Check out this from my former classmate, Jonathan. What wisdom this short clip holds! Let’s all learn to stay put more and learn more about what our internal stirrings have to offer us.
This was the theme of the service yesterday as we came together as a congregation to pledge for the upcoming year what our contributions of time, talent and finances might be. We talked a lot about how what we do now, has a lot to say about what we believe the future will look like. If we have low expectations now, then how can we expect great things in the future?
Lovett Weems in his book on church leadership, Take the Next Step talks about how leaders must be able to see, touch and even smell what the vision looks like.
I don’t often like to talk about vision in specific terms because solo discernment can be dangerous. Pastors who go out in the woods for a week and come back with “This is what the Lord told me” can lead to all kinds of really bad decisions. (Seen a pastor on the news lately?)
Discernment and vision after all, I believe are communal tasks. If I said this is where “Pastor Elizabeth” wants the church to go and “This is what we are going to do or else,” then what would happen if I was not around anymore for some reason? It would fail. Dreams that become a reality are those which many are invested in and come out of the personality of the group of people.
Yet at the same time, Lovett’s words challenged me again this week. I felt convicted to paint a stronger picture of what the future might hold for us. If I didn’t see what the future would look like, how could expect others to make hopeful investments?
I know that I am a leader of this congregation. The call of a leader is to motivate, inspire and be willing to say aloud what they see. The essence of what it means to be a leader is actually doing something– not just maintaining status quo. So, with humility, I suggested that these are things that I want to see more of in our future. I share them again here with hopes that the “dream” conversation will continue even long past stewardship month . . .
But when I think about the future of Washington Plaza, I’m not worried by all stories that have defined us in the past.
What I see is all of the pews of this congregation being filled with our friends and neighbors and those we don’t even know yet, but who will bring great gifts to our community that will send us forth into greater ministry– starting partnerships with other organizations so our reach in service go way beyond our current capacity.
I see a congregation full more diverse life stories, experiences and political views, yet joined together on Sunday mornings and throughout the week in a desire to learn how to be a Christ’s community. I see multiple services in our future because our current worship space can’t hold all the attendees.
I see our activities and ministries stemming out of our current facility—into the one acre of land behind our property and into the unused buildings on Lake Anne Plaza.
I hear people from all around the Northern VA community talking about that church on Lake Anne Plaza— how loving our community is, how great our programming for families, troubled youth, and persons who thought the church was never going to be for them, and how God is doing a beautiful thing in our worship time together each Sunday morning.
I see a pick-up van system at the new metro on Wiehle Ave—bringing groups of people from other parts of the city to our worship on Sunday mornings.
Don’t you see it too? If you do, pray for me and pray for us as a church.
In the next year, one of our major goals is to keep building and strengthening our infrastructure internally so that we can build the bridges to make big dreams like these a reality. It’s a hopeful future we’re committed to!
There are often countless ways to answer this, but what keeps coming to mind is the word “authenticity.” Otherwise known as the intangible quality of being comfortable enough in your skin to freely share your life with others.
It’s been a really social week for me in terms of meals and activities shared with church members– dinners, lunches, and gatherings at people’s homes and mine to share in conversation. I’ve been delightfully surprised as I’ve observed people sharing their lives with one another. Of course, such is expected. We gather, we talk. We often talk about ourselves. Doesn’t sound too revolutionary, does it?
Yet, what I’m pointing out goes beyond the normal, “How are you? . . . I am fine” train of conversation. For such conversing I’ve heard has included people sharing things that I’ve often never heard talked about in church before. There is no shame in talking about children in trouble or difficult past experiences or even the fear of loneliness, depression or anxiety. There is ease in talking about divorce, grief and job loss. I want to pinch myself sometimes and wonder, “Is this really the church that everyone is so critical of and saying it is full of a bunch of hypocrites?” For such is just not what I’m experiencing as the pastor of Washington Plaza.
For example, I’ve heard things like:
We should really check in on __________; she is going through a really rough time with her family.
I have been dealing with this addiction for _____ years now and I keep working toward healing every day.
My heart is heavy for________. His life is really sad right now. These things keep happening to him; we really need to rally around him as a church for support.
Our prayer sharing time on Sunday mornings during worship is often a culmination of this spiritual gift of our congregation. It’s always one of my favorite times of the week to hear the thanksgivings and prayers from the people because it’s not the normal “my great aunt’s cousin’s friend is sick” rather it is a “I’m having a hard time passing this class at school” or “My daughter is going to jail this week” or “I’m having difficulty paying the bills” or “I need encouragement in raising my children; they are testing my patience.”
While I know regular church participation isn’t for everybody (I believe more and more that belonging to the church, especially in a fast paced urban environment is a calling, not a given), I hold on to my committment to church because I believe the gift of authenticity. I believe it is what will see us through our rough patches. For, we all need REAL community to keep us accountable and keep reminding us who we are.
No, we will not always be right. No, we won’t always be faithful. No, we won’t always live up to our potential. BUT, my hope for the congregation’s witness is that we will continue to always be authentic. We won’t shy away from saying life is bad when it is. We won’t be afraid to ask for help when it is need. We won’t be afraid to share our lives with gusto even with all of their imperfections.
From what my non-religious friends say, authenticity is the value that our world longs to see more of in people of faith. So, let’s not back way from this part of our DNA and keep offering life-giving community to any who might want to join us!
It’s stewardship month around Washington Plaza. Everything we are doing in October has been focused on what it means to think about our future through the lens of God’s dreams. We’ve included special testimonies from church members about giving in the worship service, we’ve gathered in homes for meals to share ideas about what we’d like to see more of in the future, and we’ve heard sermons about what some of God’s dreams are for us. In addition, we’ve included a thematic hymn to our worship as a response to the stewardship testimonies.
