Archive for October, 2009

October 27, 2009

A Moment to Remember

On Sunday we celebrated another baptism in the life of Washington Plaza Church. This time, it was a 6th grade boy, Will. This was a milestone for our congregation because although we do a lot of adult baptisms (which is unusual in many Baptist churches), we haven’t done a child baptism for a long while.

It was a privilege to work with Will and hear him profess faith for the first time.  Even though he looks scared in some of the photos, he was actually very excited about the his baptism!

Thanks to his mom for sharing these photos with all of us.

Moments like these are what ministry is all about! Now, it is the time for all of us to continue to help him in his discipleship process.

Will and Ebaptism will 1Baptism will 2

October 26, 2009

With Joy

Yesterday I finished a month-long sermon series on Paul’s letter of joy, Philippians.

2843734685_a9ce24036eThough this particular book is filled with some of the most beautiful lines of scripture, I mean who doesn’t love “I thank my God every time I remember you” or “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” or “My God shall supply all your needs according to God’s riches and glory in Christ Jesus” but never less, Paul is hard to preach week in and week out (note: the previous month I was in James, another New Testament letter).

It is especially hard for this preacher who likes stories. Stories are often what give your preaching “the hook” that it needs to relate to listeners whose lives are in the  middle of one story or another played out.

There were only so many times when I could say, “Paul’s in prison. He’s writing exhortation to a people that he loves. Paul is giving instructions on Christian discipleship . . . ” without getting tired of hearing my voice.

But, regardless, we (the congregation and I) got through it. And, in the end, I personally found myself taking in  lections of Philippians more than I normally would. So this made we wonder about you, congregation. What was your experience?

My own stop to pause came last week when I found myself dealing with this passage:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

At first sight of this text, my reaction was: “Oh my goodness, what am I going to do with that? This seems too pretty to preach!”

I don’t go into sermon writing for my own purposes, but what I often find is that God speaks to me as I’m learning how to speak well to the congregation.

But, the more I let in sink in, the more saw a gem in his passage. It is not just about the power of positive thinking or being Pollyanna like, but about discipline.

“Rejoicing in the Lord” and “thinking about excellent things” speaks to the need that all of us have to gain another viewpoint on our lives by looking at them from God’s perspective.  The practice of stopping more times than not and allowing our mind to not wallow in self-pity or doubt, but with joy!

Joy that comes as we think about all that is praiseworthy in our lives. Such takes practice and conscious effort, but is possible to do.

Last week, I sat in a couple of uncontrollable situations where I had more time on my hands than I wanted and nothing immediate in front of me to work on. So, I let my mind stay with the themes of my own sermon just to see what would happen.

What I found is that I really liked the process of “setting my mind on praiseworthy things” because as I did I was transcended into a place that is more beautiful than just the daily norm. 

Instead of complaining or worrying as usual about why this or that is not right in my life, I caught a glimpse of how some not so fun situations in my life might reach a happier place. And, I was able to give thanks for this, even though nothing has changed in the immediate future.

So maybe this is more of the point of Paul’s letter “with joy” is about. The discipline of mediation?

And, though I would have prefered to preach on almost anything else than this book I assigned myself for stewardship month (can’t wait to get back to the lectionary), I am glad I did. What I found is another perspective in my own life, from the gift of joy.

October 23, 2009

The Mystery of Marriage

Next week, I will be on vacation celebrating my second wedding anniversary with Kevin. It’s a yearly tradition of traveling this time of year that we hope to keep going for a long time.

This year, as I’ve grown more into the identity of what it means for me to be married, what comes to mind is the fact that marriage is mystery.

It is a mystery to think that two people growing up in a completely different spaces, and attending different educational institutions and spending most of their time in different cities could meet each other in marriage1247232555the first place.

It is a mystery that after meeting each other, all of the proper things align to bring two people into a long-term dating relationship.

It is mystery that two very selfish beings (I’m talking about all of us here) would find a way to come together and say that “it is better to be together than alone.” And, would begin to make choices to include the other and put their partner first.

It is a mystery that two people would go as far as to make a covenant to one another saying when all the odds might be against them “til death due us part.”

It is a mystery that the daily process of self-sacrifice and love does and could last through the up and down moments of life.

