“The sky is the limit … as long as we are Biblically and theologically sound,” Bishop Lewis told the assembled crowd at our Arlington Chew ‘n Chat on Feb. 18th. On Feb. 28th, Arlington County approved Central United Methodist Church’s innovative proposal to replace their existing building with an 8 story structure containing a new church, space for a 100 children in a day care facility, and a mix of 48 affordable and 71 market-rate apartments. How does a modestly-sized church of 60-70 in worship dream such a God-sized dream?
It all began when Peter Storey came to Central UMC, and led a prayer walk in the community. The pastor and lay folks on that prayer walk began to notice people in the community in need. Their hearts were moved by homeless persons. Soon, Central began offering donuts and coffee every Friday morning for their homeless guests. Jeannie Cross began thinking that a hot breakfast would be far more hospitable. Soon, Central was feeding more than 100 homeless guests a hot breakfast, a hot lunch, and a bag lunch to take with them … every single Friday. As Central turned outward, a new spirit came to them. They began a very fruitful partnership with the homeless organization in Arlington, ASPAN (Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network.) But Central did not stop dreaming.
When I first started as DS in 2013, Gene Cross, Central’s lay leader approached me with a bold idea– -maybe they could redevelop their property, build a new church, and actually provide “homes” for the homeless with affordable housing. Thus began a partnership with the District to figure out how we might make this dream a reality. When Rev. Richard Cobb retired, the church wanted a new pastor who could help them live into this audacious dream. The Building Committee worked hard, and the new pastor, Rev. Sarah Harrison-McQueen was appointed to lead Central on this adventure.
When the plans were ready, and all the District and Conference boxes had been checked, Pastor Sarah led the congregation in 90 days of prayer before the congregation voted. Central wanted to be sure that it was God’s dream they were pursuing, not their human hopes and desires. All but one person at the church conference voted for the concept.
But then the really hard work began: gaining County approval! Through the arduous permitting process of community engagement, Central faced many challenges. But they persevered! And so, the County approval on Feb. 28th was a moment of great joy. There are still challenges ahead: the church needs tax credits for affordable housing to make the financing work. What I love about what Central is doing is the spirit-filled attitude of “the sky is the limit!” I love the heart Central has for the physical and spiritual needs of people in their community. And I love the audacious dreaming and action that stem from this heart.
What dream does God have for your congregation? I hope that we will use this season of Lent to repent of the sense of anxiety, fear of the future, and sense of scarcity that we all carry. I pray we will awaken to the challenge the Bishop has laid before us: “The sky is the limit.”