I made my way up the stairs next to a make-shift handicap ramp that seemed much too steep to be safe, followed the signs that said, "Church Office This Way," and entered through the door with a little bell alerting all in the hallway that someone had arrived. The moment I got inside the office, I quickly realized that it was lunchtime for the staff. The smell of Wendy's chili and burgers was permeating the hallway. No one got up from their seats to greet me. Rather, they pointed me toward the door leading to the pastor's study and told me that someone would be on their way to help me with my boxes. It was a "welcome" I'll always remember.
That was Thursday, three days before my first Sunday. When Sunday came, many people did welcome me. Many others looked skeptical, clearly wondering why a young woman had been sent to be their pastor. One of the first questions I received on that Sunday was, "Pastor, we always sing patriotic songs on the first Sunday of July. You have not chosen anything patriotic to sing, however. We don't even get to say the Pledge of Allegiance today." Following the sermon, the question my mother received is, "Is she always going to be this perky?"
On that day, there were about 130 people in the pews. About 90 of the people were members of the Chinese Community Church, a church with whom we had been sharing a building, budget and the 11:00 worship service for over a decade. The other 40 or so people were members of Mount Vernon Place - most of whom had been members of the church for at least 40 years with an average age of 82. There was one person from MVP in their twenties. I seemed to be the only person in my 30s. I was so excited - I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that God had called me to this place. And, I quickly realized how much work there was to do. I followed a long line of pastors and people who had been telling the church that they were within ten years of closing - but I had not been called to close them. I knew, with all of my heart, that God was about to do something real, remarkable, and holy.
We have come a long way since that day. God has done something real, remarkable and holy.
As I begin my fifth year as the pastor of Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, my heart is filled with thanksgiving, awe and wonder. I give thanks for the many people who have been coming to Mount Vernon Place since the 1940s and who continue to come - who continue to support this church faithfully with their prayers, their presence, their gifts, their service and their witness.
I give thanks for Mel, Heidi, Beth and Allyson - some of the first young adults to come to Mount Vernon Place - some of the first people to come to a church where there were few people their age - some of the first people to take a risk that more people their age would come. These individuals were so faithful - so giving - so patient. I'll always be grateful for them. They prepared the foundation for the countless young adults who now come.
I give thanks for the extraordinary people who I have been privileged to be with - to journey with - at their end of life. I thank God for people like Gilbert, Dorine, Louie, Marion, Carl, Frances, Harry and countless others who have allowed me to be part of their living and part of their dying and for their families who allowed me to be part of their celebration of life.
I give thanks for the new ministries that have emerged - the opportunities for service in our community, knitting prayer shawls, community small groups, an early morning prayer time, and many others. I am also grateful for the individuals behind these ministries - the ways in which people have given so much of themselves to get something new started.
I give thanks for the ways in which worship has evolved. We no longer stop right at noon. We are no longer bound by a clock. Rather, we see what God might have us to share, to do and to experience on any given Sunday. I am so grateful for the ways in which people share on Sunday mornings - share in the passing of the peace, share what's on their hearts and minds, share in the joy of coming together to celebrate God's presence in our lives.
I give thanks for the building project that will be completed in two months. That old building I first walked into has been demolished. A new building, an extraordinarily beautiful building, is nearing completion, and we will soon occupy space in that building. At the same time, a building that was finished in 1919 has been completely refinished. I love our facility. God has blessed us with so much.
I give thanks for the privilege of being the pastor at Mount Vernon Place. There is nowhere else I would rather be than this place. I cannot tell you how much I love this congregation, these people, this city and this part of the city.
God, thank you for these past four years. It's now the beginning of the fifth, and I cannot wait to see what you are going to do in and thru this place. I am so thankful that you called me to be a pastor and that you allowed me to come here - to Mount Vernon Place.