It is mystery when two folks reach their 15, 20, or even 50 year anniversary and are not only together by legal paperwork, but are happy! And, are still working on the daily part of being the best person for each other (because it is something you have to re-learn over and over again).

Because none of these practices are “normal” to the human condition.

 I know there are folks would easily begin to argue with me about the “mystery” of it all, using theological langauge to  call this “God’s  providence” or “God’s will” or the process of being pre-destined to find “the One.”

These phrases don’t seem loving enough to describe the God I know when the world of relationships can be so cruel.

But, after journeying over the past two years not only in my own marriage, but alongside the relationships ups and downs of others in my life, I am simply left with love and marriage to all be a mystery to me.

It is a mystery because I just don’t understand it. Nor, do I think that one day I ever will.

When I watch dear friends and parishioners, who desperately want to be in a relationship,  hit dead-end walls with potential partners that just don’t see the beauty about them that everyone else sees, I just don’t understand. I am saddened by their long-term loneliness.

When I watch dear friends and parishioners, walk through difficult seasons of marriage where kindness, tenderness and hope of it getting better seem like a long past reality, I just don’t understand. I saddened by their intense pain.

When I watch dear friends and parishioners, walk through separation from a long time partner, where once loving stable homes are torn a part by the most ugly words “I want a divorce,” I just don’t understand. I saddened by their deep, deep loss.

And, yet while I acknowledge all of the despair that coveting for marriage or destruction of marriage brings, I am also filled with much joy. Because I believe the mystery of marriage is that it can also be very good.

When I look at the man who I took to be my husband two years ago next week, I am filled with a great sense of gratitude for this blessing in my life. I can’t imagine a more loving, more perfect partner to journey alongside. I am in awe of how beautiful God’s gift of Kevin is to me. 

It is not that we don’t disagree or get annoyed with each other (of course we do), but the mystery of marriage as I have known it is that there is a foundation of love and committment between us that sees us through. And, not only helps us “bear with each other” but find ways to really enjoy one another company.

Will I feel this way in 10 or 30 years from now? While I very much hope so, I don’t know.

Yet, in the mystery of it all, I believe God’s grace is  present and will be present in my life and your life as well.

God’s grace which is not explainable or logical, but comes often at the times that we least expect it. And does something with the good, the bad, and the messy parts of our lives that is more beautiful than we could ever imagine.

For this reason, I’ll keep working on my own marriage and performing weddings for others like the one I am doing tomorrow. With the hope that ’twas grace has brought me safe thus far. And, grace will lead us home.

October 22, 2009

Church Signs Battle Off

My cousin, Suzanne, sent me this yesterday, I believe after reading my post yesterday. I laughed when I read it  and thought you would enjoy it.

I could probably write blogs about this for a long time (but won’t, don’t worry), as the possiblities of damaging things that could be done are endless.

A bit of context: these two churches are right across the street from each other.


October 21, 2009

Church Signs

On my drive to work each day if I take a particular route, I pass by two unique church signs. Both churches are a part  prominent Mainline denominations. Both churches are in a part of town that commuters pass regularly and next to a Metro stop. The location of both signs speak loudly about what could be done by way of Christian witness in the DC area. But . . .

The first one reads:

“Come to worship on Sundays. Free Coffee. Free Eternal Life. Membership has its benefits.”

Though coffee is a very good part of life, putting it in the same sentence as eternal life seems sacrilegious. And, I wonder if I was a non-churchy person, would I come to church just for free coffee? Maybe if I was homeless?  But most working Americans can afford a cup of coffee every now and then (if not everyday), so telling me to come to church for coffee sounds unappealing.

Also, while I am a fan of church membership, equating church membership with my eternal home is not a direct correlation. First of all, I believe that truly only God knows what happens to an individual after death. (It is not my job as a pastor to judge this, sorry if this bothers you). But, even more so, I’ve known people who attended church for years and have not considered themself a person of faith.

So, free coffee and eternal life and church membership= three words not to be used together on a church sign.

Then, there is the other church I pass. It reads:

“If you are reading this sign, you are not in church. Come in.”

While, yes, what this church sign reads is true. If I am reading the sign, I am not in church. (Seems to insult one’s intelligence). 

