My Journey brought My friends and I to Washington Street in the mid-80s as new college grads. We were looking for a church home and had been exploring churches in the area. Bob Knox was the pastor here at the time and his sermons were so thought provoking that often, later in the day, my roommate and I would still be going – and here’s another thing. Because of the sermons and the worship music, I joined the church. I had sung in my college choir and discovered here, that the music under Bill Neal’s direction connected me to worship in a more meaningful and prayerful way, so once I joined the church, don’t tell Kyle, I joined the choir. And slowly, I found myself getting more connected to the church, the choir, and then the Grace Circle.
It never occurred to me that anyone would choose me for a leadership role in the church. But Sue Cook, and her husband Bill, got me involved on the Council on Ministries – that was the mission and ministries arm of the church in the 90’s. This is when my real interest in the work of the church was sparked. Some of the activities of that time are still our focus today: serving lunch at the Carpenter’s Shelter, participating in Alive’s furniture delivery and walkathon, and supporting the Preschool.
Over the years, the church’s leadership has continued to search for ways to reach out and connect with people and the community.
Pastor Thomas asked me to select a Biblical reference around which to focus my message and I chose Micah, chapter 6, verse 8. In it the prophet asks, What does the Lord require of you? And he answers – That we should act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with the Lord.
I chose it because it expresses my desire for loving and serving in community, but boy, the rest of Micah is dire and dark. In Micah, the prophet has a message containing dire warnings, but also hope for the restoration of Israel and all nations. Micah delivered harsh criticisms against both the cities of Samaria and Jerusalem. He had witnessed idolatry, evil business practices, dishonesty, cheating, bribery and internal strife and corruption – AND also people living in artificial religious spirituality and with a false sense of righteousness that despite their sins that they would escape God’s punishment.
But in fact, they did not escape punishment. They were warned repeatedly that famine, war and ultimately, national captivity would soon descend upon the people unless they responded to the prophet’s warning messages and repented of their wickedness. The rulers were mostly to blame, as they were responsible for leading the people into sin, despite possessing knowledge of God’s laws. These rulers, leaders and judges abused their power by cheating people out of their homes, seizing their land and robbing them of their inheritances. The prophet says They who despise justice and distort that which is right will cause disaster to befall the nation. Pretty harsh, right?
Suddenly though, the tone of the prophet’s writing changes from messages of doom and despair to that of deliverance and peace. His prophecies covered the full spectrum from a lawless nation deserving divine punishment to restoration as the chosen people of God. It is a message of utter despair, but also of joyful hope and a promise of an abundant life for all of mankind. He says that the people who have been scattered to the wind will go to the high mountain where the Lord’s temple has been built and they will learn the laws of the land and peace will come. Near the end of the book, the writer says “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives our transgressions? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”
And so, God will show mercy to us, but what does the Lord require of you? The answer – That we should act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with the Lord.
On our Journey as a church, in the 2000’s, we created a Discernment committee to help define the church’s mission statement and our purpose here. This is something that we continue to work on. By 2017 we had distilled it down to the following core values:
- One, We aim for engaging and creative discipleship – Discipleship should guide our relationship with God, but also with each other. Additionally, discipleship lays the foundation of how we use our gifts and ourselves to engage with the world around us.
- Number 2, We want to be a Nurturing and Welcoming Community – we take seriously Jesus’s call to welcome all people. We are called to more intentional care for one another by establishing a more nurturing faith community. And we are called to greater inclusiveness and deeper connection with our broken and suffering world.
- And third we should Connect for Social Justice – If we are truly committed to our second value of being a more nurturing and welcoming community then we must be called to intentional, ongoing mission outreach that demands bold new ways of sharing God’s love.
At the end, when you look at all our core values, I find that it can be distilled simply into our tag line – that God is love and we want to make a place for everyone to know that love.
So we hope that our missions and ministries fulfill our core values. Open Table demonstrates our desire for a nurturing and welcoming community. Not only has the ministry expanded from one morning to two, but we offer a small clothes closet, hygiene kits and other services for our guests. We want to continue to expand this work and engage with people to whom we share not just food, but also a sense of community and belonging. Act justly, love mercy.
Carpenters Shelter offers us another opportunity to go out into the community and connect with those less fortunate than ourselves and become servants to them. This is our opportunity for discipleship, engaging in the world around us. Walk humbly with the Lord.
This winter our church joined with several others to offer support to Furloughed Fed Govt workers by offering several free lunches. This endeavor also brought much needed revenue to these restaurants that were also suffering from the furlough. Love mercy.
We have tried to strengthen our children’s programs with activities such as Parent’s night out and this summer’s Splash Zone. These ministries benefit not just the children but also provide the parents with time for themselves to rest and reflect or to simply get errands done. It offers us a chance to be disciples who serve the community. Love mercy, walk humbly with the Lord.
Going forward we hope to develop an active youth group where our children will find an opportunity to connect with one another and find ways for them to serve in discipleship. Act justly, love mercy.
Our focus for many years has been a call to greater faithfulness and to better connection to our community. For several years, we have been opening our church up to the community for events such as the Arts Festival and First Night, and this year we offered the organ concert series during Advent Season which was well received. Anything that we can do to draw people in and let them know we are here to connect, to serve and to help. Walk humbly with the Lord.
We have had some programs that haven’t taken root, but we are still looking for ways to grow. As much as we want to connect to the community around us, we also need to be sure we are connected to one another. We know that the youth need an outlet and that young adults need a place for more connection. All adults need to feel quickly connected in a community where transient military and government jobs cause people to move after a relatively short period of time. If you notice someone missing from church, don’t assume someone else knows what’s going on with them. Call them and make sure they know that they have been missed. Too many of our members have drifted away and I wonder if they realize that we still miss them today.
In September we will celebrate our 170th anniversary in Alexandria. More will be coming about the activities that will surround this event. But that means for 170 years we have tried to serve and minister to the residents of this area. We have experienced many seasons of change over the years, both highs and lows, but without a doubt God has never abandoned us, He has remained steadfast. And so as we go forward into our 171st year, will you join me as we continue to engage in creative discipleship and to be a welcoming and nurturing community and to find more ways to share the good news of God’s love through social justice?
This has been and is my Journey, will you continue with me on it?