Dear CHUMC Family:
A little more than a week ago, Pastor Alisa received a message from the leaders in the Baltimore-Washington United Methodist Conference calling our church to a new opportunity.
The conference has been praying over the future of urban churches – not just here, but in Baltimore and potentially around the country. Their vision is to find ways for urban churches to not just survive, but to thrive.
What we know is that the most successful urban churches share the demographics of their communities. They tend to attract younger people to serve with older members. They are multicultural. They are about serving missions that are relevant to the community.
Part of that vision involves finding ways to foster by matching up churches that share common callings, but that also have unique gifts that augment one another. The model would bring these churches together in an urban circuit - a new version of a model that is historic in the United Methodist Church.
After receiving this message from the Conference, Pastor Alisa called the church leadership together for a meeting so that the Conference could share their vision with us. We met with Rev. Cynthia Moore, the Washington Region Guide and a member of the Conference Staff.
The conference’s commission for our church is that Capitol Hill United Methodist Church will become part of a circuit with two other churches in the area. These three churches will be served by two full time pastors with Pastor Alisa serving as the senior pastor. The creation of a circuit church brings together more people, more leadership among United Methodists with similar callings, but with diverse gifts. The circuit model leaves us free to share resources of people and space, but we do not assume each other’s debts or financial resources. This circuit structure will begin on July 1 – after our pastor returns from maternity leave.
The conference has created a circuit that contains Capitol Hill United Methodist, Ebenezer United Methodist, and Mount Vernon United Methodist. To be clear, this is Mount Vernon United Methodist, not Mount Vernon Place United Methodist, which is pastored by former CHUMC member Donna Claycomb Sokol.
Many of us already know some of our neighbors at Ebenezer. For those who don’t, Ebenezer United Methodist is located on the same block as this church, at the corner of 4thand D Streets. This year, Ebenezer is celebrating the 173rd anniversary of their founding – from when they split off from the same ancestor church that became Capitol Hill United Methodist. They are currently worshipping about 50 people on an average Sunday. Their unique gifts include an active Sunday School program for youth and adults and solid lay leadership.
Mount Vernon United Methodist is a small church located on Minnesota Avenue NE directly across the street from the Minnesota Avenue metro station. Mount Vernon is very active with young people in their community. They are very proud of their adopt-a-school program with Smothers Elementary that they have had for the past three years and, like CHUMC, they have an important feeding ministry for those who hunger in their neighborhood. Mount Vernon worships about 51 people on an average Sunday. They had two baptisms in 2010.
Neither of these churches is large enough, on their own, to support a full time pastor. But through the synergies of a circuit, we are able to bring in not only another full time pastor, but someone with almost a decade of experience with urban churches.
The conference has called the Reverend Herbert Brisbon to serve as the circuit’s associate pastor. He is a graduate of Wesley Seminary – and, like me and Brey, he’s originally from South Carolina, so he can’t be all bad.
Pastor Herbert is currently serving a two-church charge in Baltimore. He’s a leader in the National United Methodist Black church renewal movement, He comes to us with experience having worked in both predominantly black churches and predominantly white churches.
Pastor Alisa is particularly excited about the opportunity that having another full time pastor as a part of this circuit can mean – not only for all of us, but for her as it will allow her to have a colleague who can share with her the joys and the struggles of ministering and administering a church.
So, what exactly does all this mean? How will this affect us as a church? Does this mean a lot will change or that nothing will change?
The answer to those questions frankly will lie with us and the other churches. The conference has, very smartly, NOT laid down a lot of parameters about what an urban church circuit looks like or how it should operate. The specifics will be left for us to discern, slowly, together.
Finally, let me tell you why I, and many on the church council, are excited by this call. It truly does feel to us like a call from God. At the beginning of the year, Pastor Alisa asked us to come together on a passage from scripture that could be our guiding scripture throughout the year. The scripture chosen did not come from Alisa, but from someone else on the council. We chose a passage from Ephesians, chapter 2, verses 13 to 22:
...Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Sisters and brothers, we are being called by God into some sort of new unity. We are being offered that opportunity by the Conference. This is all new. It is all very exciting for us and for Methodism here in the city.
We ask that you take this opportunity into your hearts and that you pray with us and for us, our pastor, and our new associate pastor, as we prepare for this great opportunity.
As I shared this news with the church I offered this prayer:
Dear Lord – we thank You for the many opportunities to serve You in this world. We thank You for Your Word that shows us that uniting in Christ has been Your way since the days of Saints Peter and Paul. God, help us to see Your will. Help us to use this new tool to grow a stronger church for Capitol Hill, for our city, and for You. Be with us as we prepare so that Your will be done.
Together, we pray in Christ’s name. And together, All God’s Children say, Amen.