Last night, a dozen people gathered in the church's fellowship hall. The individuals gathered around tables, enjoying a baked potato dinner before being trained on a new ministry starting at the church. The ministry is a shower ministry - a ministry created in response to the wondrous gift Mount Vernon Place has been given through this new building and in response to the many needs of the poor living around us. Next week, the showers that were installed in the historic building as part of the renovation will start being used. Next week, volunteers will arrive at 6:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning to give of their time in order that our unhoused neighbors might be able to enjoy a warm shower.
As I sat there last night, a myriad of things went through my mind. I pondered how much I have learned about the homeless since arriving in Washington - how there are no easy answers no matter what the question might be. I thought about the gift of the people in the room, individuals filled with so much passion for social justice. And, I gave thanks that this ministry has been created by individuals who have poured their heart and soul into researching other programs, creating the best policy to govern our ministry, and then train people to do the ministry. I gave thanks because I got to come to the training as a bystander - as a pastor who was able to watch the laity take hold of the gospel and do something wondrous with it - live it out in beautiful, life-giving ways.
And then I came home and went back to a document that I wrote more than five years ago. The document was drafted in response to an invitation posed to me. After someone told me about the future dream for what could happen at Mount Vernon Place, I was invited to pray and after praying, if I heard God's voice, I was invited to put together my vision for what could happen here.
This is what I wrote more than five years ago:
My vision for Mt. Vernon Place UMC
Love the people who are there. Be present to them and care for their needs.
Think critically and creatively about how all the pews can be full of worshipping, dedicated Christians who are eager to be transformed. My vision would be for every seat to be taken with a second service added.
Evangelize the people in the neighborhood. Invite them to worship and church activities. Be intent upon developing relationships with them.
Use the multi-purpose space of the church to meet the needs of the city and community. This could include child care, an after school program, a health clinic and a food pantry. Provide ministries of justice.
Teach the people about the gospel’s mandate to care for and serve the poor. What does it mean to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God?
Provide exceptional teaching and an environment conducive to learning and development for the Wesley students. Make sure that these students see worship and ministry that transcends mediocrity.
Provide a variety of Bible studies and small group opportunities including Disciple, Christian Believer, and others. Enable participants to feel a strong sense of belonging and connection through these groups.
Provide a place of stability and belonging in the transient atmosphere of Washington. This could be established through dinner groups, a Women’s Retreat and Men’s Retreat, coffees and other events.
Create a singles ministry. Many of my friends in Washington are spending hundreds of dollars trying to meet someone. Why can’t the church be a place where people with similar values and beliefs gather? How can the church attract a large number of young professionals? How can the church reach out to Capitol Hill staffers and interns?
Get involved with the students at Wesley. How can the church provide spiritual formation and friendship to them?
Make worship exceptional and exciting. Give members and visitors a reason to return week after week. Proclaim prophetic messages from the pulpit. Incorporate diverse worship styles and music. Celebrate the Eucharist. Enable all to claim the responsibilities of baptism. Make the church a place of glorious expectation and transformation.
Struggle with what it means to be diverse. What does it mean to be intentionally multi-ethnic and multi-racial? Where is God calling us?
What role can the businesses in the building play in the congregation? How can the congregation develop a relationship with the people who work in the building?
Make sure discipleship is taken seriously. Enable people to see that church membership is a commitment that demands the best of us.
Study what other churches are doing. Go and observe “best practices” at places like the Church of the Resurrection in Kansas. Enable the people to see all they can become.
Create and host a “Faith and Politics Forum.” Give people an opportunity to study issues such as war, homosexuality, housing needs, health care, abortion, U.S. foreign policy, and issues of God and country. Where is God in the midst of these issues? What does the Bible really say? Stimulate the minds and the hearts of members and visitors.
Make sure the church is a place of hospitality. Can showers be put in the multi-purpose space of the new building? These showers would enable the congregation to host youth or college groups doing mission work in Washington. Showers could also enable the congregation to host large groups visiting the seminary as prospective students. In addition, showers could enable the congregation to give dignity to the homeless living in the area.
Help people discover their gifts and find a place for these gifts to be put to use – especially for new ministries. Musicians can start a praise band that incorporates different music in worship. Those with compassion can take soup and bread to the sick and the homebound. How can the retirees be tutors in the after-school program?
Make sure the church is welcome to all of God’s people.
I have learned a lot since this document was formed. I have grown in ways I could have never imagined. I have also had the privilege of watching some of this vision come to life - some of these things start to take place. Last night was one of those moments.
I am incredibly grateful for the privilege of being a pastor, here at Mount Vernon Place.