Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Saturday Shopping

I went shopping on Saturday morning. Along with a group of individuals from church, I stuffed clothing into several different shopping bags. We found some things we were looking for and there were other things on our list that we could not find on any of the racks. There seemed to be a shortage of things, fact. There was not enough.
You see, we were "shopping" at Rachael's Women's Center, a day shelter for homeless women located a few blocks from Mount Vernon Place. As part of our building rededication week, we felt it was important for us to spend time in the community, giving back to others as we have received so much. We were assigned to go to Rachael's to help sort through their donations, folding clothing, sorting it by size and then placing it on new racks that we bought for the purpose. When we were done sorting through the clothing, we were given a wish list - a list of individual names along with the items of clothing they needed most:
Connie: shoes size 9, coat extra large, t-shirt
Julie: Size 11 Keds Sneakers
Beverly: Size 18 pants
Carol: Size 12 pants, scarf and hat
The list went on and on but the supplies did not. There were a lot of things - but not the right things. And, I keep thinking about the experience.
I typically wear a size 12, but not all size 12s are the same. I cannot imagine anyone selecting a pair of jeans for me that would actually fit. I cannot imagine anyone picking out the one shirt that would be my own. I cannot imagine anyone - no one - doing my clothes shopping for me. I prefer a large selection. I like choices. I like to try things on.
And this is why it is important for me to spend time in places like Rachael's. Rachael's reminds me of what I have. Experiences like this tell me again how blessed I am and how little gratitude I express. Mornings like the one I spent at Rachael's have a way of pushing me to see all that I have as gift.
So, I am going shopping. I am going shopping for some larger size pants and some t-shirts - not for me - but for the women at Rachael's. To whom much has been given - much is owed.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Lonely in Washington

There is an article on the front page of today's Washington Post that caught my attention.  The article, titled, "Matchmakers, Matchmakers, Making a Mint: Dating Services Give Way to Coaches, Wingmen and Profile Writers," is a story of the new industry emerging to help people connect.  Ellen McCarthy writes how hard it is for people in Washington to meet people - particularly prospective romantic partners. She writes:

People work more, know their neighbors less.  They leave home towns full of family and friends in exchange for cities rife with interesting opportunities but few connections.  They are tied to, and reliant on, technology - which has indelibly altered the way humans interact.

I cannot read statements like this without thinking of the church... How is the church helping to connect people - not romantically, necessarily - but people who are longing for connections - real, authentic connections?  How is it that the church can become that neighborhood of front porches - that community where people long to say "good morning" or "good night" or ask about your day?

We're seeking to be this kind of place - a place of real connections - authentic connections.  You don't need a coach to come - just come - just as you are.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


We rededicated our building on Sunday morning.  After being out of the sanctuary for nearly two years, we returned at the end of July and then planned a great celebration on Sunday morning.  Our bishop, Bishop John Schol, was with us to proclaim the sermon.  We had many longtime members in worship again, including many people who grew up at Mount Vernon Place.  We dedicated the baptismal font, the altar, the pulpit and the lectern.  We encouraged people to walk through the building, looking at the complete top to bottom restoration of the building. It was wonderful.

But my favorite part was when one of our new members got up and shared what brought him to the church.  He shared how the building is lovely and the stained glass windows are magnificent, yet these things are not what brought him to the church.  He talked about how the church had filled a 10-year hole in his life and what a wonderful journey he and his wife were experiencing.  He then led us in a litany of consecration, talking about how our lives and not just our building needed to be consecrated.

We responded with the litany of consecration, inspired by the congregation of Hyde Park UMC in Tampa when they consecrated their building in 2003.  There are a few lines of this liturgy that stand out to me:

For a church that shall be a renewing, cleansing, and empowering partner in the community, seeking to serve and befriend the hurting, the lost, and the broken.

For a church with an open door for all people: rich and poor, housed and homeless, old and young, red and yellow, black and white, gay and straight, liberal and conservative, those filled with faith and those who have not yet been gifted with faith.

For a church that shall gather the children in its arms and hold them close to Christ, that they may grow up in Christ and never be lost from the fold.

After each of these lines, we repeated the words, "We consecrate ourselves today."

