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My Inner 23-Year-Old – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #52

Dear friends,

God has a way of sneaking up on me. For the last decade or so, a constant theme of my life has been amazement and surprise. Ten years ago, I never could have guessed that not only would I become a Christian, but that I would go to seminary and dedicate myself to a path of ministry. When I first came to live in Washington, I did not imagine that Faith and I would end up settling down and buying a house here. When we started Capitol Hill Friends, we did not suspect that God would call us to a form of community life that is very different from that which we originally envisioned.

In every step along this journey, God surprises me with the way he gentles me, slows me down and humbles me. In a slow process of transformation, the Spirit is mellowing me out. She is balancing me, making me less erratic, less swept up in every high and low of my personal experience. The Spirit is softening me while at the same time deepening my constancy. I am being re-formed into someone who can be relied upon by a local community.

Just a few years ago, my self-image was almost entirely based in moving around – “traveling in the ministry” as it is fashionable to call it. I definitely did some ministry, and I might have even been helpful sometimes, but the traveling part was at least as much about my need to explore and personally develop as anything else. And, at a certain point, it becomes clear that travel can be a way of escaping certain uncomfortable facts: I cannot do everything. Commitment is required (even not committing is ultimately a commitment). People, places and things change – relentlessly. Sooner or later, I am going to die.

Faith and I frequently explain that buying our home in Northeast DC was an act of submission to God. This is strange. To one as ascetically-minded as me, it seems counter-intuitive that acquiring a substantial material asset could be a step forward in spiritual growth. But for us, our house represents a profound commitment to the work that Christ has called us to in our city. It is our pledge that we are here for the long haul, and that we will not leave this city unless and until Christ directs us to do so. It is my submission to particularity, to being bonded to a specific place and accepting that living things are also dying things.

As a result of this commitment, I am doing things I never thought I would do. I am juggling multiple paid jobs, in addition to serving as an organizer for a new Quaker church. I do not bother with the title, but I am essentially doing the job of a pastor – a role that, back when I was in seminary, I was sure I had no interest in. I am learning that just because something makes me uncomfortable does not mean that God is not calling me to it.

These last years have involved a lot of pruning! Yet, at the same time, I am feeling strangely inspired by my younger, less-pruned self. I recently came across a set of photos that I took back during my first weeks at Earlham School of Religion. I took pictures of the rented room where I would spend my first semester studying in the MDiv program. Regarding these photographs takes me way back. I had almost forgotten how materially austere my life had been back then. And I was so bold and passionate! Sure, there were all sorts of rough edges that needed to be sanded down – but such intensity!

As God continues to soften me, I do not want to lose that fire and intensity. I do not want to lose that commitment to truth and holiness. I want to stay true to that inner 23-year-old who hews to radical simplicity, ready to sacrifice anything for the mission that Christ has for him. And I want to infuse this radical, brave heart with a gentle love and humility, an innocence that embraces strength as a way to protect and heal those around me.

I am not sure what this will look like, but I suspect that it will be a lot less grandiose than I have often imagined. We all read stories about heroes, and so I suppose it is natural to imagine oneself in the hero’s role. But I am not called to be a hero in the epic sense. Instead, I am called to the work of a gardener, teacher, street sweeper, community organizer and friend. Here in the city where God has planted us, I am seeking to live into what it means to be a good neighbor, faithful husband, diligent worker and steadfast minister of the gospel.

Faith and I are very blessed by your continuing prayers, support and words of encouragement. Please continue to lift us up before the Lord, and ask that the Holy Spirit would strengthen, deepen and multiply our community here in Washington. Let us be a blessing to our city, a light that pushes back the darkness.

In Christ’s love,

Micah Bales

Settling Down and Growing – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #51

Dear friends in Truth,

The daylight hours are getting longer, and I am beginning to feel hopeful that spring is on its way. Though the days are still mostly very cold, I feel a sense of hopeful expectation as the earth begins to wake up. This pairs nicely with the joy and hopefulness that I feel in the rhythms of my own life and in our community here in the DC area. As the weeks pass and the days grow steadily brighter, my experience of work, ministry and life in community are all deepening and becoming more vibrant.

New life is already blooming at Capitol Hill Friends. This Sunday, we gathered for the 5th session of our 6-week small group series. We have averaged about 14 participants at our meetings, out of 17 individuals who have been regularly involved. Pretty good for a small group that envisions itself as being a community of 6-12!

The spiritual depth and sincere seeking we have experienced together has been life-giving. We are learning how to pray together and read the Bible in ways that speak directly to our lives as residents of one of the world’s most powerful and high-pressure cities. We are learning to laugh together, to let down our guard and really see one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. As one who is sometimes overly serious, this ability to laugh and be silly together has been very powerful for me.