It was a delightful surprise discovering that the newest Baptist hymnal, Celebrating Grace, published just this year is a wonderful resource of music for every liturgical season. In the section on stewardship, I found this hymn, “Long Ago You Taught Your People” set to the familiar tune NETTLETON (you might know it as “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”). We’ve been singing every week now and its words are beginning to sink into all of us. Here are the words:
Long ago You taught Your People, “Part of what you reap is mine- from your cattle, bring the first born; tithe the crops of field and vine.” Though beneath the law’s restrictions we ar not compelled to live, as we reap our daily harvest, make us eager, Lord to give.
What a way of life You showed us through the Son You gladly gave; never snared by earthly treasure, buried in a borrowed grave– yet to all He freely offered riches of the deepest kind; let us live with His example firmly fixed in heart and mind.
In the lifestyle of the Spirit giving has a central part; teach us Lord, this grace of sharing with a cheerful loving heart– not a tiresome obligation, not a barren legal due, but an overflow of worship; all we have belongs to you!
I heard several comments on Sunday about how the words of this hymn spoke to them about what giving meant in a fresh way. “I’ve never thought about stewardship as ‘overflow of worship’” someone remarked.
I just love it when worship comes together in such a way like this! Who knew that an old hymn with new words could be so inspiring?
Faithfulness . . . it is a word that makes me think of committment that lasts, the saying, “half the battle is showing up” and the time-honored hymn, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” that has been sung at every major life event of mine (a dorky confession, yes I know).
Yet, more I ponder this word, I believe displays of it are a dying art.
We are a culture of “this suits me now,” but “not now.” We don’t really know what it is like to do anything more than a year or two anymore.
The act of staying put, seeing something through, being a part of building something up instead of just being around for the party at the end is growing more all the more radical. Though I recently wrote about this in a previous post, I have the topic of faithfulness on my mind again today as it is part of our stewardship theme this year of ”Building a Legacy of Faithfulness.”
Our church has survived the ups and down of cultural changes in values about church and membership shifts for one simple reason: faithfulness both of God and of the people within. Without God’s continued hand of guidance and protection over the church and without the people listening to God’s call on their lives to participate in such work, Washington Plaza Baptist Church would not be today.
Yet, with the foundation of faithfulness, WPBC has stood the test of time showing through its tenacity what it means to be called ”the people of God” in a particular place.
And, so this is what we are seeking to build upon as we look to the year ahead: honoring the faithfulness in the past, but reaching toward God’s dreams for our future.
It all sounds nice, right? It is much easier said than seen in our day. Faithfulness is not something that can be qualifed by a grand statment but shows up in simple acts. These acts must be repeated over and over again in one’s every day in order to be faithful. You just can’t altogether disengage in faithfulness or this virtue goes away.
I’m so glad that faithfulness is alive and well with so many at the church. I’ve been encouraged this week by several living testaments of faithfulness in our community of faith. I call these acts the “glue” that hold our church together:
- those who go spend their afternoon sitting with the aging husband of a church member so she can visit her ill son
-those who take calls about financial matters of the church even on vacation (!) because they know the calls can’t wait
-those who appear at the church before daybreak to ensure our repair project on the building is going smoothly
-those who take the food in the basket for Reston Interfaith to the pantry for those in need
-those who continue to schedule and serve as teachers in children’s Sunday School even when they’ve taught the week before and have missed worship more times than they would like
-those who unlock the doors, set-up the chairs and turn on the air and heat on Sunday morning before anyone notices such tasks have not been done
-those who go out of their way to make calls, send cards and visit those who are going through a difficult time
I give thanks this afternoon for all the acts of faithfulness that continue to hold the church together and pray for God to continue send us more glue of faithfulness. It’s a legacy of conviction that leaves lasting gifts for others to reap!
I want all of us, but especially the Washington Plaza community to be known by its faithfulness. It is one of those “not of this world values” that makes us a Christian community instead of just a social gathering.
Though beaming with potential as evidenced by many of the intangible beautiful qualities found within the membership, I quickly learned there was a lot to do in order to become all that God has called us to be as a community. Our membership was getting older. Our building was getting older. Our human resource infrastructure was getting weaker. The church needed hope that there would be a future.
I was a believer, though, from day one that we had a future and a beautiful one at that!
However, in the day-to-day, it’s a marathon race we are running at the church on the plaza. We know that not everything can improve right way. Our goal however, is to keep focused and energized on the important things we can do bit by bit.
Top of the agenda this year was attending to the repairs of our aging facilities. The trustees and I were tired of the bucket line on the 3rd floor every time it rained. We were tired of watching water damage invade building through bricks that were cracked. We were tired of our office administrator getting headaches from mold. We were weary of not being able to set up permanent Sunday School classrooms in certain parts of the building with fear that the ceiling tiles might cave in at any moment. You can’t build a thriving community of faith if these worries are present.
It has been a joy to see the congregation rally to support this overdue project, giving over and above their tithes and offerings to a Capital Campaign this summer. It has been a joy to see the workers go about their tasks on the sunny days of fall. It has been a blessing to see new life springing forth literally around and in the church complete with a roof, new windows, brick repairs among other minor projects. We are grateful that the DC Baptist Convention Foundation believed in who we were as a church enough to support our efforts too. We are thankful for the patience and support of our neighbors as we continue to make these repairs.
Washington Plaza is at Lake Anne for the future of its becoming. We are excited about what the future holds as we keep rebuilding in every aspect of our church life. I look forward to the even great opportunities for ministry we’ll have once the repairs are completed: more usable space for Sunday School classrooms, a library with books in it again, and countless other opportunities for God to use our space for the good of the good news of Christ.