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Welcome to Rally Day, the beginning of a new church year and the challenge of full participation in the life of this community. It is a time of fun, enjoyment, good food and the the opportunity for us to recognize those who will volunteer for us in the upcoming year. It is a truly special day where we are able to dedicate our new garden and celebrate the lives of those in our community that have been so integral to our faith. So, thank you teachers who plan, teach and play. You help us to think about our faith in new and challenging ways. We pray with you that this might be a positive experience of growth in your own life as you nurture the spiritual lives of others. Thank you to all the people who helped make today possible. Polly, Robin Anne and Dorea who worked out the food and moon bounce!
Today I think it is also a time to challenge us to remember what is so important to us about this place. To rally you for the upcoming year here at our church, in this community and to make a difference in our world.
We are sitting in the Palisades Community Church what was once the only church in this neighborhood. I want to challenge you to think about what it is that makes this place of interest to you? What do you believe? What do we believe as a community of faith? We are the easiest church to join membership wise in the entire district. We have relatively little theological, biblical, liturgical, financial giving suggestions or voluntary commitments required of you. Many of you probably have more voluntary commitments outside this body that make much more time and financial obligations on you. So, why do we come here? Is there a reason other than we like each other’s company to come to this place? Is there more to life than inspiration and a weekly repose?
This church had a very important purpose from its inception. It was to teach children about the good news of Jesus Christ and to worship God. This place grew from it’s teacher’s commitment to showing those in the neighborhood that same good news. Teaching was synonymous with its most early Church schools. It was important from its beginnings that this was a church that relied deeply upon people from the community to volunteer to sustain it in those early years. Even down to its congregational form of governance this congregation has a minister that has no vote in leadership, does not run meetings and does not run the annual meeting. It is all done by volunteers.
This church has achieved been an essential witness to this community over the years. In a neighborhood that sometimes had a violent history with African Americans and when most churches could barely understand civil rights this congregation joined the first church movement that brought together African American churches and Caucasian churches across the country. When most churches had no idea what inclusive or ecumenical might mean this church was open to people of radically different faith experiences and beliefs. We have albums of pictures and photos lining the walls of memorial hall showing that this church has functioned as a central part of this community.
Our best does not have to be entombed in memorials, we do not need to become one more museum to what faith used to be. Let me be clear, if this church is to flourish beyond the kindness and care that is displayed between you to each other it will be because you have decided to work hard to make this place viable. It is painful to say but there doesn’t have to be a place like the Palisades Community Church in the future. Plenty of churches our size have just ceased to be because they no longer had the finances, the will or the energy to go on.
In twenty years will there be any significant mark for the kingdom of God that we have planted in this location? Will your life have made a significant mark? I think we are just beginning to see the fruit of our faith. We have a beautiful garden outside that was put together with a minimum amount of fuss. We used far less money than expected from our memorial fund which gives us opportunities for a new projects. That shows me there is vitality in this 85 year old church.
Of course I think that it is vital that there be an ecumenical witness in the D.C. region that does not press its ideological views on the masses. This church must grow into a place of discovery and resist the temptation to see our openness as the easy way out of faith. We have an opportunity to be witnesses to God’s love in an area where there is little time for love, a place where love is seen as merely a romantic time drain, a place where faith must fit into a blackberries schedule. We have an opportunity to show that faith is not simply moral piety, but a lived and active service to God and each other.
The challenge is not my vision for the future, but that you have one as well. It is not that this place is important to me, but that it becomes an essential community of faith. It is not about what my faith in God is, but that you are nurturing your faith as well. It will not be what the pastor plans that sustain this church into the future. It will be your gifts, time and finances that will make this the place that your visions from God will make it. It is my prayer that you will find your distinctive voice for service and transform this community into one that everyone around knows is a beacon of God’s love.
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