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Restarting A Quaker Church Plant

Do you remember blowing on Nintendo cartridges? Most folks who are around my age will remember the original NES game system. I spent hours playing Nintendo, and I can still hum pretty much the entire soundtrack from Mario Brothers. As much fun as those games were, the thing I remember best is the physical experience of Nintendo. I remember the feel of the controls and the clap of the plastic hood. Above all, I remember the cartridges.

They did not always work. The longer you owned a Nintendo, the more likely it was you were going to have issues with dust collecting on the sensitive electronics at the opening of the cartridge. If the sensors were not clean, the game was liable to have errors that made it unplayable. Blank, white screens and garbled text were common. In order to get games working right, we often resorted to blowing across the sensors. Most of the time, that did the trick. We re-inserted the game and things worked as they were supposed to.
Though we did not realize it at the time, this process of cartridge cleaning taught an important lesson. In Nintendo and in the rest of life, there are moments that call for blowing on the cartridge and starting over. Sometimes, there is nothing we can do but clean the sensor and restart the game.

At Capitol Hill Friends, we have been noticing dust in our system for some time now. Despite a serious and energetic effort over a period of three years, Capitol Hill Friends has not gained the critical mass it needs to ignite a self-sustaining congregation. We have gotten quite good at putting on a weekly event that nurtures those who attend, but we have failed to develop an expanding circle of community.

After an extended period of prayer and corporate discernment, we feel that our present model is no longer an adequate container for the work that God is calling us to do in our city. We sense that our most faithful move at this point is to take a step back and re-evaluate of our entire way of operating as a community. It is time to take the cartridge out and blow on it.
We have been meeting in roughly the same format for almost three years now: We have gathered for Bible reading, singing, worship and a potluck meal. These meetings have generally been very deep, spiritually, and have provided a lot of nurture to those who have come. Yet, the core group of CHF has not substantially changed in the last two years. Probably for a variety of reasons, we have not grown in the way that we need to in order to be a sustainable community.
It feels clear that our present model is not working. The lack of growth over the last few years is equivalent to the White Screen of Death on the old Nintendo. It is time to pull out the cartridge and restart the system. The big question is, what does it look like for Capitol Hill Friends to restart?
Here is what we know right now: The last regular meeting of Capitol Hill Friends for 2012 will be this Sunday, November 4th. For the rest of November and December, the members of Capitol Hill Friends will be doing some intensive visioning and strategizing for the next phase of our life together as a community. We will be doing a lot of praying, and we will continue to listen together to how the Holy Spirit wants to guide and shape us as a community of disciples.
We have a great awareness right now of our deep need for Christ’s life and power in our midst, and we are asking God to clarify our calling, vision and structure as a fellowship. Who are we called to serve? What are we called to teach, and how are we called to teach it? What structures are we called to adopt in order to facilitate the spiritual, emotional and physical thriving of our community, and of the city where we live as a whole? With great awareness of our own weakness and failings, we are seeking God’s way forward for us.

In many ways, the past three years has been a course in what not to do. For my own part, I see that there is a lot of dust on my own sensors – all the illusions that I live in; all the denial that I indulge in. I desperately need the Holy Spirit to blow away the dust so that I can see clearly, and be a faithful vessel of Christ’s love and justice. I have learned a lot in the past three years, both about myself and about some of the realities of organizing a new Christian fellowship in Washington, DC. In many ways, the past three years have been “Seminary: Part 2.” This second dose of ministerial education, though, has been entirely focused on practice, and sometimes the theory has gotten in the way.

Moving forward, I hope to find out what it means for us to be a community of Christian practitioners. What does it mean to practice our faith in ways that tangibly bless the communities where we live? All the teaching in the world is of little use if we are not learning how to live as Christ’s body in the world.
As we continue to engage in this process of discernment, we do have some clarity about how God is calling us to reorganize our meeting format in the coming year. Beginning in January, Capitol Hill Friends plans to adopt a new model that we hope will encourage the development of more bonded community and deeper spiritual practice. Our new format will feature two main components: A weekly small group, and a monthly gathering.
The small group will be a place where each of us can be nurtured in our walk with Jesus, and get equipped for the work that Christ is calling each of us to. This group will be a fellowship for nurturing the spiritual gifts of each person, and developing our capacity to share the good news of Jesus with others in our communities. We will seek to make this an intimate space, where each individual can feel safe bringing their full selves and find support for the journey that Jesus is calling each of us into.
Our monthly gatherings will be creative and energetic programs that engage people from a wide variety of backgrounds and invites them to experience the power of Christ’s living presence in our midst. Each month’s program will be different, and we hope to invite outside presenters to lead our time together. We hope that these monthly gatherings will be a time of edification for our broader community – including Quakers from other Meetings in the area; Christians from other churches; seekers without a faith community; and secular people who are curious about encountering a spiritual faith that is directly dependent on God’s power.
We still have a lot of discernment to do, but these are the basic contours of what our restart looks like: Creating a space for our broader community to creatively explore spiritual teaching and worship, while at the same time nurturing the ongoing development of a smaller core that wants to be part of a mutually supportive community, rooted in Jesus Christ.

As we embark on this next stage of our journey together, please pray for us. If you are living in the DC area, consider whether the small group or our monthly gatherings might be a place for you to plug in and get the support you need for your walk in faith.

Holy Spirit, come blow on us. Clear away all the dust that holds us back from growing in you.