Monday, March 10, 2008

Finding a Familiar Tune

We resurrected another ministry at Mount Vernon Place last week when women from our church gathered for lunch. The men in our congregation have an abundant, life-giving gathering every other Saturday morning when they gather for fellowship and a discussion on discipleship at a nearby Starbucks. The women gathered when we were in our old building. However, with the loss of parking, this ministry was also at a loss.

Thanks to the passion and energy of several new members at Mount Vernon Place, our women met again last Saturday. We gathered not in downtown Washington, but at the favorite restaurant of one of our members, the most amazing 95-year-old that I have ever met. There was plenty of parking. There was a lot of laughter. And, there was a great mix of longtime members and newcomers to the church. It was a blessing.

Finding a blend between what is old and what is new is not always easy to find. I am told that some of our longtime members sometimes feel left out. I have been criticized often for not asking the longtime members what they want or don't want at the church. Still, I recognize that the most life-giving moments we have as a congregation are the times when everyone is present - the twenty-somethings and the ninety-somethings, the people who can tell you what has happened in the last year at Mount Vernon Place and the people who can tell you what has happened in the last sixty years at Mount Vernon Place. One of the best things about our congregation is its beautiful mix - its diversity - of people.

I have been reading a lot about church transitions lately and how best to provide leadership in times like this. I was struck by something that Barbara Lundblad writes about in her book, Transforming the Stone. She writes:

At a recent Lutheran churchwide assembly, a bishop came to the microphone at the closing session. He hadn't come to make an amendment or call for a vote, but to ask for a point of personal privilege: "Could we all rise and join in singing 'A Mighty Fortress Is Our God?' His request didn't come after a particularly division session, but out of a deep personal longing. During that assembly, we had sung in Spanish and clapped the rhythms of South African freedom songs, and we had heard new images for God lifted up in prayers. The bishop hadn't heard his heritage lifted up in prayers. The bishop hadn't heard his heritage lifted up or celebrated in ten days of meetings. He wanted us to sing a song he knew before going home.

No doubt some will say, 'That's too bad! We've spent fifteen hundred years singing his songs!' Many at that assembly delighted in the Pentecost diversity of language and music while others, like the bishop, felt the church was moving on without them.

Lundblad continues to ask how we can make sure that we remember everyone in our preaching - those who are new and those who feel estranged in the church of their birth, the prodigal son and the older brother standing in anger, everyone.

We are trying hard to strike this balance at Mount Vernon Place. We are seeking to honor the past while embracing the future. Who knew this balance would be so hard to find! And still, it is happening, slowly but surely. And may I add one more thing - the beer bottle in the middle of the table and the martini glass at the end of the table do not belong to any of the "younger" women!

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