A love letter to my church: Church Showing Up

 

Dear New York Avenue Presbyterian Church Members, Friends and Staff,

I have never been so proud to be your Associate Pastor.  In the last few weeks, particularly from January 15, Dr. King Sunday through January 22, the Sunday after the Inauguration/ Women’s March on Washington, I have experienced you as the church active in resistance, the church active in a radical welcome — and most importantly as the church showing up.  

For a week solid, you showed up for everyone who came down the 1300 block of New York Avenue. You showed your faith in action proclaiming to Inauguration supporters, Women’s Marchers, protestors, police, vendors, and local neighbors — that we at NYAPC stand courageously as Christians seeking to follow God’s message to “Do Justice, Love Mercy and to Walk Humbly with Your God” (Micah 6:8).

One of our guests who was here last weekend said that she doesn’t go to church, but would come to a church like New York Avenue.  She said that New York Avenue was living into what she thought a church should be.  I agree with this guest that especially this past weekend, we lived into a vision of God’s kingdom here on earth, so this is my love letter to you. This is what our guests said about you.  

It is my love letter to you because I want to celebrate the good work that we did together, and I want us to remember that as a church we can continue to do this work and seek after justice long into the future.  In fact it is a our calling as Christians. 


I got a bird’s eye view of it all, so I want to show you the process of how you engaged the whole body of the church to shine God’s light of hope and inclusive love into the city. 

Not by ignoring the fears and injustices, but rather by embracing a posture of radical hospitality, you shone in places where many were only experiencing darkness and grief.  

It took some planning to figure out how to be open and present….so FOR TWO MONTHS you reflected on that the Bible says about a radical welcome. We discussed what justice, reconciliation and resistance means. Out of those deliberations, you voted to be open for guests visiting the city both for the Inauguration and the Women’s March on Washington.

You figured out to how turn that decision into reality.  We had a lot of meetings in person, on the phone, and over email. We made policies and spreadsheets. We vetted documents and waivers. We made sign up lists and got them filled in. We baked, cooked, and got organized as a church.

The whole staff pitched in. Custodial staff David and Raymond agreed to take on extra hours and extra work.  Cook Evelyn agreed to make meals.  Jasmine, Cheria, and Jan kept up with the office-tasks associated with organizing.  Mary and Robin took extra calls. Darius and Johnny agreed to more clean ups.  And all of this work was in the midst of the elevators being down for almost an entire week.

After careful study and deliberations, you voted to become a Sanctuary church where immigrants and refugees would be welcomed. You committed yourself toward prayer. You committed to being feisty Christians.  


This was my favorite week that I have been with you.

SUNDAY, Jan 15:  We worshiped God during a powerful Sunday morning Dr. King service, where Pastor Roger spoke prophetically as we prepared for the new administration. We concluded standing linked arm in arm singing “We Shall Overcome.”  You showed up for two different Dr. King Services Sunday afternoons January 8 for a Annual Dr. King Interfaith Service and January 15 led by the Interfaith Moral Action on Climate.

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MONDAY, Jan 16:   You served together on Dr. King’s birthday  for our 2nd Annual Day of Service. Along with 5 other local PCUSA and United Church of Christ churches, you taught our children and youth about Dr. King’s legacy and living out our faith through love toward our neighbors.  You helped serve a good lunch and gave your skills to create a well organized clothing closet.  You listened to the deep stories that each person brings.  You committed to learn from those stories about how God shines in and through each one of our lives. 

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TUESDAY, Jan 17 (and the many days before):  You did the final organizing in preparing to host 70 overnight guests and hosts staying for the women’s march.  You baked.  You baked a lot.  You bought lots of food.  You made trips to Costco in the rain. You dropped off homemade soup.  You told your friends to come to us if they needed shelter or a safe place to be. You advertised our work on social media.  We in the office updated a lot of spreadsheets and answered a lot of emails.


WEDNESDAY, Jan 18:  You showed up on Wednesday January 18 worshiping alongside dozens of local communities of faith: churches, synagogues and mosques standing up for Justice as a pre-Inauguration service of commitment against the proposed policies of the new Administration. You were amazed at the organizing job of Theo Brown.

You showed up praying that we will stand up firm and fast on behalf of the vulnerable and the oppressed, on behalf of those who have been threatened, on behalf of those who have already faced violence,  and on behalf of the so many who live in deep fear and anxiety.  You prayed for all of God’s beloved creation especially for our sisters and brothers of color too often the targeted and victims of violence.  You prayed for women who fear violence and feel a threat to their bodies, for faith communities who have been targeted especially our Muslim brothers and sisters, and for immigrants and refugees already living in fear of being ripped from their families and loved ones.  

For those on custodial and front desk staff, you worked a lot of extra hours.


THURSDAY, Jan 19:  You kept organizing.  You keep advertising.  You prayed.  And then together we rested as the church was closed for one day.  It was a our Sabbath. 


FRIDAY-SUNDAY, Jan 20-22:  You showed up for a continuous block from 8 am on January 20 until 3 pm on January 22 providing radical inclusive hospitality for all guests coming to town.  You were open for those celebrating the Inauguration, for those protesting the new administration, for vendors, for the police, for overnight guests for the Women’s March on Washington, and for as it turns out thousands of guests on the march day itself.

