Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Peter Storey

My former professor, hero, mentor, and spiritual giant is coming to speak at Mount Vernon Place on this Thursday, June 25 before continuing the conversation at Capitol Hill United Methodist Church on Friday, June 26. He'll be speaking at both churches from 7:00 - 9:00 p.m. on "Being the Body of Christ in a Place of Power and Poverty." The event is open to all; we would love to have you be with us for this two-part conversation.

In preparation for the event, I asked one of our members, Kevin, to share his thoughts on Dr. Storey. This is what Kevin wrote:

How Peter Storey changed my life by Kevin G. Feltz (short version)

Recently, at Mount Vernon Place UMC, I have joyously heard some individuals proclaim that they are interested in having a Christian life that is “authentic.” I surmise that what folks are referring to is the desire to live a life that is truly based upon the transforming work of the Holy Spirit and teachings of Christ; particularly concern for the poor, charity and community. I admire this because in our church lives, it can be easy to get busy and preoccupied with church attendance, committee membership, fitting in, etc. Not that there is inherently anything wrong with those things. But sometimes we can get so busy with playing church that we forget that as servants of the Most High God, we are called to be transformative agents in the world.

In my own personal evolution in these matters, the teachings of Peter Storey, in classes at Duke Divinity School, have been extremely influential. While he would never use this language, I think he might have been the first person to help me see the “BS” in my so-called Christian life, filled with “churchmanship.” A short survey of issues he felt were important for Christians to address reads like a laundry list of social justice topics: racism, homophobia, concern for the poor, changing unjust economic systems, the legitimate and illegitimate uses of power, etc. These are topics I did not encounter in Introduction to Biblical Hebrew or Early Church History. It was largely through these teachings that I decided I wanted the authentic Christian experience more than anything else.

I could write a lot about the specific lessons and topics, but for the sake of brevity, I will elaborate on just one example. One of the most consequential comments of Peter Storey that has stayed with me was the emphasis that in an authentic Christian life, we should strive to serve in a way that involves taking “vulnerable risk.” I can easily think of several situations in my life where I faced decisions and uncertainty with the words “vulnerable risk” echoing in my decision making process. Those words gave me courage to take the riskier route in big ways and small ways, at times putting myself in economic risk and others in physical risk. In the process, I was able to love and serve others and become transformed myself at least as much as they were.

For example, while I was employed as the Administrative Director at Christ House, it was my role to keep the peace among the dozens of homeless persons who came into our building each day. In was in my desire to love and serve, and with the words “vulnerable risk” a conscious part of my thinking, that I was able to place myself physically in between two angry, arguing, broken individuals, not knowing if they would both decide to attack me instead of each other. I did this somewhat regularly and there was one moment when I thought a man was going to slit my throat and that surely I would die, right there on the sidewalk in front of the place. Sure, I might have had these experiences without Peter Storey, but I would not have had the deep understanding of them and the passion for service to vulnerable populations.

So, if you truly desire to have an authentic Christian life, I encourage you to do everything you can to be in attendance the evenings of June 25 and 26. My life has been changed by the teachings of Peter Storey and I think yours will be too.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Series of Interruptions

Earlier today, my colleagues and I were in a staff meeting when we heard a door open. As a downtown church, we try to make sure we are always fully aware of who is in the church. Since we are in the heart of Washington, we do not normally keep our doors unlocked but rather have people ring a doorbell whenever they are at the door.

