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Letter from Amy: Feb 28, 2024


Agnus Dei (Lamb of God), Francisco Zurbarán, c. 1635

Dear Incarnation,


What a beautiful Sunday! I was so moved by Buz's reading and Russell's wise and sensitive sermon on one of the most difficult passages in all of scripture, the binding of Isaac. I was grateful for the songs so thoughtfully selected by Kevin and beautifully led by our team. And I just generally loved the way we are settling into the quieter rhythms of Lent together.


On Sunday, I invited us to a time of discernment together around two questions:

  1. What do you sense God is calling Incarnation to be or to do?

  2. What do you sense God is calling you to be or to do within Incarnation?


Why are we discerning these questions now?


To be clear, there are no pressing problems or urgent decisions in front of us driving this time of discernment. But we have experienced a lot of change over the past few years (more on that below), and as we make sense of those changes and imagine the future, I believe we first need to pause, reflect, discern, listen, and anchor ourselves in a strong, shared sense of who God is calling us to be. This time of discernment is an attempt to “strike while the iron is cold”: to take time to listen and pray while our church is healthy, stable, and flourishing.


If you read my weekly letters, then you’ve seen that I’ve written a few times recently about Incarnation’s relationship to neighbors and place. This aspect of our church’s life has been shifting over the past few years. It’s something that I’m noticing in lots of conversations and lots of aspects of our church’s life.


Incarnation was planted as a neighborhood church with a particular geographic place in mind: Columbia Pike in South Arlington. We still hold office space at Greenbrier Baptist, a property in the heart of that originally envisioned neighborhood, and we rely really heavily on Greenbrier for a second site for services we can’t hold in the school. It’s also becoming a place to welcome and care for the people who live in that neighborhood, often in partnership with other organizations.


At the same time, things are changing. The long-term future of the Greenbrier building is an open question. Meanwhile, our Sunday worship has moved to Drew Elementary, in a neighborhood that is not along Columbia Pike, and we really aren’t engaged in this neighborhood outside of Sundays.


Another significant shift is the geographic range of our congregation. We aren't concentrated around a central zip code anymore. Instead, people come to Incarnation from all over Virginia, DC, and Maryland. How do we form good neighbors and stewards of the places where people actually live?


God knows what he is doing in this church, even if we don’t. And I think he is inviting us into a bit of tension as we look around and say: this is not exactly what Incarnation envisioned at its beginning. But it is good, and God is clearly working. How firmly do we hold onto that original vision and sense of place and neighbors centered on Columbia Pike? And how much do we let go, and respond to what God is actually doing?


And so I am inviting us to step back and take stock of who we are today and who God is inviting us to be as we imagine our future. My hope is that we will cultivate a strong, God-given, corporately discerned sense of how God is leading us as a church community.


When I invited us into discernment on Sunday, I also shared again the sine qua non document that the vestry wrote about 3 years ago to articulate the heart of our church. I reminded us that this sine qua non is not up for discernment; this is the essential heart of our church. Our particular expression of this heart may shift over time (in response to changes in neighbors, place, demographics, or other factors) but the heart remains the same.


The season of Lent provides a unique opportunity to pray about these questions, as our Lenten disciplines and liturgy help create space in our lives to hear from God. On Sundays, you'll have an opportunity to pray in the post-sermon silences or during the Prayers of the People; we'll have post-its and a large sheet of paper each week at the back of the sanctuary for recording anything you might be hearing from God. Throughout the week, you might weave these questions into your regular prayer practice, or your small group might take some time to listen during evening prayer. And we'll gather on Zoom for 30 minutes at 8:30pm on March 10 and 24 for a simple liturgy of prayer and discernment. I hope you'll join at least one of these gatherings!


Thank you for being a church that listens and prays. It's such a gift to be your pastor and to wait on God together.


With love,

Amy


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