As I consider the fact that today is the last calendar day of 2011, I feel much gratitude for all the many people and places and opportunities that have made this year so memorable for this Preacher on the Plaza. Tomorrow I will begin my 4th year as Washington Plaza’s pastor (though I’m still on Christmas vacation and won’t be at church).
January 2011 started with a bang. Not only did the dawning of the New Year come with such high hopes for me personally and professionally for wonderful things ahead, but a life-changing trip to Israel was on the horizon. Traveling with an Imam, a Rabbi and another local Reston area pastor over MLK weekend, Kevin and I entered into the world of Interfaith dialogue like no other experience could have given us. And, so did Washington Plaza. We hosted a series of conversations about Israel in our joint adult Sunday morning Bible Study hour each week in January. And, we gathered together as Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike in Reston for a community forum in June. All of this is what we hope is just the beginning of a long relationship of partnering together.
In February, I celebrated my 31st birthday in the quietness of few dear friends and got these fabulous gifts. And, our pastoral intern– a first in a long time at WPBC– John Luft got settled into work with our growing children’s ministry. And, I learned how old I felt when John regularly wanted to call me “ma’am” or “Rev. Hagan” though I kept telling him that we were colleagues and just “Elizabeth” was fine with me.
As Lent rolled around (late this year), a new worship series was a big hit. We spent the six Sundays leading up to Easter exploring “Characters Welcome” and had wonderful extra worship participation from members of the worship ministry offering testimonies, song and even especially designed art for the altar. This was one of my favorite sermons from the series that took a different look at the woman at the well– maybe she wasn’t so evil after all?
Easter, was one of the best yet at WPBC. We hosted an outdoor “sunrise” service (if you consider 8 am early) followed by a big pancake breakfast thanks to Holly, Bobby, Brad and the rest of the cooking crew and a wonderfully joyful Easter celebration service that Ken and the choir arranged for us. I remember feeling spiritually moved this year, more than previous years– a sign of the Spirit among us. Easter was not show as it had seemed in other churches where I belonged previously: at WPBC this year, Easter was powerful worship of a living God.
May was a month of personal and professional travel for me. I spent the week after Easter rediscovering at the spa with a dear preacher friend in Sedona (with two years worth of funeral and wedding money saved). I did a lot of thinking about life there, especially as the scenery outside my window each morning was just too beautiful not to put me in a happy place. At the end of the month, I traveled to the mountains of North Carolina for the annual girl preaching retreat (with other Baptist females who were also senior or co-pastors). Being with kindred and kind spirits was a source of great inspiration for the long days of summer ahead. I wrote about the experience of gaining collective wisdom from this group in this post.
Over the course of this year in many ways, I’ve seen my sense of vocational calling refined. If you now ask me what I do, I would tell you that I am a pastor writer and maybe one day I’ll be a writer pastor (who knows?). Such a revelation has been one that has taken much time to have the courage to say– for writing can be one of the most vulnerable things you can do– but one that I’ve claimed more deeply throughout the year beginning with this post in May, and then applying and being accepted to the summer workshop at Collegeville in Minnesota. Being a writer, has been a calling that has bubbled up much joy in me so you can imagine how much I loved spending a week thinking about and practicing the art of writing alongside 11 other pastors. It was heavenly as you can tell from this post from my time there in August. I am blessed that the leadership of Washington Plaza supports my growing vocation as a pastor writer. They were so happy to celebrate with me when I found out in November that I received a grant to do some more writing through a grant from the Louisville Institute, even though this means I’ll be taking some extra time off in 2012 for research purposes.
In the dog days of summer at church, we took at Sabbatical from our sanctuary and explored a new kind of informal worship around tables in the Plaza Room. The word around the water fountain about this series was “It was like coffee-house church.” Though the jury is still out if we will do it again, it was a nice change for all of us I think from the regular pace of church. We also hosted our first ever “Fabulous Fridays” as a weekly community outreach to children in the month of July. I’m not sure had more fun– the kids or the adults– as you can tell from the pictures. But, it was a great learning lesson for all of us that in relation to children’s ministry “if we built it, they will come.”
I also explored how controversal blogging can be with the mixed responses to these posts about gay rights and how the church needs to get on board, women in ministry, the future of denominations. In the end, I’m glad to have been a catalyst of the conversation and am glad to be writing, even if not everyone agrees (though I’m sorry often times that blogging does not lead to more face-to-face meetings which is the best communication and transformation tool after all).
This fall, I explored some difficult topics in worship in worship especially after being called upon to do a funeral for a 1 month old that broke my heart in ways there are no words for. We went “back to the basics” in September talking about grace, forgiveness, community life and authority. I got a lot of feedback to this sermon on forgiveness. And, as the preacher, I realized again, how much we struggle as human people with giving and receiving the “I forgive you” that happen throughout our lives.
I got a much-needed mental break of a couple of days on the beach in September with Kevin and two of our very dear friends though getting home from this trip turned into a nightmare, but also a great sermon illustration. I really do love my church peeps and am proud to be their pastor– and not just because this is what Lovett Weems taught me to say
I also participated in two funeral services with connections to my days at First Baptist Gaithersburg for two saints of God in their own regard. Joseph Smith and Tom Hobbs are two amazing men that I miss every time I think of them. It is too sad that the good die young (and I still consider 70 young).
But, in all honesty, as much as I see so much good in 2011, it has not all been roses. I feel a great sense of sadness for the hopes for 2011 that could have been but simply are not. (If you are interested in reading more about this, be watching for a spiritual memoir about grief coming your way. It will be my first book and I’m really excited!). This fall, I was blessed with an invitation to join a preacher writing group that includes wonderful writers like her and her and her (so much fun!) that will continue into the New Year. It’s the peer pressure I need to keep writing and seeking to write well.
I also grieve for how there have been times in our church life together when individual members have chosen a path of separating themselves instead of being bound together in community. There are some folks with whom I began the ministry as pastor of Washington Plaza with who are now no longer in church because of various reasons. I grieve what more we could have done as a church to welcome them in and meet their needs, but also take a dose of realism too believing that the church and I have done the best we could. I can’t make people want Jesus or Christian community or even understand the path we are on as a church. For those who have decided not to journey with us in 2012, I say, it is their loss. For, I still believe about WPBC that the best is yet to be!
Personally, I have dreams to keep going in 2012 because of the amazing faithfulness of this life partner and various communities of colleagues, friends and virtual supporters (such as you who are reading right now) who keep me encouraged to believe in the mystery of hope. There are times when this life and vocational calling seems more than I can handle, but then just the right person or word or moment to breathe deeply shows up and another day comes as the sun rises.
So with all the good and bad: cheers on this last day of the year to the old being gone and the new to come! I am not so secretly excited about what is to come that I know not yet. What about you?