Serving as small group leader for this first six-week series has been a rich experience. I have grown so much through working with my apprentice each week to prepare for the meeting, and my prayer life has deepened as I have become more intentional about lifting up each person in our community. With each week that passes, I feel more knit into the new community that is forming here, and I am heartened to see signs that others are feeling similarly drawn into this new life.

More than ever, I am feeling called to stability and rootedness in place. In previous years, I traveled extensively and got involved in events and communities around the country, and even beyond. Though in recent years I have felt a growing longing to settle down and focus in my home region, I have continually felt called elsewhere – whether to activities in the Ohio Yearly Meeting community, other ministerial travels or visits to family and friends in Ohio and Kansas. Whether I liked it or not, for many years I felt compelled to be away from home much of the time.

This year feels different. In the last two months, I have only left the DC area a couple of times, and both of these trips were to visit friends in Virginia. No grand mission, just nurturing relationships.

As I look ahead, I feel called to stay put. There are places I would like to go and people I long to see. There is so much important work to be done out in the wider world. But now, more than ever, I am feeling like a shepherd, or a gardener, tending this little flock, this little garden. I need to be here, with my people. I need to get to know my city better, to care for my friends, to make myself ever more available to my neighbors in a city where busyness is a status symbol and a spacious life is almost unheard of.

Ironically, as I seek to promote this spaciousness in the life of my community, I am probably busier than I have ever been. There is so much to be done, and I am increasingly aware of the limits of my energy. But this, too, I see as part of God’s revelation to me. Christ is teaching me to recognize those things that are most essential, and he is calling me to release everything else. I must let go of anything that is not central to God’s purpose for me, no matter how worthy and beneficial it may seem. It is so easy to drown in good things.

The call is becoming increasingly clear and simple: Care for the community, nurture and equip new leaders, pray for my brothers and sisters, seek justice and the well-being of my city. It is not complicated at all, but I have never felt so challenged.

Thank you for your prayers for me and for the work we are engaged in here in DC. All of the love and prayer that you are directing towards us is having a big impact. In the month ahead, please pray that our community here will continue to be built up – in numbers, in spiritual depth, and in healthy community that empowers us to be God’s people in the midst of Empire.

Your friend in Truth,

Micah Bales

A New Year, A New Vision for Capitol Hill Friends – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #50

Dear friends,
Late December is a very special time for me. The churning of the holiday season crowds out my normal routines, and my attention shifts dramatically. In this season, personal transformation seems especially within reach. Between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day, my life is put on lock down and the relentless silence of dark winter nights strips me bare. This fallow time takes a hold of me, forcing me to cease my constant activity and to reflect on the choices I have made.
It is also a season to become more aware of God’s faithfulness. As I recall everything that has happened in the last year – not to mention the last decade! – it is so clear to me that I could never have made it to this moment without ongoing divine intervention. With the 20/20 hindsight of late December, I see more clearly how the Spirit has been present with me throughout the highs and lows. Even in the times when I felt abandoned, God never left me.
The last year has definitely had its share of lows, both for me and for Capitol Hill Friends. For the last three years, we have operated under a model which focused on the weekly worship event as the heart of our community. Beginning in late 2009, we extended an invitation for those in the DC area to join us for waiting worship, Bible reading, singing and a home-cooked meal. Our times together were powerful, and the worship was almost always deep.

Yet, after almost three years of ongoing effort, Capitol Hill Friends never grew into the kind of sustainable community that we hoped for. Our attendance fluctuated according to the seasons, but never grew very large. The formal membership of our group held fairly steady, too – three core members, plus one Friend who sojourned with us for a year, and two others who sojourned for a summer. Despite the power of Christ’s presence in our times of worship, the community failed to gel.

We finally reached a crisis point this fall. Our attendance fell greatly near the end of the summer – a normal seasonal fluctuation – but it did not recover in the fall. At the time of year when we had come to expect renewed energy and vitality in our meetings, we were averaging 4-6 people. It was increasingly clear that our way of operating had become unsustainable.