After hearing the door open, my colleague, Chris, went into the lobby and found an older woman sitting there. She was overwhelmed and frustrated, having just realized that her cab dropped her off at 900 Massachusetts Ave. NW instead of 914 Massachusetts Ave. NE. She had paid her money and did not have enough money to get to the other side of town where she was supposed to be at a meeting.
I peaked out into the lobby, trying to discern what to do. I motioned to Chris, asking if he needed my help. My colleague, Carol, then went and started to pat the woman on the shoulder. The woman soon burst into tears, telling us more about what had happened and how she had just lost her nephew. Carol rubbed her arm up and down, offering her comfort. Chris got out his cell phone and called the cab company, asking that they come and rectify the situation. I stood and watched it, not knowing what to do.
Chris and Carol seized the opportunity to be like Christ. I froze in my tracks.
My colleagues offered extraordinary grace and assistance. I asked the woman how she got in.
When the staff meeting resumed, I was wondering who left the door open while my colleague said, "Thank God is was opened because no telling what would have happened to her."
My colleagues are motivating me to be a better disciple - a better participant in the Kingdom of God.
I have commended Carol twice just this week for how she has the uncanny ability to stop everything when someone wants a tour of the church. She rarely seems annoyed when someone stops and knocks on the door of the church - for a tour, financial help, or something else. In the meantime, I almost always see these people as interruptions - distractions - something that takes away from my job instead of something that is part of my job - part of my call, for God's sake!
Carol told me yesterday about a sign she used to hang on her desk at the company where she worked. It said, "I was always bothered by interruptions until I realized interruptions are my work."
I was always bothered by interruptions until I realized interruptions are my work.
Ministry is a series of interruptions. Ministry is a response to a God who loves to interrupt - a God who interrupted me when I thought I was on my way to law school - a God who interrupted me when I was loving my role as an associate pastor - a God who interrupted me when I was extraordinarily successful as a director of admissions - a God who, after all of these interruptions, led me to Mount Vernon Place where I have what I consider to be the best job ever. And this job is a job where I am called to respond to interruptions - where I am to pray that God will interrupt me, pulling me away from what is occupying my time and attention so that I might be used by God.
My work is a series of interruptions. My task now is to continue to take a few cues from my colleagues. Thank you, Chris and Carol, for your example.
God, help me to do better next time.

Monday, June 01, 2009

The Best Job in Washington

This afternoon afforded some of those moments when my only response is to think, "I cannot believe I get paid to do this work."  

I went to visit some of our older members.  Nancy is someone I affectionately call, "Spitfire, Junior."  The first Spitfire is a feisty 95-year-old named Lois.  Nancy comes in right behind her, however.  She has a dynamic personality.  She is funny, witty, and so unique.  I love visiting her. To give you the full understanding of who she is, I should confess that I once took a 20 ounce can of beer from a member who I knew was struggling with alcohol but who showed up at the church with a tall can of unopened beer, and I knew immediately what to do with it.  I brought it to Nancy.

I then stopped by the home of 100-year-old Mabel.  Mabel was the chair of the Staff Parish Relations Committee just 4 years ago when I arrived at Mount Vernon Place.  She is this extraordinary woman who always looks on the bright side.  She always offers words of support.  Without fail, a visit will include the words, "Donna, Washington needs Mount Vernon Place and Mount Vernon Place needs you."  She'll then say, "Do you know that you have the best job in Washington?"  If I were smart, I would probably visit Mabel at least once a week - she is food for the soul, bread for the journey.

As I think about these two extraordinary women who blessed my life on this day, I am also mourning the loss of a beloved church member who blessed my life on many other days.  Dorine died last Saturday, just five minutes after my husband, Craig, and I prayed with her.  I had no idea just how holy the ground was when we were there last week.  I wish now I would have stayed later.

I have grown incredibly close to Dorine over these last four years.  Her husband was sick soon after I arrived, and I would see the two of them almost weekly.  I was with Dorine when her husband died - with her when she held onto his body and did not want to let go.  I have since been with her in her home as she grieved the loss of her beloved.  And, I have seen her several times each month since last fall when she became ill.  Dorine was an amazing woman.  She had extraordinary beauty that radiated from the inside and the outside.  She had the ability to see the best in everyone.  She was an artist who was able to see creativity all around her.  And, she was an amazingly faithful church member.  She loved her church so much.  With the exception of when she was very, very weak, not a visit would pass when she would not pray for her church and her pastor.

This prayer time is what I will miss the most.  So often, I am always the one who prays - and this is an incredible privilege.  Yet, Dorine would always continue to hold my hand after I had said, "Amen."  She would then thank God for our church and then she would thank God for her pastor before specifically praying for God to grant me strength and wisdom and guidance.  Almost always, I would leave her with tears in my eyes because her prayer was just what I needed.  I'd give anything to hold her hand again today - to pray for her and then to be touched at the core by her prayers for me.

Thank you Nancy, Mabel and Dorine for all of the ways you have reminded me that I do, indeed, have the best job in Washington.