, you realize that your body feels healthier and that your pants look a little better on you. The same is true with one's appointment to a declining church. Two years into it, you realize that things have started to change. You realize that the longtime members who are no longer able to come because of physical ailments have somehow been replaced by new people who are in their 20s and 30s. You have people call you on the phone to tell you how excited they are about a sermon that you are preaching next week because they noticed the sermon series on the website. You receive a note from a college student who writes about what an impact you and your congregation have had on her life this semester.
And somewhere in the midst of it all, you realize that you wouldn't trade what you have for anything. You sign up for another class. You climb on the bike one more time. You sweat within a matter of moments and you peddle as fast as you can, convinced that you're really going somewhere this time.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1.