What if I am on my way to church as I drive by (as I usually am)?

What about those who have to work to feed their families during the times that church is traditionally offered?

What about those who have had negative experiences with the institution of church and feel interested in coming back, but feel safer seeking God elsewhere?

Overall, this sign might lead me to believe that this church is not growing (though I am just assuming) so they are using a passive aggressive approach in an effort to increase their visitor traffic.

Though my church could always increase our visitor traffic . . . .

The big news around Washington Plaza this week is that we are getting a new sign board for the front of our church. Just last night, the Reston Association approved our new, updated look of our church sign thanks to the determined efforts of Outreach committee!  (Finally the issue about our color of lettering was solved. Gotta love Reston’s rules).

Once it is installed in a couple of weeks, we look forward to using it in ways that encourage our neighbors and publicize our events, but not to spread off-base theology or sayings like “you come or else.”

In everything we do, our church hopes to be welcoming and kind to any God brings to our doorstep no matter if they come in our building or not.

If you past by our building and see our sign, let us know how we are doing.

October 19, 2009

Preacher Goes to Court

Today, I spent the morning in court. . . .courtroom

No, not because I had a traffic ticket to contest.

No, not because I was supporting a church member facing a trial.

No, not because I was having lunch with a friend who happened to be a lawyer.

But, because of the strangest, strangest case that I still don’t understand in itself and also am not quite sure why I was a good witness. Yet, I received a subpoena so off I went this morning to the little compound known as the Fairfax Circuit Court.

To protect the privacy of the closed case, I won’t share details (though I really know few myself). Only that there was a person in a custody or domestic dispute with the Department of Child and Family Services that dragged our church’s name in to the mix.

When I got the call from the Associate District Attorney, I was baffled really by her questions. I didn’t know the person she asked about. I had never heard of her or him. Thinking that it was a detail I might be missing (still new and all), I quickly talked with the Church Administrator and the Chair of the Board of Trustees. Neither of them had heard of the person in question either.

Yet, the Associate District Attorney insisted on our help and kept calling . . .

Come to find out the case had something to do with our church, but not anyone associated or connected to the membership of Washington Plaza Baptist Church (the congregation that meets on Sunday mornings). But, the situation referred to a person connected with one of our former renters: a hispanic congregation that met in our building on Friday nights.

Because no formal partnership was signed between this church and Washington Plaza, we related to them like any landlord would. They paid rent and agreed to be good to our building. And, we went about our own business. In fact, this church stopped using our facility before I even had a chance to meet with their leaders!

So, it seems logical, right,  that I as the pastor of Washington Plaza would have nothing to do with the matter involving this trial? Wrong.

Even though we faxed over the District Attorney’s office all the paperwork we had on the lease agreement between this former tenant and our congregation (something the Trustees take care of), I still was “asked” to come to court by a blue piece of paper that was hand delivered to my office last week.

After waiting through an hour and a half of people getting uncontested divorces, opening statements and another witness before me, I was called to testify.

I was asked several simple questions by the prosecution about whether or not we’d received a piano donation between the time of November 2008 and February 2009. I said to the best of my knowledge no.

What followed was a string of silly questions from the defense about my job status, what type of building our church is in, if the renters have space to store things and strangest of all if any pastor lives at the church (though sometimes it feels like this pastor lives here).

And, then came the best question of all, showing what a poor witness I was. The defense asked how long I had been employed as the Pastor of the church. I said since January. (Thus, proving that I was being asked to speak to a circumstance when I was not even at the church!)

All in all, my 10 minute on the witness stand took four hours to get through start to finish. And, it was not how I would have chosen to spend my Monday.  . . .

However, in speaking on the church’s behalf, I learned how “figurehead” like my position is now more than I realized. Even though one of the trustees would have been much better witnesses than me, people always go back to the pastor as the head of the church (though this is not true at all in congregational polity settings).  I guess today I spoke for the church and somehow for one that is not even my own. No matter if I think it is correct or not, I seem to be the face associated with WPBC.

I was saddened today how little the state understands about the church and how we operate.

But, I reminded by Ernie, the chair of Trustees, who sat with me as I waited to be called to testify, “There is a bright side to all of this, Elizabeth.”