What needed to change? Were we being unfaithful? Were we even still being called to engage in this ministry? We put everything on the table. More than anything, we wanted to be faithful to how the Lord was guiding us.
After extensive prayer and consideration, we felt clear that we had not been released from the work of planting a new Quaker community in the Washington, DC region. But we also saw that we would have to let go of many of our assumptions about how a Quaker Meeting was supposed to be. We were still clinging to many patterns that kept us in our Quaker comfort zone, but which held us back from speaking to the needs of our city.
We have emerged from this period of discernment with a commitment to do whatever it takes to emerge from the Quaker hedge* and reach the DC area with the love and power of Jesus Christ. We are convinced that God is more concerned with growing a community gathered in discipleship than with the purity of our Quaker pedigree. We feel that God is calling us into partnership with the work of the Holy Spirit, to become a living body in Christ – an organism that learns, grows and adapts as God shapes us to speak to the condition of our city.
God is blessing us. This Saturday, twenty-five of us gathered for dinner at the William Penn House to hear about the plan for the next phase of Capitol Hill Friends. We shared about the cell church model that we are experimenting with, and invited folks to participate in the first cycle of our base group (small group), which will be meeting from the last Sunday in January to the first Sunday in March.
Our base group meetings will last for about an hour and a half, and will focus on three main activities: personal check-ins and building community; reading the Bible and applying it to our lives in practical ways; and exploring how to experience the Holy Spirit through vocal prayer and silent waiting. The base group is meant to be a living organism – the basic unit of Christ’s body – that will multiply over time. Our vision is to establish a growing number of base groups in locations throughout the DC metro area, so that our community will be easily accessible to anyone who wants to participate.
Base groups will be the heart – the base! – of our community, with everything else we do flowing out of the life of these groups of 6-12. Yet, we also think it is important to gather together in larger numbers, and so we intend to hold larger worship events. As we begin this new experiment in community, we will aim to have one worship event every month or so. As we grow in numbers, energy and spiritual maturity, we may increase the frequency of our larger worship event, but once a month seems plenty for the time being.

It has taken some time, but I am hopeful that we are finding our way to be a healthy expression of Christ’s body in the Washington region. We know that it is the power of the Holy Spirit that gives life to the body, not human models of organization. Nevertheless, I see signs that this new model has the potential to remove barriers to the Holy Spirit’s work. I pray that we will remain open to removing all of the many barriers to God in our lives, so that Christ’s Spirit can flow freely.

Please keep praying for us. Please ask your church/meeting to pray for us. The next couple of months are going to be critical as we seek to raise up leadership and multiply this first round of base groups. Please pray for those who are providing leadership for this first base group cycle, and for everyone who participates. May the Lord draw us into authentic community in his name, finding the support and encouragement we need to lead lives of faithfulness and joy.
Your friend in Truth,
*The “hedge” is an old Quaker term, which refers to a whole complex of shared practices that help to distinguish and separate the Friends community from the wider world.

Next Steps For Capitol Hill Friends

After months of discernment, we at Capitol Hill Friends have reached some clarity on how to move forward in 2013. For the past several years, we have been a small worship group, holding weekly meetings for worship which were consistently deep and spiritually powerful. Yet, despite these years of deep worship, our community never reached critical mass. We never made the leap from being a worship opportunity to being a worshiping community.
This fall, we concluded that our model of regular meetings for worship had not produced a growing and maturing community. For more than two years, our core group had remained constant, and there was no sign of any real change on the horizon. It became increasingly clear to us that, unless we were willing to let Capitol Hill Friends go, it would never bear fruit.
Change is hard, which is probably why it took us several years to be brought to this point. In the last few months, however, we have put everything on the table. Meeting time, location, format – even whether to continue as Capitol Hill Friends at all. As far as we have known how, we have laid everything at Jesus’ feet. We surrendered our own ideas about what this community should look like. We invited the Holy Spirit in to re-form us and put us back on the right path.
As a result of this process of discernment, we are emerging with a very different vision of what kind of community God is calling us to be. Rather than a group that focuses on holding a worship service, we feel called to place most of our emphasis on developing mutually supportive community. We want to pray for one another, read the Bible together, and come to know one another as human beings.
We sense that as we come to know and support one another in our walk of faith, powerful worship will once again emerge at Capitol Hill Friends. But, this time, worship will be the fruit of deep personal relationships and vibrant community life. As we walk together in the light of God’s love, we seek to become an organic whole, knit together in the Spirit.
What does this mean, practically? Our change of heart has resulted in a change of strategy. Let me provide an outline of what we expect the next few months to look like.
First, we will be kicking off the new year with a dinner party on Capitol Hill. We want to sit down and break bread with everyone who might be interested taking these next steps together with us. At this dinner (on Saturday, January 12th), we will lay out the details of our new strategy for developing into a community that can bless our city, the region and the world with the love of Jesus. While we hope there will be a lot of good discussion at the dinner, I will lay out here a brief sketch of how we see our strategy playing out in the next few months.
In February/March, we plan to launch the first cycle of small group. This group of 7-12 will gather once a week for six weeks, at a time and location that is mutually workable for everyone involved. Each of the weekly meet-ups will include personal check-ins, a shared exploration of the Bible, and an opportunity for worship and prayer. Each session should last no more than an hour and a half. At the end of the six weeks, the small group will do some discernment together about how they would like to proceed. We hope that many of the participants will want to do another cycle, and it is possible that the small group will have grown enough that it will make sense to establish new small groups in other parts of the city.
We know that not everyone will have the time, energy or interest to get involved in this first cycle of small group, and we think that having some opportunity for a larger gathering is important. For this reason, we plan to begin holding one public meeting for worship each month. The format for the public meetings will be different from before. As with the small groups, we hope to keep these meetings to no more than an hour and a half. We hope that by limiting the time commitment, we might make both our small groups and public meetings more accessible to everyone who would like to participate.
These are broad strokes, and there is a lot more to discuss! I hope that everyone who lives in the DC area and is interested in getting involved in this new evolutionary stage of our community will try to make it to the dinner this January. (For those of you living a bit further north, we know that some folks from Baltimore will be coming down – so let me know if you could use a ride.) Whether you can make it to the dinner or not, I hope we can be in conversation about how to move forward together.
There are signs of a grassroots spiritual awakening taking place across the United States, and I feel hopeful that 2013 will be a momentous year – not only for our community here in DC, but for an entire network of sisters and brothers who are committed to seeking peace, justice and reconciliation as we walk together in the way of Jesus.

