I am sure this is blog title that I could repeat it again for years to come, but I just had to make mention of it today because of what I witnessed this afternoon.
It is a cold and icy day in the DC area (for those of you who do not live here). Schools were closed in all counties in the surrounding region. Tons of people didn’t go into work. It is the kind of day that you stay in without much thought because you would rather risk falling on some slippery patch.
Forgetting my laptop at church and needed to get to some vital planning resources, I traveled to the church later on this morning. Arriving at the Plaza, I found the sidewalks to be icy and quite dangerous leading to the back steps of the church near the parking lot. After safely reaching the door, I didn’t really expect anyone to be at the church today beside, Deb, the Office Administrator and myself.
However later on in the day, when making a trip down to the Plaza Room (our meeting room space on the bottom level), I heard voices and walked down the hallway. I followed the laughter coming from the far corner of the room. And, what did I find?
Four women with an assembly line going of ham and cheese sandwiches, applesauce, cookies and drinks. They were preparing bag lunches, for the Hypothermia Project sponsored by Reston Interfaith which our church participates in each winter.
Homelessness abounds in Reston. Even though the community is relatively affluent, many of those who have come to this region to work are not. On cold nights like tonight will be these folks have no where to sleep.
But, this was until Reston Interfaith and the county partnered along with the support of several local faith communities and decided to do something about it. Between December and early March, each night there will be a huge crowd of folks at the local community center with a warm place to lay their heads, facilities to take a shower in and will receive a hot breakfast and a bag lunch for the next day.
The mission committee folks at Washington Plaza were serving a hot meal tonight and providing the bag lunches for tomorrow. Even though they had to fight the frozen precipitation to get into the church.
They will do this again at the end of February.
As I sleep in my warm bed tonight, I will be thankful that some truly needy folks in Reston had a place to sleep tonight and that my church folks did something to aid in this gift . . . even with the ice! I’m so proud of what we are about at WPBC.
This week, while at my Lewis Fellows meeting, our group had the opportunity to dialogue with Olu Brown, senior pastor of a new church start in Atlanta, Impact Church which has experienced explosive growth during its short tenure of two years.
Impact church meets in an junior high school and is averaging a weekly attendance of over 1,000. (It is a United Methodist congregation, but without the name on its logo). Even as there are five other UMC congregations in a couple mile radius of its meeting place, this church has done well says Pastor Brown because of its willingness to take risks in design and its boldness in marketing. Impact aspires to be a church for those in the neighborhood that others are not reaching.
One of these unique strategies involves being a “cell phone safe zone” congregation. By this they mean that cell phones, pagers, palm pilots, computers, etc are all welcome in the worship service. Noise devices are asked to be silenced, but no one is looked down on for getting out their computer in the middle of the service.
All of us quickly wanted to know why because the scene Pastor Brown described sounded like a worship disaster.
However, Pastor Brown said he felt such a practice was people friendly. In the technology age where so many of us function with our hands tied to a computer or blackberry to receive and process information, Pastor Brown and his team felt that church should be no different. If a piece of technology helped a church attendee pay better attention to his sermons or prayers, it would be welcomed. Plus, he said, so many people these days enter “official” institutions and are greeted by an unfriendly sign to put away their technology. He hopes that having a “cell phone safe zone” would go the extra mile to show that Impact Church was a different kind of place where people were welcome wherever they were.
But, I ask, how many people know the score of the football game when church is over? How is this helpful to the larger cause?
So, I’m interested in your thoughts on this? Would you want to go to a church with this policy? Do you think this is contributing to a worshipful environment or distracting from it?
All of these considerations are important as technology is not going away anytime soon. Our new President got to keep his blackberry after all!
While I have several memorable moments of celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, especially when I lived in Birmingham, AL (singing “We Shall Overcome” alongside people of all races at 16th Street Baptist Church in 2002 is a lifetime moment I’ll never forget), this week has been for me one of the most MLK focused weeks I’ve ever had.
