I speak this phrase often at Mount Vernon Place. A lot is changing at Mount Vernon Place. There have been significant changes in the last year. We are no longer worshipping in a magnificent sanctuary. We are not even in our own building. And, buildings that meant a lot to people - buildings where people were married or learned the stories of Jesus or fellowshiped with friends - are no longer standing. Instead, a hole is getting deeper and deeper in order for a new building to come up.
The congregation is also changing at Mount Vernon Place. Several newcomers now make up a significant portion of the congregation. New people are filling leadership roles on important committees and ministry teams. New liturgies are being introduced. New ideas are constantly emerging. Change - significant change - is happening.
My neighborhood of Columbia Heights is also changing. The city's largest shopping complex, a huge place located a block from where I live, will open in the spring. New condominiums and apartment buildings are almost ready for occupancy. Nice restaurants and a fancy spa have already opened. New people are moving in all of the time, making the neighborhood more and more diverse. And, while some of the change is welcome, there are many people in the neighborhood, people who have lived here for a long time - sometimes all of their lives - who do not like the change. The Washington Post wrote a great article that captures some of the feelings earlier this week. The change is causing tension.
I love the change that is happening at Mount Vernon Place. I get excited about what is happening when I look out on Sunday mornings and see new people smiling back at me or when I go and serve in the community with people who were not at the church one year ago. I am also excited about the new building that is on the horizon.
And, I like the change happening in my neighborhood. It is one of the reasons I purchased a place in this neighborhood in 2005. While the traffic is increasing each day and more people get off at the Metro stop each evening, I see the change as something that is good.
But I learned of a change this past week that I do not like at all. Last week, I learned that one of my favorite people at Duke Divinity School is leaving the administration.
If any of you know me, then you know that I love Duke Divinity School. I believe that Duke is one of, if not the best, theological schools in the country. Duke has some of the strongest theologians and Biblical scholars on their faculty. The seminary boasts one of the youngest student bodies in the nation. The institution prides itself on being one of 13 United Methodist seminaries in the United States. It has an amazing field education program that is funded by an endowment that makes an education affordable. The seminary is located in the heart of a leading university - a university that is consistently ranked in the top ten year after year - allowing us to learn not only about the divinity of Christ but also the coaching skills and techniques of Coach K while learning cheers like "Go to hell, Carolina, go to hell."
Yes, I love Duke. My passion and love of the school are the reasons why I accepted an invitation to return to the school and serve as the Director of Admissions from 2001 -2005. And, one of the reasons why I love the school so much is because of a man named Greg.
Greg was the Director of Admissions when I was discerning a call to ministry and applying to seminary in 1997. He hosted me on my prospective visit day. He sent letters telling me of my acceptance and of my being selected for a Dean's Scholarship. He greeted me in the parking lot when I brought my family to campus for the first time - calling me by name even though he had only met me once before. He led orientation when I was a first year student. Greg was then promoted to Associate Dean of Student Services. In this role, Greg was directly responsible for recruiting me to return to the Divinity School. He cornered me one fall asking if I could pray about coming back to the school. He called one morning saying, "I am sorry to be bothering you but the search committee has just met and we really want you to apply for this position." He took me out to dinner, along with the Dean, on the eve of my interview. And, he was the first person to celebrate with me when I had been offered the position.
For four years, Greg was my boss. He was with me when I was missing the parish tremendously, asking questions like, "Why on earth did you pull me out of the local church?" He was there to say, "great job" when we set new records in the admissions office for the number of inquiries and applications received in a year. And, he was there when I discerned it was time to go - time to go back into the parish. All the while, Greg was demonstrating to me what it looks like to live a balanced life - what it looks like to put your family first. Greg came into the office after taking his children to school. He worked hard during the day, but he never allowed work to impact his time with his children and his wife. He always showed what it looked like to love God, neighbor, family and then work. I will never forget his example - particularly since balance is something I struggle to find.
Greg is leaving the Divinity School. The student services staff is being reorganized. New people have been temporarily appointed to take his place, along with the places of two other key leaders who are leaving. And, I don't like the change. I find the change very hard to accept. I cannot imagine the Divinity School without Greg!
But, I am trying to repeat the words I repeat to the people in our church. Change is the one constant in life.
Thank you, Greg, for being my mentor, my example, and my friend.