Arlington District Superintendent, Rev. Cathy Abbott asked Rev. Brett Isernhagen to guest author the February DS Column. He shares a reflection on Epiphany’s 2018.
Epiphany’s situation was one that is all too common: our congregation was shrinking, our budget was getting tighter, and outside of the church preschool our engagement with our community was waning. Beyond that, so much of our effort and attention was on keeping the building and normal operations running that we had lost sight of God’s purpose for the congregation. It’s not that Epiphany was apathetic or uncaring, it’s just that after all the bills had been paid, all the repairs made, and all the meetings had we just didn’t have energy for much else. The energy and volunteer well was all but tapped out. Does this sound familiar to you?
In January of 2018 the leadership of the congregation began meeting and praying together to discern God’s will and purpose for us, because we knew God had more in mind for our congregation than just scraping by. Mere survival is not vital ministry. We knew God had called us together and given us the Holy Spirit for a greater purpose. After spending the summer working with Rev. Sarah Calvert and her team in the Discovering the Possibilities program, it came down to a vote, and Epiphany voted to close. That decision was made with heavy hearts, but it has also inspired hope, lifted our spirits, and revived our holy imaginations like nothing else in recent memory!
God has invested so much in us as a congregation and in each and every member of our church. We began to see that working so hard just to keep the doors open was keeping us from exploring those gifts, pursuing our passion in ministry, and sharing the love of Christ with those in our neighborhood. Survival was comfortable, but it was stifling the Spirit. Epiphany decided to close its doors, and take our gifts, passions, and love to join in ministry with neighboring congregations and continue our work of revitalization with them. The congregation may be closing, but it has never felt more alive.
What will come of all this? We don’t yet know, but the first fruits have already begun to bud. We were able to donate 100% of the proceeds from our annual Christmas Bazaar (formerly 80% went back to our budget) to the Committee for Helping Others, which allowed a congregation that is usually 40 strong in worship to present CHO with a check for $10,000. We are excited to give Korean United Methodist Church of Greater Washington an opportunity to use our campus to minister to our neighbors in Tysons in a way that we had always dreamed of but never could do ourselves. We are excited to join with our neighbor congregations in July as we continue to witness and discern all that God is unfolding among us. God is good, and what a blessing it has been to finally let go of the wheel and see where the Spirit will take us.
I’ll leave you with a prayer from brother Thomas Merton that was a key part of our discernment:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
Rev. Brett Isernhagen