What powerful words!  Can you imagine a congregation that is truly a partner with and in the community, seeking to serve all who are hurting, lost or broken?  Can you imagine a church where all people are welcome?  Can you imagine a church that holds children - all children - those who are wanted and those who are neglected, those who were conceived in love and those who were conceived and surprised the parents - where all children are gathered and held, empowered with the ways of Christ?

I get a glimpse of this kind of place every time I enter the doors of Mount Vernon Place.  While we still have a long ways to go, I gain a glimpse of the Kingdom at hand almost every time I gather with the people who call Mount Vernon Place home.  There is a rich history of prophetic proclamation in this place.  The journey now continues, and I cannot wait to see what God has in store for this congregation.  

Come and use us, Lord.  Thanks be to God!

Monday, September 22, 2008

September 2

I am behind in getting pictures posted to the blog. I let go of my computer when I moved in with my husband, Craig, and I have not quite gotten everything hooked up at home yet. You are therefore going to see some pictures from the past being brought to the future...

September 2 was an extraordinary day. My friend and parishioner, Mabel, turned 100 on this day. Mabel was the chair of the Staff Parish Relations Committee when I was first appointed as the pastor of Mount Vernon Place. She has been a member of this church since 1940 and she is an eternal optimist. I love visiting Mabel because without fail, Mabel will tell me how blessed I am to be serving in this place. Without fail, Mabel will tell me how much great ministry there is to be done in the heart of Washington. She tells me how she would give anything to be in my shoes. And, she tells me that I am capable of doing anything. She often has more confidence in me than I have in myself. She never complains. She is a jewel. What a joy it is to see her reach her 100th birthday.

I'd give anything if she was turning 70 or 80 instead. I'd love to have her around for a few more decades so that we could make an impact on this city together. Yet, I am convinced that Mabel's words will impact me throughout the rest of my life. I am convinced that through Mabel, an impact has already been made. She is amazing.

On the same day, my best friend, Jenni, gave birth to her first child. Alexa was born on Tuesday night, September 2. And while I did not get to meet her until the following day, I was amazed at God's hand so clearly evident in both Mabel's life and Alexa's life. One of them is 100 and the other is brand new to this world. One of them has seen the world change in big ways and the other has the entire world in front of her. One of them has a body that is aging and the other has a brand new body. Both of them are extraordinary children of God - created in God's image - reflecting God's love and grace in very unique and beautiful ways.

Praise God for life - for all of life!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Adam Hamilton

Adam Hamilton is scheduled to speak at Mount Vernon Place UMC on next Thursday evening, September 25. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to welcome Adam to our church as part of an evening sponsored by MVPUMC, Wesley Theological Seminary and Asbury United Methodist Church.

I first met Adam when I was a student at Duke Divinity School. I do not remember why, but I was given the opportunity to host him while he was speaking at Duke. We went out for true North Carolina Barbecue at Bullock's, one of Durham's finest. While chowing away on hush puppies and pulled park, Adam inspired me, empowering me throughout the conversation on how to be the most faithful pastor possible. His encouragement and inspiration remain with me to this day, and I have since seen him lecture many times while also sitting in a class with him at the Church of the Resurrection.

Adam is the senior pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas. He started the church in a funeral home chapel in 1990 (thus the need for the church to be named "resurrection"). The congregation quickly grew, and there are now over 12,000 people who make COR their home church. Adam has a remarkable ability to make the message relevant. He is a visionary who has intentionally built a church with the aim of reaching non-religious and nominally religious people. He is a gifted preacher, writer and speaker. But, one of the things I love most about Adam is his passion for building not just COR but for building every single Body of Christ. He has a passion for revitalizing the mainline church, and his knowledge is making a difference.

Wherever Adam goes, he tells others the secrets of COR's success. He tells others how to make an impact for Christ. He tells others how to build a church. He wants desperately for the church to grow - every church - not just his church.

His ways are so different. I am surrounded by churches - there is another United Methodist Church less than two blocks away and dozens of churches within walking distance- but we do not do much together. We have not had regular conversations about how to bring together our best in order to see what might happen in downtown Washington. There are pastors all around me, but we do not get together often for mutual support and accountability. Too often we are silos, trying to build our own churches, trying to be our best, instead of thinking about how we all might have something to offer another. Adam could hoard his success. He could keep what works well at COR. But, Adam is intentional about sharing it. And, I love how Adam is constantly trying to build every church. His witness is a powerful one.