Stripping Down and Building Up – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #48

Dear friends,
After a period of uncertainty and reflection, new paths are emerging for our work of seeding the Kingdom here in the District of Columbia. For Capitol Hill Friends, this month has been one of major reorientation. Over the past three years, we focused on our regular worship service as the centerpiece of our community. Yet this month, to my great surprise, we reached clarity to lay down weekly worship. Instead, we will direct our energy into the development of vibrant small groups centered around Bible study, prayer and mutual support.
On November 4th, we held our last regular meeting for worship in the old format – a two and a half hour service including Bible reading, singing, waiting worship and a potluck dinner. While we hope to re-launch a regular worship service someday, we feel clear that we should not do so until we have developed a solid core of small groups that serve as a mature and mutually supportive basis for our community in Jesus.
This January, we plan to begin holding small group meetings once a week. We have not ironed out all the details yet, but we sense that our new small group format should center on prayer, reading the Scripture together, and sharing our journeys with one another. The format of the small group should be simple and broadly accessible. We expect that it will last no more than an hour and a half. For folks in our city, that seems to be the maximum duration people feel comfortable committing to on an ongoing basis.
In addition to tightening up the small group time, we want to make sure that people do not feel trapped or guilted into attending. We are considering how to offer small group in bite-sized sequences – for example, we might offer a six-week study of the Sermon on the Mount. Rather than asking our friends to commit to attending small group forever, we are looking to present it as a medium term commitment, measured in weeks rather than in months or years.
While our number one focus will be on our small groups, we are also looking at sponsoring events that would be of interest to our wider communities, featuring compelling guest presenters (Jon Watts, I am looking in your direction). When I imagine these events, I envision something like a very spiritually grounded house concert. Not exactly a worship service, but a space in which folks are invited to be spiritually engaged and come away with a deeper sense of connection with God in Jesus. In the end, everything we do must be about him; yet we want to engage in ways that strike a chord with the people of our city.
We have a growing sense that God is calling us to throw off anything that gets in the way of sharing the good news of Jesus here in DC. Though the members of Capitol Hill Friends are deeply steeped in the Quaker tradition, we are questioning whether many of our traditional forms, language and practices are serviceable in our present context.
Insofar as there has ever been a Quaker model of evangelism, it has generally been one that assumed that outsiders would need to change or discard their culture, dress, language and symbols before they could become part of the Body of Christ. For the last 300 years, Quaker communities have largely developed along the lines of homogenous clusters of people who share the same politics, class, race, dress codes, insider language and cultural assumptions.
We are convinced that this is not only a losing strategy, but that it is ultimately at odds with the example that Jesus gives us. As we move forward in our mission to embody and share the love, mercy and justice of Jesus Christ, we are examining ourselves closely. How are we ourselves called to change, adapting ourselves to the needs of the city we live in, so that we might more effectively share the good news?
The truth is, I loved Capitol Hill Friends just the way it was. Our weekly worship service, with its combination of Bible reading, singing, waiting worship and food, was basically my ideal format. Unfortunately, we have seen that my ideal does not work for most people in our city! If this ministry is to be about more than my own preferences – if it is to draw all people into deeper relationship with Jesus – then I will need to sacrifice my desires and preferences so that the gospel may be most effectively received.
What needs to be stripped away so that we can all see Jesus? What is the most effective vehicle for delivering the gospel message among the people whom we have been called to serve? How are we called to respond when faithfulnessdemands effectiveness?
For a couple of stodgy old Conservative Quakers like Faith and me, asking these questions feels revolutionary. From time to time, we ask ourselves with some anxiety: Are we ditching the Friends tradition altogether?
In a word, “no.” Clearly, the needs of our present context are different from those of Friends 300 years ago – or even fifty years ago. Yet we are also convinced that the essential truths of the gospel that were re-discovered by the early Quaker movement are the same foundation that we stand on today. The forms change, but the substance remains steady. Christ is come to teach his people himself, and we seek to be a people that is attentive and listening, ready to follow the Lamb wherever he goes.
As we wrestle with all of these questions, I am so grateful for the consistent prayers of all our sisters and brothers across the country and the world. Most everyone seems to agree: Washington is a very tough place to be. The ground here is hard, and we know that we cannot plow it up under our own strength. But through the fervent petitions of the saints and the mercy of the Holy Spirit, we know and have experienced that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
Your brother in our Lord Jesus,
Micah Bales

