Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Room for us?

We are coming home this weekend at Mount Vernon Place. We left our sanctuary in August 0f 2006 for an extensive renovation project. We first worshipped in our old theatre beneath the sanctuary and then moved over to the Carnegie Library in February of last year. Meanwhile, a top-to-bottom makeover has been taking place. The stained glass windows have been restored. A new roof has been installed. Leaks have been repaired. Air conditioning systems have been replaced. The chancel area of the sanctuary has been flattened. A new altar, pulpit and lectern have been crafted. The building is shining once again. We are excited about coming home!

Earlier this week, we had visitors from England who are excited to be coming home with us. This family stopped by the church to explain how they were here 40 years ago and stayed with a member of our church family. They visited the church back then. They saw it filled to capacity with thousands of people here on a Sunday morning. They shared how excited they are to be here on our first Sunday back in the sanctuary. They then asked a question, "Do you think there will be enough room for us?"

Do you think there will be enough room for us?

Their question made me laugh - out loud. Our sanctuary now seats 499 people, down from around 600 before the renovation. There was a time when the sanctuary was standing room only - when people would line up long before the organ prelude began. But that time is long ago.

When I arrived at Mount Vernon Place three years ago, the people told me over and over again that they had tried everything. Nothing worked. It was time to close. The people would spend the endowment until it was gone, close the doors, and return the keys to the United Methodist Church. At the time, we had about 40 or so people here on a Sunday with an average age of 82. Things had changed. The sanctuary was no longer full. Everyone could sit together, in the front rows of the middle section.

Things are now changing again. We are growing once again. New people are coming each Sunday. But we are still a small congregation, averaging about 58 on a Sunday morning.

Do you think there will be enough room for us?

I quickly explained to the woman visiting from England about how much the church had changed - how small the congregation had grown - telling them that there would be plenty of room for them. But I keep thinking about her question.

She asked the question as one who knew the church filled to capacity. She asked the question as one who came, and found herself snuggled between dozens of other people in the same pew. She came and found a church filled - filled to capacity. It was the people around here - these memories of the past - that propelled her to ask the question about whether there would be room for her this Sunday.

But I wonder how many other people do not think there is room for them at the church. How many other people do not feel they are dressed right or that they act right? How many other people feel they are too dirty or too filled with doubt to come inside? How many other people have been told that they are not welcome inside the church?

Do you think there will be room for us?

Yes, there will be room for you - on this Sunday and next Sunday and the Sunday after that. There is room for all of you at Mount Vernon Place. There is plenty of room. As I say to the congregation each Sunday morning, "It does not matter who you are or where you have been. It does not matter whether you are here every single Sunday morning or whether you just got up in the nick of time to be here this morning. It does not matter what you have done or what you have left undone. It does not matter what you have said or what you have failed to say. It does not matter who you have loved or who you have failed to love. You are welcome here. I believe with all of my heart that God is here and that God knows everything about us and loves us in spite of it all. I also believe that this God longs to encounter us here, in this space, as we come to worship our living Savior."

Do you think there will be room for us?

Yes. There is plenty of room for you and for you and for you and for you.


cherylw said...

Thank you for writing these words out - I love hearing your introduction each Sunday. It is extremely welcoming and reinforces that MVP's doors are open to all no matter what you have done, or haven't done. It's consistent yet affects me each and every time I hear it - for the last year and a half now as a new member!

Steven and Elizabeth Schindler said...

D -

Have you read Walt Wangerin's story about Jolanda Jones? It's in his book, "Miz Lil and the Chronicles of Grace." It is a beautiful illustration of this same question, "Is there room for me in your church?" You should read it if you haven't already.


Bobbe Family said...

I cannot wait to see the church... hopefully it will be sooner rather than later. Enjoy getting settled in to you and your entire congregation!