This eventful week began as I attended the MLK Community Celebration in Reston on Sunday afternoon. Washington Plaza choir was asked to participate along with several other community members and two other church choirs. (I have to stop here and brag a minute about our choir- they are really good! Their pastor is so proud of them as seen below).
As testimonials were shared and spirituals were sung, what stood out to me about the program was the spirit of the gathering. Everyone was so happy to be there. And, while I know all of the mood could be contributed to the upcoming inauguration, I think it was about something more. The community came together to talk about justice and the hope that is found for our nation when we work together. People greeted one another afterwards in the spirit of MLK. After being introduced as Washington Plaza’s new pastor, I received hugs and well-wishes from all kinds of new friends. Great stuff!
But on Tuesday, after watching the historical events of the day unfold in my backyard, I was on a plane headed to Atlanta to participate in the third installment of the Lewis Fellows meetings along with these colleges pictured below. (To read more about what this is, click here).
The theme of this gathering has been on being a leader of change. How is that we as pastors lead congregations into becoming their best selves in healthy ways? Several of the experiences we have studied have gone back to the pastoral leadership found within the Civil Rights Movement, especially as Atlanta provides us with so many great resources.
As part of the activities, this afternoon my pastoral colleagues and I had the opportunity to tour the King Center and a group of us were also lucky enough to tour Martin Luther King’s childhood home. We also met with the church senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church and talked with him about the legacy of faith MLK has left his congregation and how he is working on leading effective change now.
In all my MLK related learning moments today, I was impressed by how many ways the movement of Civil Rights lives and must continue to live on. While there is equality in voting, bus seats, education “on paper,” there is still so much to be done. It was good to hear how Ebenezer Baptist is continuing to live into its historical roots as an social justice driven church through projects such as Katrina relief, for example.
All in all, I am thankful for the many ways, I’ve been reminded of saints of the past and the struggles yet to come. It has been good to thank God for such pillars of faith like MLK who courageously spoke the truth even when the promise land of justice for all seemed like an impossible dream.
I am looking forward to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day next year already!
Today has been a huge day for all of us.
The emotion, the beauty of it all is more than many of us have seen in a long time.
People of all walks of life coming together. Cheering!
Communities standing together with joy.
Hope born again for our nation.
All I know how to do is pray-
May the grace of God be on you. May the light of Goodness shine on you. May the love of your Creator surround you.
May you know that there are so many of us that are proud of your courage, your strength and your perseverance.
May those who you lean on give you great encouragement for the challenges that lie ahead.
May your honeymoon period be long. May harmful words not discourage you.
May you have power to lead that can only come from humble insight. May you use your power to help our country become our better self.
And, may we as your fellow citizens always remember to lift your name in prayer– for the burdens you bear are not yours alone, for they are ours as well. To work we will all go with God as our ever great source of strength so that all people will know that there is a love in this world stronger than anything we’d ever know on our own.
Over the past couple weeks of sermons, I’ve have been hoping through my preaching to articulate a vision for who I am as a pastor and who we are as a church.
I got a lot of help in planning for my first month here from Adam Hamilton’s book: Leading Behind the Walls. (I had the privilege of meeting Rev. Hamilton at a conference last October. He is rock star in the Methodist world as he is pastor of Resurrection UMC in Kansas City, the largest UMC in the United States. Thus, I believe he knows a thing or two about growing a congregation in the right ways . . . )
He suggested that there are three main questions that any church should ask itself as it thinks about why it exists: 1) Who is Jesus? 2) Why do we need the church? 3) Why do we need this church?
I modified his questions a little and formed them into four weeks of “Beginning Together” messages. The first sermon’s title asked the question: “To be a Christian?” Last week spoke about the need for the church’s existence. And, next Sunday will focus on how God can use us in response to our uniqueness.
But, this week, the theme of the message came out of the third of Hamilton’s three questions: “Why This Church?”
I have to say, it was a delight to write my sermon this week because with every word I wrote, I was reminded about how happy I am to be a part of a congregation that is so uniquely needed the era of so much distaste about organized religion. I truly believe that there are people out there (and you might be one of them) that needs to know about my church in all that it stands for.