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Over the three day period you welcomed thousands* (no chip reader, so this is a guess) of guests who came in throughout the weekend in to use our restrooms, enjoy a beverage and a cookie, charge a cell phone, take a tour of our sanctuary, listen to the Inauguration streamed live in the Radcliffe Room, to pray and meditate, to engage in conversation, or simply time to sit and regroup before heading out.

FRIDAY, Jan 20:  You were church for locals and for those who came in from across the country.  You were church both to those who came celebrating the Inauguration and those who came protesting the rhetoric and proposed actions of the Trump administration. You were church to our regular guests to the Radcliffe Room, our guests who experience homeless as a daily life here in DC, and to church members who needed a place to be and reflect.  To this vast diversity of people, you extended the warmth and welcome of the kingdom of God.

I saw you showing up as church for a group of older females headed to the Inauguration who delighted sitting in the Lincoln pew and hearing the history tour of the church.

I saw you being the light of sanctuary for two younger women in their early 20’s headed to the Inauguration — coming in visibly shaking and frightened from the more violent protests happening a few blocks away.

I saw you showing up as a place of warmth and comfort for guests checking in overnight — some who had traveled alone for the first time, some taking harrowing journeys, and for some who had never set foot in a church before.

I saw you showing up as the light of hospitality for vendors selling “Make America Great Again” hats and pins outside — welcoming them in for warm hospitality and watching their cart outside. 

I saw you showing up as a place of safety for a group of protesters who had been tear gassed and came into the bathrooms to clean up.

I saw you show up as a place of welcome for a group of police to come in and use the bathrooms and enjoy a drink of cold water. 

I saw you being a non-anxious presence to all who walked through our doors.

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And then people didn’t come to the church doors, you went out into the streets, offering cookies and hospitality to just about every person who passed us by. 

You saw all of our neighbors in the street and you did not turn away.  You said hello, and you offered a radical sanctuary – where everyone was welcomed — where everyone needed to share — where everyone was considered a beloved part of God’s creation. 

You spent the night overnight at the church so that we could host guests.  A few of you even stayed for 3 days straight without a shower and without even a quick trip home.


SATURDAY, Jan 21: You continued showing up as church for thousands on Saturday. Many of us who stayed overnight met in front of the church to walk together to the Women’s March on Washington.  We came from so many different places, and we marched for different reasons.  But we were committed to the rights of women and to a conviction that all people should be loved and treated with respect and dignity. 

We gave each other high fives.  We prayed for each other and for a peaceful the march. I like to think that God heard and answered our prayers. 

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As many of us marched stuck in the thickest and most beautiful crowds I have ever seen, many of you — maybe 30 — maybe more — showed up a the church to continue to offer hospitality.

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As the crowds increased and as it seemed as the Women’s March route ended on our doorsteps, you opened up literally every bathroom from the basement to the 5th floor; you served everything that many of you had so wonderfully cooked and baked — and then because the crowds were so heavy and in need of comfort, you looked through every extra cupboard to serve every cookie that we had.  At one point you served cereal because that is what we had left.  Then one of you ran out to CVS to buy dozens more cookies.

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For what seemed like thousands between 2 and 6 pm, you were a face of warmth, a face of generosity, and a face of hope and courage. You were lights for the city.  You were lights for the church, and for the family of God. 


SUNDAY, Jan 22:  After all of that you showed for Sunday worship.  You showed up to teach Sunday School.  You showed up excited about all of the signs that that the Women’s Marchers left behind.

You listened to the college students from Westminster College in Missouri come in and talk about why they marched.  You showed up for students from the rural mid-west, for a student who is a refugee from Syria and for students who are immigrants from Nepal and Guatemala.  You showed up for a young woman of color discerning her call into ministry from a background who tells her that women can’t be pastors.  You showed showing that this is church.  You showed up saying church where everyone is welcome. 

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 You showed people what church is and what church can be.  It was really thrilling to be part of it all.  Thank you.

In the days and weeks and months ahead, I know we will continue to show up.  I know this because we already have. We will be a light of justice and courage — a light of hope and resistance — a light that lives into the two greatest commandments that the Jesus Christ taught us: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

We love God.  We love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  We will continue to be church standing up, showing up, and living into the light of God’s kingdom on Earth. 

Thank you.  You showed as church for me too.

Blessings,

Alice

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Photo taken in front of the church on 1.25.17
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2 thoughts on “A love letter to my church: Church Showing Up

  1. I marched in Los Angeles 500,000 strong, a sea of humanity marching in solidarity and love.

    This love letter is a beautiful, warm and loving tribute to what true faith and intention can look like even when you are resisting. A model for us all!!

    Erin Thomas
    Co-Pastor
    Calvary Presbyterian Church
    Riverside, CA

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you so much for your overwhelming hospitality and for being God in the flesh! I was blessed to sleep and your church and receive your amazingly love. Thank you to Rev Beth and Bob Braxton for inviting us! Our lives have been touched and we will never be the same. Thoughts, prayers and hugs, Gretchen Lima from Vermont

    Liked by 1 person

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