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.

Who Are We Called To Serve?

Therefore, Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood. Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. – Hebrews 13:12-14

There are up-sides to being in crisis, not the least of which is the way that desperation focuses one’s prayer life. If you have been following this blog recently, you know that we at Capitol Hill Friends are wrestling with how to move forward in the face of low energy and the apparent lack of the critical mass necessary to become a self-sustaining community. As you might imagine, God and I have been having some serious conversations lately!

I am learning that I should never underestimate the power of desperate prayer. God truly does draw near to those who are humbled and broken, and coming to the end of my rope has done wonders for my willingness to rely more fully on the Lord’s guidance. In the midst of this soul-searching, I have been amazed at how clearly the Spirit has responded to my prayers. I have asked for direction, and God is providing it.
For years now, one member of Capitol Hill Friends has always been asking, “Who are we called to serve?” Virtually every time we have met together, John has raised this question, to the point that it has become almost a joke among us.
To be quite honest, the question has often annoyed me. I never felt I had a good answer for it, except to say that Capitol Hill Friends is a community for anyone who wants to go deeper in their walk with Christ. I do not not like the idea of picking out a specific market demographic and “selling” God to them. Would we try to be a hipster church for urban twenty-somethings? A family church for couples with small children? A white, middle class church? A multi-racial, inter-class church? To me, “Who are we called to serve?” sounded a lot like, “What is our market niche?”
I am not very interested in viewing the church from a marketing perspective. I do not believe that faith communities are a commodity to be bought and sold. While I understand the need to present the gospel in a way that is culturally appropriate to the place we live, I do not want to pre-determine what demographic our fellowship is aimed at. This commodification cheapens the very idea of the Church. Instead of aspiring to be the body of Christ, our fellowships risk being transformed into little more than social clubs where people of similar class, race and subculture can talk about Jesus.
And yet, the question has nagged at me. Who are we called to serve? What is our particular mission here in the city? There are thousands of local congregations spread out across our region; what use does God have for one more? These questions are not ones of sales pitches and market analysis. These are basic issues of call and spiritual gifts. What is are the specific ways that God wants to use our particular fellowship to reflect the love of Jesus?
As I have prayed about the future of Capitol Hill Friends, God has shown me that there is indeed a particular people that we are called to serve. This people is not a demographic group in any traditional sense. It is not a group bounded by class, ethnicity, sub-culture or political persuasion. Rather, our common experience at Capitol Hill Friends is that we do not match the expectations that the wider culture has of us. In some profound way, we do not quite fit in. We are looking for the city that is to come, not this present one where we reside as sojourners.

In a city that worships power and thrives on appearances, we feel God calling us into friendship with those who are marginal, unimpressive in the eyes of the world. In a culture that glorifies displays of wealth and consumption, we sense God’s invitation to lead lives of simplicity and creativity. In a society that values facts, figures and formal education, we long for God’s true wisdom, which seems like foolishness to the world. In a nation that places a very high value on strength and self-sufficiency, we know that we are weak and in need of God’s help.

Capitol Hill Friends stands in solidarity with those who do not fit into this world’s conceptions of wisdom and power and wealth. We are called to serve those who stand outside the gate of the city, rejected by polite society. Rather than playing dress-up and pretending to be successful, God calls us to stand with the misfits. Because the truth is, we are misfits, too.