I thought I’d share a portion of it here as several church members commented to me after the service: “That’s the first time anyone preaching here has ever described who we are correctly.” The scripture story I told was taken from Acts 10 with an emphasis on verse 34.
. . . Washington Plaza Baptist Church. A community that was founded as Baptist congregation, but where all residents knew they were welcome.
A community that has historically stood up for justice—affirming the gifts of women in ministry, helping the homeless, celebrating beautifully great Civil Rights workers of our time like Martin Luther King, Jr. and welcoming any who come in these doors.
A community where you don’t have to have agree with everyone else to be accepted. A community unlike any other in Reston and I dare say in the Northern VA area—so much so that we have regular attendees who drive miles each week to be a part of what we are.
A community where you can come with all your questions, all your uncertainties, all your burdens and find hope that there are people here who love you and want to care for you.
My new friends, this is what being church is all about. This is the kind of church that I knew I wanted to be the pastor of. This is the kind of church that I am proud to be the pastor of. This is the kind of church that the community needs to know is here.
So, why this church? Our mission focused on service and justice, our welcoming fellowship, our hopes for being an even greater presence in the Lake Anne neighborhood is exactly what Reston needs. We are the only Baptist presence of our kind in Reston!
This is a truth I believe with all my heart: our church is exactly what so many people are looking for, yet they are sitting at home this morning thinking it doesn’t exist.
We are not a congregation that looks exactly like our neighboring churches. We are not repeating something for the 20th time that has already been done. We have great purpose in our uniqueness. We are living the dream of what so many great saints of the past wished they could see.
And though we may not be the type of congregation that grows to have thousands of members one day with our own parking deck, it doesn’t mean that we aren’t important. It doesn’t mean that we aren’t doing something very valuable and needed for those who choose to join us.
We are, my friends, in our existence, living and sharing with others, Peter’s proclamation: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism, but accepts people from every nation who fear him and do what is right.”
This is the message God has given us to share with the world that even as we face this New Year with all its problems, all its hurts, all its collapsed dreams— our community has the answer: love. Just as the American journalist turned social activist for the poor and homeless, Dorothy Day once said: “The only solution is love,” so this church must continue sharing this message. Our doors need to be open to provide such a hope.
How will then, people know that we exist? Why will this church have a future?
“They will know we are Christians by our love.”
No matter what we face in our future- it is our love that will continue to allow us to shine. Our love will make all the difference. Our love will bring new people to us. Our love will help us meet community needs. Our love will carry us on for years and years to come.
Thanks be to God for such a love and such a beautiful community to live out our faith.
Some of you might look as this picture below and wonder what is on the roof??
Well, the answer is this: a pulpit. Yes, I am not kidding. Part of the original design of the church was for the gospel to have a voice in the midst of the city square. When I visited the church for the first time, I inquired about whether or not the pulpit is actually ever used for this purpose. And, it is! Sometimes the roof-top pulpit has been used for Easter Sunrise services and I learned in recent days there has been a annual September (start of the new school year per say) service from the roof.
Just know, I’m already thinking about what my first roof top experience of preaching will be like . . .
These last two pictures are views from the front steps of the church. Beautiful stuff!
For those of you who might be new to Reston just like me, let me tell you a bit more about the community where the church is located. (Realize here that I’m am not a church or community historian yet, just a learner).
In mid-60s, when the Lake Anne waterfront area was designed, there were no churches in Reston. It was a new development with only a select group of families with dreams of forming a community where they could work, live and play surrounded by diverse voices. The founder of the community felt that the Lake Anne Plaza would not be complete without a faith community for new families in the region to worship.
As the church began meeting with guidance and some early funding from the Mount Vernon Baptist Association, many of the earliest families were not Baptist. The church was welcoming to all and ecumenical in nature because it simply had to be so to serve the needs of the community (a flavor that has continued to the present day).
