Friday, July 17, 2009

Our New Tenants

My husband, Craig, and I both bought one-bedroom condos in 2005.  We both purchased condos, not aware of the fact that we would earn the honor of having purchased them at the height of the market.  When we got married last June, we had more mortgages than we knew what to do with and more stuff than we could ever fit in a one-bedroom apartment.  We have downsized again, and we have found ourselves comfortable in his one-bedroom condo in Alexandria.  It has become our home over the last year.

In the meantime, we have been renting my old condo in Columbia Heights.  We were fortunate to have an amazing tenant this past year, a military officer who spends more time on the road than he does in DC.  Nothing has broken.  The rent has been paid early each month.  I only saw him twice - when he signed the lease and when he returned the keys last week.

During the last several weeks, Craig and I have been looking for a new tenant.  It was so easy to find our last tenant.  One advertisement in Cragslist led to two applications almost immediately.  Things have been a little more difficult this time around.  Just when we were putting the condo on Craigslist, several random acts of violence took place in the neighborhood.  Columbia Heights became a regular headline.  This particular article caught the attention of a young couple who wanted to move into my old home.

The young woman sent me an email, letting me know how much she and her boyfriend love the condo but how they were now uncertain about the neighborhood.  They asked for another week to consider.

Five days later, the phone rang.  It was her.  She shared with me how they had done their homework and were ready to sign a lease.  I met with her later that afternoon to learn that they had emailed our local Councilman to ask him what he is doing about crime in the neighborhood.  They had walked the streets of the neighborhood from 9:00 - 11:00 one night.  They had talked with individuals coming out of our building.  And, they had stopped a local police officer to learn his views on what was happening.  After all of this work, they discerned that they wanted to live in Columbia Heights.

As she was signing the lease she said to me, "There seems to be so much work to be done - so much need.  How do you suggest we get involved?"

I was blown away by her question.  I was humbled almost to my knees.  I suggested that she try a few of the churches in the neighborhood, letting her know that the Unitarians down the street, along with the Baptists, were trying to work hard.  I shared with her how many of the Church of the Saviour ministries are right down the street - less than four blocks from where she will be living.  

And, I keep thinking about her question.

What would it look like for every church to be asking this question, asking how we are called to get involved in our communities - how we are called to be part of the solution to crime, violence, decay, poverty, homelessness, etc.?  What if every business in the community started to ask the same questions?  And, then, what if the residents did the same thing?

I have this vision for our church's neighborhood - for the Mount Vernon Place neighborhood in Washington, DC.  I visualize a community of people working together - the Washington Convention Center, the people who occupy the old Carnegie Library, the Renaissance Hotel, the business people who work in 901 New York Avenue, the Embassy Suites, the people who will soon occupy 901 K Street, the residents of 1010 Mass, the people who live in the CityVista complex, Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, and the unhoused population all around us.  I have this vision for what might happen if we all started asking the question, "There seems to be so much need around here.  How do you suggest that we get involved in the neighborhood?"

Imagine!  Imagine with me the possibilities.  There are so many resources, so much wealth, so many gifts, so many people, so many possibilities.  Imagine what might happen if we really took an interest in the place where we spend our work days, the place where we go to church, the place where our bodies sleep at night, the place that provides our paycheck.  Imagine what might happen if we saw all of the needs of the city as not someone else's problem but as part of our calling - part of our responsibility.

God, help us to ask the right questions.  And then, please, please give us courage to not only hear you but to obey you when you respond.  You're scaring the hell out of me by what you are doing - by the questions you are forcing me to ask and the questions our congregation is asking.  But, I cannot wait to see what is going to happen in this place.  It is so clear to me that you are at work - in abundant ways.  Help me - help us - not to be afraid of what might happen but to fully and faithfully trust you and then follow you, laying down our needs in order to pick up your cross again.  Amen.

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