Sunday September 25th is the last service to be held in the current building. We’ll begin worshipping in the auditorium of Jefferson Academy Middle School the first Sunday in October, the 2nd.
This process of exchanging our current configuration–a parking lot with a church building–for a new building closer to Maine Avenue and across from the Wharf–began in 2007. I and the chairman of Trustees sat informally in my office with the previous and beloved pastor of fourteen years, Robert Troutman. He blessed us as we began a process of questioning and pondering our future.
After many, many meetings and countless discussions and endless hoops jumped through and navigated, here we are: we are about to exit this building and cross over into our future. We are ready. We are brave. We are full of hope. When Joshua, the heir apparent to Moses, took the children of Israel across the Jordan River into their land of promise, he ordered them to take twelve stones out of the river bed and make a memorial. The scripture says, “When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the covenant of the Lord.”
At some juncture three years from now, we’ll step into a new church building on the same corner. We will have secured our church financially for another fifty to one hundred years if those who come after us are as prudent and careful as we have been. I can hear a child ask what those stones mean–the stone from the First Baptist Church in America that will be placed near the date stone of the new edifice; the stone from the Sea of Galilee that Rabbi Zemel was so kind to have arranged delivery of and will be placed near the threshold of the new sanctuary. And the answer will echo through the millennia: God made a way for us to cross. Hallelujah! ~See you Sunday.
Beneath an underpass, 22nd and 3rd, Brooklyn, september 1, 2014. Picture by Pastor Michael Bledsoe.
I am a preservationist. Of sorts. This is true of clergy as a rule since the pastoral care of persons is fundamentally a preservation of souls. That is a very difficult conversation to have in a hedonistic culture that predicates everything it does by a materialist view of the individual and of communities. If one ascribes to such a thorough-going materialism, it is no wonder that one ends up with brutalist notions of preservation of buildings disconnected from living organisms wholly interactive with their environment and one another. Juxtapose a soulful view of human beings and communities with the materialist reductionist vision of some and I believe you can begin to see a thicker interpretation [nod to Clifford Geertz] and an organic, existential recovery of the human. Southwest and indeed any community needs a fully thought-out philosophical discussion about such things as community and the ludic evolution and development of cities. To be propelled along by the unelected and self-anointed arbiters of style serves only the narrowest of visions.
From Jacob’s pillow of stone, that he anointed as Bethel, House of God, to the Hagia Sophia or St. Paul’s London, human beings have marked holy spaces where “heaven and earth” seemed to meet. Preserving a building may indeed be the most prudent action a community may take for its history and life. I do not doubt that for some instances. What I do dismiss is the silliness that every building or every style is somehow equivalent to the Hagia Sophia. And far more critical to a soulful view of community is the preservation of living congregations that continue to dedicate themselves to the humanist and humane preservation of individuals, protecting their dignity and providing a refuge from the storms of life. Riverside has been doing that for over 150 years. In one form or another, we want to continue doing that for decades to come right here in Southwest, in the District of Columbia, in the United States. Our incarnated presence is local, our voice and our vision are global, and we adhere to a robust, soulful view of life. See you Sunday~