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.