"Lifting Up, Reaching Out"
Once a year, our congregation sends a small delegation of people to what is called the Synod Assembly. This assembly is a gathering of all of our denomination’s churches in the metro DC region. The purpose of this meaning is to conduct regional business and hear reports about what is happening in and around our area. We also get to enjoy hearing about what other congregations are doing and updates from the larger church.
Every six years, when we gather together, we have the responsibility to elect a bishop, that being a pastor to serve and oversee our regional area of churches. This past Sunday was such an occasion, and now you/we have a new Bishop Elect.
Without going into the nuances of electing a bishop, it is important for all of us to know that much like a call process to bring a new pastor to a church, there is a lot of prayer, conversation, study and discernment about who will be the next leader. We got to know several people well, ask them questions, and hear about where they hope to see our congregations 6 years from now at the end of their 1st term.
The process is definitely a product of the Spirit, but one of the best parts of this time together is to see and hear from all of the other congregations in our metropolitan Washington DC area.
Each of these 70 or so congregations come with their own priorities, concerns, mission ideas and hopes for the church. In talking with both their lay members and pastors you start to get a vision for what life and church is like in their unique context. More specifically, you get to know how God is at work in their congregations. The more churches you talk to, the more you appreciate the following:
1) The Geographical Area: Our congregations were launched and organized in communities that were established, or being established, many years ago. Over time these communities have changed and now may look very different then at their founding. Each congregation’s geographical context is important because in many cases their church starts to look and feel like the neighborhood it is in. And then, when you bring all these congregations together with very different geographical setting you start to realize God is at work in very diverse and unique places.
2) The People: We all know Church is not the building and the place, but the people that make up the congregation. In general, as mentioned over the weekend, we are a predominantly old and white denomination, but here in DC we have a greater diversity from the metropolitan communities around DC. Sitting and talking to people from the congregations in our community, you get to appreciate the wide variety of really fun jobs and occupations people have from around the region. I am guessing just about every branch of government with an office in DC was represented as well as a ton of other non-profits and schools and county workers. The contributions each of these people make to the larger church and their presence at the assembly showed that there are many gifted and talented people in and around our area and they care about the well-being of the church.
3) The Passion: Which leads me to my final observation and that is the passion of the people and churches have their specific ways they live out their lives of faith in their church community. Over the course of the weekend we heard from countless expressions of ministry, and even more inspiring stories, about how God has touched the lives of a community with grace, love and forgiveness. These gifts give people that passion and the desire to share that grace, love and forgiveness in the form of a tangible ministry. I will not go into all the specifics ministries congregations are doing, but you should know it is impressive. At the same time you should know our churches are having a profound impact on our communities both locally and globally.
I say that because last week was Holy Trinity Sunday. Now, this being my 5th Holy Trinity with you as your pastor, and our 70th Holy Trinity Sunday as a congregation, I have come to think about this day of the church year as our own little holiday. A time when we pause to think about our past, give thanks to God for the ways God is still at work in our congregation, but also to look forward and think about our unique expression of church here in this place.
More specifically for this year, the three items I just mentioned: our geographical area, our people and our passion. If I may, I would like take a look at these three through the lens of our tag line “Lifting Up, Reaching Out.”
First our geographical location: Set on the corridor that see something like 80,000 cars travel by our church a day, we gather in a community that has seen numerous generational and cultural changes. Take a step back, we worship and draw people from 3 of the top five wealthiest counties in the country. Yet at the same time we have the worst traffic conditions and communities in the US. People and businesses are regularly moving to our area and when people are done with our area – in many cases - they are ready to move on to regions that are cheaper, quieter, calmer and slower paced.
Second, our people. Looking at our location first we have member of our members who have lived in this neighborhood their whole lives and seen the changes in our immediate community. They have stayed with their neighborhood and place for a long time. Some of us lived closer to the church at one point and now live a little farther away, but still find Holy Trinity to be a significant and meaningful place to gather with friends connect with God. And furthermore, we have people who travel, in DC terms, relatively long distances in order to be here and be part of our community. We have, and I was saying to someone else recently, great people. People with a diversity of jobs, interests and gifts. Which again leads me to our communal passions.
When we put the new sign on the rt 50 side of the building so all 80,000 cars could see it driving back and forth to work we wanted to put our little tag line on it too: “Lifting Up, Reaching Out.” It’s a simple line, but I believe it speaks meaningfully to what we are trying to do as we feel called by God.
When we think about Lifting Up, what comes to mind is lifting up our voices in song and the strong music program we have here. Lifting up our offerings during worship so God work continues to do well in this place. We lift up our hearts to God, which we say during the communion portion of worship in a gesture that all that we are is a gift back to God. But probably the thing we do best in our community when we are lifting up is the way we lift up one another. Pastor Krista came over to me at synod assembly and said she was in such a great place, she felt so healthy and excited to do ministry and she said all thanks to us. I thanked Pastor Krista and told her I would send on her appreciation but then it got me thinking about ways we have lifted up others in times of need. We have lifted up one another with prayers, food, prayer shawls, blankets, as well as with our time, friendship and appreciation. We have lifted up numerous leaders and about to send another one out into the world to do ministry. We lift each other up really well.
The second part of the tag line – reaching out is obvious to see too. Each season of the year we reach out in a hope to provide care and support to an individual or community in need. Right now we are collecting snacks for LLS campers impacted by HIV or AIDS. We reach out to support a missionary who is reaching out to support communities and people in great need in central America. We reach out to our local community and open our door to folks who are homeless during our hypothermia week.
We are a unique contribution to our area. We are a unique people with a unique passion that is not represented anywhere else in our synod’s area. We are a very important part of the body of Christ. – Which is to say you are very important part of the body of Christ. What you offer to this community and this place makes a difference.
Why, we do we do all of this? Why do we lift each other up, why do we reach out to others who in some cases have little to no relevance in our lives. We do it because Jesus lifted us up, in our brokenness, pain, sin and struggles. Jesus lifted us up, dusted us off said I love you. We reach out to others, because Jesus reaches out to us all the time. Jesus walks with us, comforts us, celebrates with us, and pulls us back in to community.
So, let us go forth together renewed in Christ to Lift Up, and Reach Out! Amen.