Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Lessons from a Construction Company

Our church, Mount Vernon Place United Methodist, is surrounded by new activity. There are condominiums, apartments, a grocery store, some office buildings and a few places to shop all being constructed within a few blocks of our church. Our neighborhood is constantly evolving - one of the many things I love about being in ministry at this place.

In addition to this construction, the city's largest hotel is being constructed directly across the street. A Marriott Marquis is the needed complex to sway convention planners to our city according to the Convention Center authorities. And while we have learned to see hotels as places that host individuals that we are called to bless and be in relationship with on Sunday mornings, we have been tremendously blessed by the construction company building the new Marriott.

The construction company, Hensel Phelps, is teaching us how to be the church.


The doors of our church open at 6:00 a.m. each Tuesday and Thursday morning and some 25 to 35 unhoused men and women come inside to get clean. Once inside the doors, they are greeted with hot coffee, boiled eggs, granola bars, clean undergarments and a buffet of toiletries from which to choose. The individuals rotate in and out of the four showers located beneath the sanctuary while community is created in the center. The ministry is organized and executed by church members. On Thursday mornings, Hensel Phelps employees are added to the mix of volunteers seeking to make a difference.

Hensel Phelps has been sending volunteers across the street for months. They have donated coffee and basic supplies. They have prepared holiday meals for our guests. They have done simple repairs. They have provided some cleaning. They have been partners with us - in real, tangible and generous ways.

We have been told often how stories of life-changing interactions with our unhoused neighbors are lifted regularly in team meetings. Lives are being transformed through interactions with those who have so little materially and yet somehow seem to have everything, teaching all what is really important. This ministry is impacting construction workers is deep and penetrating ways. But this is not the main reason the company sends laborers across the street.

I learned from the coordinator of our shower ministry how Hensel Phelps seeks to never just build a building. Rather, when they know they are going to be in a community for several years working on a project, they also seek to become part of that community. They want to build a better community while they build buildings. They want to invest themselves where they are in ways that make a difference.

When the coordinator of the shower ministry told me about Hensel Phelps' commitment to make a difference, I quickly interrupted him. "Jason, that is our job!" I then continued, "Our job as a church is to invest ourselves so deeply in the communities of which we are a part that the community knows we are here and would miss us if we were gone."

Hensel Phelps is embodying what the church is supposed to do! They are providing an amazing example that we can learn from.

What would it look like for us to invest ourselves widely in the communities of which we are a part? To go searching across the avenue and down the street for places and people with needs that we can help meet? What would it mean to have one member of our church whose ministry is to scour the internet looking for ministries in our community that need assistance? What would it look like for us to see that our real job is to provide spiritual nourishment for those who come inside our church while constantly seeking to make sure that the church is bigger than a building but has legs and arms, hands and feet, hearts and minds touching all kinds of pockets and people in the community?

Can you imagine?

We are trying hard to be the church - to be the body of Christ on the corner of 9th and Massachusetts. But we are also seeking to allow ourselves to be transformed so that God can use us to transform our city and even our world.

And a construction company is teaching me lessons in what this kind of impact looks like. A construction company is setting the bar.

Thank you, Hensel Phelps.

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