Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Another Opening

For many years now, the United Methodist Church has used as its slogan, "Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors: The People of the United Methodist Church." For many years now, I have been criticizing this advertising campaign, sharing how the millions of dollars that have been pumped into the campaign, including advertisements in Times Square, have not really added up to the doors of the church being opened any wider. I also have a problem with pastors who print this message on their business cards and then vote to support legislation that gives pastors a right to exclude people from church membership because of who or how the person loves. Some people have appreciated my criticizm - I won a sermon contest that included my critique of the slogan. I have also been criticized for being too critical of the church and its slogan. In any event, I learned last week that the church I serve has been campaigning for open doors long before this advertising campaign was created.

We are now back in our renovated and restored facility at 900 Massachusetts Avenue (you should come see it - it is amazing!). The church's belongings were returned from storage several weeks ago. One of our members has been working daily to put the archives back together.

The archives of this church are amazing. People have kept things from the very beginning of the church - from 1850. There are old photographs, old documents, old sermons, old bulletins, old everything. I have been going up to the archives often because I find the history of this church so fascinating. It is really quite remarkable.

Last week, I pulled out an envelope of bulletins from 1933. The church was still part of the Southern denomination during this time. The congregation was about 15 years into living in this grand, stately church. Still, every bulletin from 1933 had a quote printed on the cover. Every bulletin cover from 1933 reads:

God make the door of this house we have raised to Thee
wide enough to receive all who need human love and fellowship and a Father’s care;
and narrow enough to shut out all envy, pride, and hate.
Make its threshold smooth enough to be no stumbling block to children,
weakness or straying feet;
but rugged and strong enough to turn back the tempter’s power.
God, make the doorway of this house the gateway to Thy Eternal Kingdom.

What a prophetic witness! Can you imagine such a prayer - in the heart of Washington in 1933? And, the amazing thing is that the prayer was answered and continues to be answered. This church became a prophetic witness to the community, providing one of the first places for integrated audiences to come together to watch community theatre. This church served all people in the community, especially the people who had little or nothing. This church has been and continues to be the body of Christ - a place with a door wide enough to welcome all who need human love - and, well, I have yet to meet anyone who does not need human love.

Thanks be to God for the 158 faithful years of Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church! And, thanks be to God for this new chapter - for this day when we get to open the doors even further, welcoming all into this grand, historic building so that all might receive the gift of human love.

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