“What?” I asked.

“At least you are on the right side of the table today.”

And, this preacher hopes to keep it this way.

And, yes, this is good news indeed.

October 13, 2009

Coming Together in Stewardship

coming together1I’ve been writing around this topic for a while now, but stewardship month and all of the related activities are here!

As the finance committee was planning, praying and thinking about how to communicate principles of stewardship in an effective way, it was decided that the congregation needed an informal setting to talk about what has been happening in the church over the last several months and what we hope to accomplish together moving forward.

Thus, the idea for stewardship “Dessert and Conversation” was birthed to take place at people’s homes.

And, we are now on our second of three events as of last night where I shared a few thoughts about stewardship from a Biblical point of view and a member of the finance committee shared his/her perspective about why it is we are seeking to raise the budget by 25% next year.

What impressed me the most about the conversation over our gathering last night was the energy in the room.

Sometimes, especially in churches, it is scary to mention the topic of money. Talking about finances, it seems has gotten a bad rap for being manipulative or overly pushy. Our money and how we choose to spend it can be extremely personal so much so that people don’t want to talk about it.

But such was not the case yesterday! As I shared scriptural thoughts about what Paul had to say about giving, asking each person present to comment on the ways their giving most resonated  and where they saw the church going, we had a lively and open discussion about our celebrations, frustrations and hopes for our own personal budgets.

This is a sign of a healthy church, I feel.

If you missed out, there is one more opportunity scheduled at this point- next Tuesday at 3 pm. But, we want everyone to be a part of these discussions who can, so if you haven’t had a chance to attend, let me know and we’ll schedule something for you before our big October 25th pledge Sunday.

Our hope is to continue to coming together as a congregation as we look to 2010!

October 12, 2009

Wild Geese

 You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves

Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you about mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,2971366645_6474fdeeaa

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

— Mary Oliver from Dream Work

October 11, 2009

Wish I Were There

Several members of our young adult group were participating in social justice this morning instead of being in church.

 While I missed them in worship, I am glad to support their presence  at the National Equality March in DC. What a gift to  add their voices to importance of the rights for all people to marry and love as they choose.  It is an exciting time of social change in our country. And, what a great city to live in to watch it all unfold!

Here’s a shot taken from Allyson Robinson’s blog, a friend of Kevin and mine from our time at Calvary Baptist in DC who works at the Human Rights Campaign.

Wish I had been there to see it myself:IMG_0009_jpg_scaled1000

October 9, 2009

Do Something for Good on the Plaza

On Monday, October 19th, a version of a popular fundraising event in the DC area is coming to the Lake Anne Plaza, a fundraising event to support one of our ministry partnn255698640226_2053ers, Reston Interfaith.

Washington Plaza Baptist Church was one of the founding members of Reston Interfaith,  a community organization that seeks to tacticle important issues such as homelessness, housing, childcare, job training and so much more! Currently, our church trustee, Anne Strange, serves on the Reston Interfaith Board of Directors. And, our church actively participates in many programs including homeless advocacy and the Hypothermia Project each winter.

Washington Plaza/Laurel Learning Center Mini-Walk

WPBC has been invited to participate in a Mini- Walk with Laurel Learning Center on Monday afternoon, 4-5pm on October 19. If you would like to participate (cost for adults is $25) but don’t want to walk you can sponsor one of the children at Laurel Learning Center at a cost of $15.00 per child.

We will walk together beginning at Laurel Learning Center with the hope of not only raising money for a good cause but to get to know our neighbors better, especially the children who play on the playground on the back of our church’s property.

This is an event for the entire Lake Anne community, not just our church. We invite you to either come and walk or think of sponsoring a child. Registration forms are available on our website under the ministries tab. They can be mailed to the church if you are unable to deliver them personally.

Our goal in Reston is to have at least 3,000 walkers (or those who pay and walk remotely) in these Walk for the Homeless events so that the Fannie Mae Foundation will donate $50,000 to the important work of Reston Interfaith. Ending homelessness is something that we can all get behind, no matter our faith creed or persuasion, so won’t you join me in supporting this wonderful event on the Plaza?  See you there!

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