Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Whole Lot of Tears

I have hanging in my home a small picture created by Brian Andreas, the artist behind Storey People that says, "She said she usually cried at least once each day not because she was sad, but because the world was so beautiful & life was so short."

I have found myself crying often each day this week - not because I am sad, but because life is, indeed, so incredibly beautiful.

The last week or so has been overwhelming in many ways. We have raced to the finish line in order to close on the church's new property just in time for the building dedication last Sunday and then a large Urban Ministry Symposium on Tuesday. Each time I behold the new ministry space, I realize just how much God has given the small congregation that meets on the corner of 9th and Massachusetts - and more importantly, just how much God has given to the people of Washington, the United Methodist Church, and the church of Jesus Christ around the world.

Four years ago, I was told often by people at Mount Vernon Place how there was nothing more to do. The congregation had tried everything to make their church grow again. They had held on tight to one another, and taken care of one another, but few new people were coming in the doors. It would be easier to spend the money doing what they had always done, and when the money was gone, the doors would close.

Last Friday morning, I came to the church early in the morning to see furniture being delivered and set up in a wonderful, light-filled fellowship hall. I watched as our furniture angel worked with the delivery people from her company. I remembered how generous this angel has been with her time, her knowledge and her company. I watched them work, and I could hardly hold back tears as I expressed my gratitude to her once more for what she has done for us.

On Sunday, I watched this same fellowship hall become filled with people enjoying lunch after worship in the sanctuary. We had 190 individuals in worship on Sunday - some of our partners from Wesley Theological Seminary, our bishop, our district superintendent, our architects, our new building partners, former members, and countless other people. In worship that morning, I watched as about twelve of the individuals who were with us in July of 2005 stood as we expressed gratitude to them for their courage to trade the known for the unknown, voting to sell a portion of the church's property more than four years ago. I then watched as the individuals stood who have come to Mount Vernon Place since this time - the fifty plus individuals who have discovered Christ again through the ministries of our congregation.

On Tuesday, I watched as people came into the church to learn about Urban Ministry. That night, I stood at the lectern and looked out to see individuals from two very different churches coming together for worship - distinguished ushers from Asbury United Methodist Church were shepherding people into the sanctuary. Mount Vernon Place people were greeting and handing out bulletins. Individuals from Wesley Seminary were sprinkled around the building. Three institutions - three very different institutions - one seminary, one church founded by African Americans who got tired of sitting in the balcony of another nearby church and who faithfully and prophetically left to build their own church less than two blocks away from Mount Vernon Place, and one church founded by Southerners who believed in the institution of slavery and built a grand monumental church calling itself Mount Vernon Place - all coming together - planting seeds for what might be accomplished together in the future and opening doors for a much needed process of healing to happen that I pray will happen.

Mount Vernon Place is now two days away from our annual charge conference, an annual meeting of the congregation where we vote on certain things. At this charge conference, we will vote on my compensation for 2010 and our list of lay leaders for the new year. We'll also have the joy of voting to approve two incredibly gifted individuals to continue on the path towards ordination in the United Methodist Church. And, we'll have the opportunity to vote on becoming a member of the Reconciling Ministries Network in the United Methodist Church - adding our church's name to the list of faithful, risk-taking churches who proudly proclaim that our congregations are going to openly welcome, love and extend Christ's welcome and love to all people - regardless of their physical ability, their economic income, the color of their skin, their educational ability, their ethnic background, or their gender or sexual identity. We are voting to open wide our doors - to be the people who not only say with our lips that the United Methodist Church is a church with Open Hearts, Open Minds and Open Doors but to be these people - these people who desire so much to see what God can do when all people are welcome and beheld just as we are - encouraged to do all of the things that we in the majority get to do.

I cry often these days. Not because life is sad - but because the church is beautiful - especially on the corner of 9th and Massachusetts. You should come see what God is doing - come look at the extraordinary generosity of God that is so apparent in the new ministry space and then see the stunningly beautiful makeup of the body of Christ who worships here.

Bring a tissue - you might find yourself crying, too.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Dedication Day

I am far behind on my blogging, gathering a list of things to write about instead of actually writing about them. I promise to write soon. In the meantime, I want to offer you a glimpse of what has been happening at Mount Vernon Place. We closed on our new ministry space on Friday and dedicated it yesterday. Here are some shots from our wonderful celebration.
The view inside the four-story glass atrium that connects the historic church building with the new space:

Our new fellowship hall:
Waiting to get inside:

Cutting the ribbon:

Friday, October 09, 2009

Changing Perspectives

I saw them again on Wednesday morning. They were walking rather briskly, three girls dressed differently from the rest of the early morning crowd. One had on the doll-like outfit that I have seen her in many time before. Another had on a dress that was designed to cover her front but leave nothing to the imagination in the back. Still another had on a short leather skirt and tall leather boots to match. I saw them. But this time I saw them with different eyes.

I used to see them as women who had made this choice for their lives. I saw them as individuals who had chosen to spend the nights walking the streets, waiting for their next client to pull over and shepherd them into the car.

I now see them so differently.

I see them as victims. I see them as girls, some as young as 12 or 13. I finally notice how young they are. I see them as individuals who have been taken captive and have a hard time getting out. I see them - not as prostitutes but as people who are being prostituted. I see them as individuals who are being trafficked. I see them as people who need help.

After searching for different options for how our congregation can be more involved with all of our neighbors, including these individuals, two of our members found an organization called Courtney's House ( Founded and led by a survivor herself, Tina is an extraordinary leader, speaker and visionary. She knows the life these girls are living, and she knows that it is not easy to get out. She is pouring all of her time and energy into providing a way where there is seemingly no way.

Tina estimates that there are 1000 pimps working in Washington, DC alone. These pimps have control over boys and girls, some as young as 11 years old. Tina has opened our eyes to just how painful their world is and to the realities of the business. Pregnant girls are more valuable than non-pregnant. Breast milk sells. The younger the girl, the higher the amount can be earned. A typical one-night quota offered by the pimp to the girl is $1000 to $2000. Beatings happen regularly when this money does not come in. 95% of the girls have been sexually abused. The average age of someone coming under pimp control is 12 to 14 years old. An average night includes sleeping with 12 to 15 men.

And, we're trying to help. Last Saturday, Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church was able to host a group of 26 women who are willing to help - willing to be trained in how to work with these boys and girls. Soon, our church will become the office location for Tina and her assistant. We're trying to play a part in providing ministries of mercy and justice.

I keep thinking about how much my perspective has changed. My entire vision has changed since I have learned more about this issue and the stories behind what I see. My outlook has changed to one of disgust to one of compassion. My heart has been taken captive in a whole new way.

I wonder.

I wonder what might happen if we all took time to listen to the stories of others - to not be so quick to conclude who a person is or why a person lives a certain way, loves a certain way, talks a certain way. What if we were to first take time to hear the person - to hear their heart, their mind, their background, their hopes, their dreams, their fears.

I wonder then if we might all have a change of perspective - towards the people who work the streets at night, towards our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered brothers and sisters, towards the homeless man who sleeps on the church's porch at night, towards the person in line before us at Safeway who is using electronic benefits.

I wonder.

God, give us eyes to see and ears to hear. Help us to see the people around us as you see them. Forgive us for being quick to judge and slow to listen. Help us, Lord, to be more like you. Amen.