Adam will be at MVPUMC for a 7:00 p.m. lecture on his new book, "Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White: Thoughts on Religion, Morality and Politics." You're welcome to come early and see our new, old building that has just been completely restored. Our open house will begin at 6:00 p.m. We'd love to see you, and I hope you will make plans to be with us next Thursday night.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Farewell Sermon to Remember

As we prepare for our building rededication this weekend (thanks be to God!), I have had the extraordinary privilege of preparing a historical sketch of Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church. The church, founded in 1850, has done an amazing job of keeping pieces of history locked upstairs in the archives. The archives committee was really on top of things, especially at the turn of the 20th Century. Along with my occasional visit to the archives, one of our new members has been spending hours each day sorting through the things in the cabinets. He came downstairs yesterday, explaining how he could hardly wait to show me what he had found.

In someone's scrapbook left to the church was an article clipped from the September 17, 1950 Washington Post. The article was written the day after a beloved former pastor of MVPUMC, Dr. John Rustin, preached his final sermon at the church.

Dr. Rustin served MVPUMC from 1936 - 1950. He was here when many of our longtime members joined the church - during the war years of the 1940s. I am told that he never forgot a name. He went out of his way to welcome young people who were new to the city. He was a visionary leader who built the church to more than 4,000 members. And, I now know why. The Washington Post article tells how Dr. Rustin told the "misty-eyed gathering of more than 1500 persons" how the church is not liberal enough. The article, written by Thomas Schlesinger, a Post Reporter, reads:

"Doctor Rustin told the congregation, 'the trouble with the church is that it is not liberal enough,' and then spelled out what he thought the church of the future should be like. 'When the church becomes a real factor in the life of the people,' he said, 'first of all, it has vision and is not expending all its energy in defending creeds or standing on ancient dogmas. 'It should challenge the people to move beyond its warped emotions and deep-seated prejudices,' he continued, 'and it should always move into action."

The trouble with the church is that it is not liberal enough!
The church needs to be a real factor in the life of the people!
The church must have vision; it cannot expend all its energy on defending creeds or standing on ancient dogmas!
The church must challenge the people to move beyond its warped emotions and deep-seated prejudices!
The church should always move into action!

Is it any wonder that Mount Vernon Place grew during Dr. Rustin's tenure? Is it any wonder that people - especially young people - wanted to be a part of this church -a church that was moving - a church that was making a difference in the lives of people? Is it any wonder that people will come to a church that is focused on what is important - being the kingdom of God here on earth?

These words were spoken 58 years ago. People heard them, and people wanted to be a part of it!

Thank you, Dr. Rustin, for your legacy. May we continue to embrace your message. What an amazing place this is!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I Remember

I remember exactly where I was seven  years ago.  It was my first year as Director of Admissions, and I was sitting in a student services meeting at Duke Divinity School.  The dean walked in, shared how a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers, and asked us what to do.  We proceeded with canceling different things, unsure of exactly what was happening.  I continued to plan a recruiting trip to Florida and made final arrangements for the welcoming of prospective students the next day.  I remember.  I remember well.

I also remember Kim, a prospective student who arrived two years after 9/11.  Kim lost her husband in the Twin Towers.  She had a toddler at home and was pregnant with their second son. She had been hit by a tragic loss, and yet God was somehow using this loss to call her - calling her to ministry.  I remember Kim on this day, along with her children.  My heart still aches for them.

I also remember my friend David who lost his best friend.  David's friend was on the plane that went down in Pennsylvania.  David has not been the same since.  I remember David on this day. My heart still aches for him.

It took me longer to get to work today than it has taken since I moved to Northern Virginia. My drive past the Pentagon started and stopped, started and stopped.  The traffic was horrendous.  I wanted to complain as I waited for the traffic to move again.  But, I instead thought of how long Kim waited for a sign of her husband - for confirmation that her husband had died - and how she had to wait months until a police officer arrived at her door one day with a small bone that had been identified as that of her husband's.

I wanted the traffic to move - but God instead called me to prayer.  And then, I watched as the sun broke through the clouds.  