The church sits on the edge of Lake Anne in the middle of the plaza square. Neighbors to the church include several restaurants, shops and other businesses. If you walk along the waterfront, there are several condos, townhouses and other homes. Even now, Washington Plaza Baptist is the only Christian church in the plaza (there is a Buddhist temple on the other side of the Lake, though).
One of my goals over the next several months is to meeting all of the business neighbors in the Lake Anna Plaza– not only to build relationships that will help to more effectively pastor my congregation, but be a good neighbor too.
For the next several months, my hope is to meet someone new in the community each day I’m in the office.
I have already had great success at my “plaza meeting project.” I went into the Lake Anne Coffee Shop yesterday and found the cashier already knew my name! I also attended the Lake Anne Merchant Association Meeting yesterday and met almost all of the business leaders on the plaza. I’ll be writing more about my discoveries onthe plaza through in coming posts.
But, for now, I wanted to leave you with more pictures of the community that is my new home in the post above.
Ever since we moved into our new place in Northern VA, I feel like my life has been consumed in “stuff.”
Like everyone says, you move and have no idea how much you really have until you have to box it all up. And, in our case, even more so when you unpack.
While our new townhouse has a great location (good distance between both the church and Kevin’s work as well as being close to so many fun things in DC), it is not as big as our previous space. While we tried to downsize before moving by sifting a lot of our living room furniture to my new office and give away/ sell a few things, it just wasn’t enough. This fact was quickly discovered.
The past two weeks have been mostly about sorting through things and deciding that we don’t need as much I as I thought. Goodwill has been my most frequent trip out of the house. By time I go through the process of loading bags and things in my car and get it to the store, I am just thrilled to have the process complete. I’ve driven away from Goodwill every time feeling a weight of sorts has been lifted from not only my car, but our lives as well. The more stuff I get rid of the more freedom I feel in home and in our lives as well (Kevin would have a totally different perspective on this so you should ask him about it sometime).
In Adult Sunday School today, Ernie was leading a discussion on Mark 10: 25: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” We talked about how in Jerusalem there is an actual eye of the needle gate where traders used to enter the city during Jesus’ time. And, how often times traders who came into the city would have to leave their goods traveling on the camels or donkeys aside the gate so that the animal could pass through first. The “stuff” just could not be the first priority if the trader wanted to get his items to market.
And while everyone shared their own thoughts on this verse and the concept of how one’s riches played a role in their spiritual life, I was thinking to myself: “I wish I still didn’t have to sort through so much stuff at my house. Couldn’t I just leave it all at the gate too?”
Yet, somehow, I believe the sorting is important.
So, as we continue the process of getting settled in to life in our new home and trying to find a place for every picture frame, every book, every sentimental thing that we think we have to keep, I’m hoping that I’ll make even better choices in the coming year about what stuff is really all that important. Maybe just then, I’ll realize that the stuff we collect might be better chosen to focus more of my time on causes and people that are most important to me. Maybe next time I have to move, the stuff I collect will not have to collect so much of my time!
“How’s it going over there?”
This question is what several people have asked me this week as I have begun this new adventure called being a solo pastor.
My easy answer is: very good.
So much is new, but everyone is being very nice. I know I am going to enjoy getting know my co-workers. Preaching, preaching, and more preaching is on the brain which = lots of excitement for me.
Of course starting any new job there is a huge learning curve at the beginning. You don’t know where to find a stapler. You need to ask for basic church information such a directory of members, the schedule of when the mail comes, and you need to know how the office computer networking system works among many other things. Even more than this, you haven’t had the chance to meet everyone that you would like to meet to really understand the larger picture of history and culture. I look forward to being in the place where I know more than I do now.
Yet, even in my place of being the “new one on the block,” I am certain of a few things:
I feel strongly that Washington Plaza is the church and the community that I am to plant my life in long period of time. And, even though I don’t know a lot of members well yet (come visit me soon and we’ll change this), I know that I am going to like it here. (Do you hear Annie from the movie singing in the background?)
My experience thus far has been that when Washington Plaza people are together, so follows: lots of laughter, tons of food, and people who authentically want to relate to one another. I hope that all of these wonderful gifts continue to unfold in the near future.