Glimpses of the Promised Land
Arlington District Superintendent, Rev. Cathy Abbott is currently on renewal leave. She has asked clergy from her district to write guest columns for the monthly Arlington District Newsletter while she is away. Rev. M. Thomas Lott is the Senior Pastor of Friendship United Methodist Church in Falls Church. Thomas provides the August guest column below.
A few years ago, Friendship United Methodist Church engaged with the Bi-District’s Discovering the Possibilities process. One of the options available to Friendship was to try revitalization, which is the option Friendship chose. Afterwards, I was appointed to lead the church’s revitalization efforts, guided by the Discovering the Possibilities report.
I have been at Friendship for two years, and in those two years God has given us glimpses of the Promised Land, that is, a church coming back to life and living into God’s exciting vision for our ministry in the community. A central element of this has involved the congregation’s concerted effort to put ourselves in a position to build relationships with people who are not connected with the church, thus shifting our focus outward. We have done this primarily through hosting various community outreach events focused on children and families. Each time we host an event that enables us to build relationships with our neighbors, God gives us a glimpse of the Promised Land. We have also started mentoring children at the local elementary school, which has helped us get to know the needs of the community, thus opening up further opportunities to meet and serve our neighbors. As we have engaged with the community, we have grown more confident in our identity as disciples of Jesus Christ who are sent by Christ to love and serve in his name.
The situation Friendship is facing is not unique: aging membership, a building in need of constant maintenance, and a wider culture that is ambivalent to the role of the Church in society. Through the experience of leading Friendship in facing these challenges head-on, God has strengthened my faith. I have learned that in order to lead Friendship towards revitalization, I need the Holy Spirit to constantly breathe renewal into my faith and the faith of the congregation. Furthermore, the process of bringing about change and trying new things has expanded my capacity for patience and has taught me to trust in God’s provision. I have had to come to terms with the fact that revitalization will not come about through my efforts and the congregation’s efforts alone. Rather, as we labor for revitalization, we embrace our total dependence on God to bring new life to the church.
It is easy to succumb to a narrative of scarcity, which dampens our hope in God’s extraordinary possibilities. I have to contend with this narrative on a daily basis. Nevertheless, I have had the privilege of witnessing God’s amazing work in and through Friendship. God keeps on surprising us! When it rained during our Trunk-or-Treat last fall, we moved the event indoors and still had an impressive turnout. This past spring, we were invited to partner with several churches for Alpha in the Mosaic District. And a few weeks ago, our Vacation Bible School enrollment was double that of last year. With each surprise, God gives us a glimpse of the Promised Land and encourages us along the way.
Rev. M. Thomas Lott
Friendship United Methodist Church
Falls Church, Virginia