My heart aches with all who were touched by this tragic day, and perhaps all of us in this nation have been touched by it - but I could not help but to see once more how the light shines - the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never overcome the light.

I remember.  I remember you in my prayers.  I remember you on this day.  And, I remember God's faithfulness of how we will, indeed, all be reunited again one day.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Sound Advice

I have recently been taught sound advice that can keep me and others out of trouble.  A ministry colleague told me the criteria that should be used before saying anything out loud.  Before speaking, one needs to ask oneself three questions:

1) Is what I am about to say truthful?
2) Is it helpful?
3) Is it kind?

Before saying anything, one needs to make sure that what is said meets at least two of the three criteria.

It's good wisdom and if practiced, I'll be saying a whole lot less.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Paragraph 213

I had never before heard of paragraph 213 in our United Methodist Book of Discipline.  The Book of Discipline is a book we study in seminary as we make our way through Methodist polity.  It is a book we study when we are preparing for ordination exams.  And, it is a book we pull out often when we are preparing for Charge Conference or putting together the new budget.  But, I had never before noticed paragraph 213.  I never noticed it until my District Superintendent called me recently, asking if I would serve on a paragraph 213 task force.

Paragraph 213 addresses churches that are in decline - churches that are facing an uncertain future - churches that need to be redeveloped, refocused, merged or closed.  The paragraph outlines a process of calling together clergy and laity who can go through the church's budget, membership, ministries, and programs - looking to see what might have caused the decline and what might be put in place in order to have the congregation grow again.

For the last three weeks, I have spent each Thursday night at another church in Washington.  Gathering with two other clergy and three laity, two from the congregation facing redevelopment, merger or closure, we have sifted through old budgets, old reports, a variety of data, and a myriad of other documents.  We have heard a lot about the church - its building, its congregation, its lay leadership and its clergy.  And we are nearing the place where we need to make a recommendation on the future of the church.  And, it sucks.  Forgive me for being so blunt, but I cannot think of a better word to describe this work.  It sucks.

How is it that so many of our congregations are in decline?  Why is it that so many church's are filled with potential but have not been able to welcome more than one or two or no new members in the last year?  How is it that a church started with incredible vision - formed with a secure foundation and a community of people around it really believing in the potential - can ever face the possibility of being out of potential - of needing to close?

I have spent many restless nights in the last three weeks thinking through these questions.  I have become the bad guy in the eyes of some as I have questioned different things, wondering how we got to the place we are.

And then I think about a video we watched this week as part of the Baltimore Washington Conference's small groups for clergy called "Discipler Groups."  Our video asked about the last time we had a "wet your pants and lose your breath" experience in church.  The words are rather blunt.  When have you last had a wet your pants and lose your breath kind of experience at church?  When is the last time that you got so excited that you could not contain yourself?

I would venture to say that it has been a long time for many of us.  Or, perhaps we have never experienced a shortness of breath or a lose control type of experience within the walls of a church.  What would it take for us to get to this place again?  How is it that church has become so irrelevant, so boring, so out of touch that new people are not coming?

I lost my breath last Sunday.  I lost my breath when our time of sharing joys and concerns extended well past the fifteen minute mark.  During our time together, we had one young woman ask for prayers because she has just moved to Washington from California, and she is having a hard time adjusting.  We had another person ask for prayers because of how often we take the gift of education for granted and yet her sister, a survivor of the civil war in Liberia, is starting college this week.  We had yet another person ask for prayers in his job search.  And we continued to pray.  We continued to be this place where no concern was irrelevant and where no person - new or old - had a voice that could not be heard.  And, it was breathtaking.  It was breathtaking because the Spirit was so alive and so clearly at work.

Now, what would it take for me or you to have a wet your pants kind of experience in worship?  Have you lost your breath lately?  Wet your pants?

Come, Holy Spirit.  Come and rekindle the fire in all of our churches.  Come guide and direct the task force who will make a recommendation for one church and come fill and use every church.  May we be short of breath this Sunday and filled only with your breath.  Amen!

NOTE: If I ever go another two weeks without writing something on the blog, please send me an email.  Ask if I am taking care of myself.  Encourage me to let go of some things and embrace again the things that feed me - like reflecting here.  It has been a crazy few weeks, and I am in need of rest, renewal and refocus.  Thankfully, I'm back!