This is part 3 of a six part series filled with some of Liz and friends’ incomplete and meandering reminiscing about the start of Incarnation!
Above: pics from our first communion class which was held at the Vicarage.
2019 begins with ALPHA!
My first encounter with the Alpha course was probably 30 years ago In London where our church regularly used it as a small group option, inviting neighbors and friends to come and have a good meal and explore questions of faith. And now, it was time for Alpha again, as the Incarnation core team decided that it would be a great framework both for our launch team to come together and get used to discussing the ‘big questions’ of faith, but also as a lovely opportunity to invite friends to come and join us. After some discussion we called the series ‘Dinner and Dialogues’, and every week our wonderful friend Esther catered a scrumptious meal, Morgan shared some of his vast supply of jokes, we watched the Alpha videos and we discussed everything from suffering to the existence of God. The Alpha course includes a weekend away towards the end of the course when a number of topics are covered, including the role and person of the Holy Spirit. This was a great opportunity for us to get out of town together - so we had a lovely weekend at Camp Highroad.
The morning we arrived there was a conflict with another booking and we landed up in February in THE coldest barn of a room with no heating. Never have I felt quite so cold when discussing the fire of the Holy Spirit…. But later, once we thawed out, we had a really fabulous weekend in the Lodge!
Morgan adds: Doing dishes together and playing together over the weekend gave us a great opportunity to get to know each other and build cohesion as a new church plant. People had been coming into the community from multiple entry points and it really built a sense of co-laboring in ministry together.
Worship, Welcome, and Wonder
Back home on Sundays we continued to meet at 5pm at Greenbrier, continuing to preach through Mark and Acts under the banner of "Walking with Jesus'. Every week, Josie set up the Atrium for the kids, and once a month we welcomed the kids in the service for "Family Sundays," lingering after the service over a potluck meal and various activities — sometimes games, sometimes making more materials for the Atrium as Josie directed us! And a highlight of 2019 was joyfully baptizing Ben at Easter and Christine in the fall.
On the third Sunday of each month, we tried to persuade EVERYONE to go out for dinner. We would head out with joy and empty tummies to overwhelm one of the many delightful restaurants along the Pike — Meaza Ethiopian and Lost Dog were particular favorites. As our numbers grew we were careful to call in advance to check if the restuarant could manage us … and some coped better than others! But it was so fun to squish into tight spaces and we laughed and ate a lot! Aah - pre-COVID clearly!
Beth helped us to sing and worship in a variety of languages — we have always hoped that new people to Incarnation would realize we want to worship in their heart language too. This also provided a foundation for us being keen to hear Scripture read in each person’s heart language and prayers to be prayed in multiple languages. How glorious it’s going to be to all worship at God’s throne in every language and tongue, with every tribe and nation! We want to anticipate that day in our Sunday worship.
Our community also made its first full turn of the church calendar together, learning rhythms of service, creativity, and beauty that would mark our worship. During Lent, we preached a sermon series on Spiritual Practices — worship, prayer, giving, fasting, and service — and the Sungs led a dinner discussion group in their home. Morgan faithfully led Lenten morning prayer every Friday at Panera in Bailey’s Crossroads. Morgan is such a natural conversationalist — he would regularly visit the various coffee houses around, where he’d sit and work on his thesis on his laptop, wearing his collar and striking up conversations with so many people. SO many good stories and conversations. We were so grateful for his example and consistent joy!
The annual Matthew 25 Gathering was hosted locally at Restoration Anglican this year - and despite So. Much. Snow. it was a deeply rich time of conversation, listening, prayer and deepening relationships with justice practitioners who work and serve across the Province. It is so good to know that we are part of a movement of people who care deeply about reaching into the margins of society and who want to see spiritual, practical and relational needs being met. I had the joy of serving on the Matthew 25 steering committee, and Incarnation has had a rich partnership with them over the years.
One of our guiding words is 'wonder,' which can lead us to being curious but also to delighting in the beauty of creation, and so joining the spring Arlington stream clean-up was a no-brainer: wellies on, black bags in hand, off we went to gather empty beer cans, random trash and the occasional bicycle from Four Mile Run. So fun to be able to do this as a whole community: from our youngest kids doing a lot of splashing upwards!
That summer, I graduated with my DMin - amaazing! We enjoyed our first church picnic at Pohick Bay and our first global trip as a small team visited our friends in West Asia. We preached summer mini-series on Psalms (by Amy) and on Haggai (by Morgan). And that fall, we took our first church camping trip to Sky Meadows, intrepidly hiking in — well, OK just one mile — but for some of us that’s a long way to carry EVERYTHING!
And we became regular volunteers at Restoration Immigration Legal Aid, not only serving quarterly meals and providing childcare at clinics, but also offering a network of support for pop-up needs for clients, particularly those with young children and those without transportation.
In the Fall our midweek small groups included sermon discussion groups, but also one on “The ABCs of Faith” covering what it means to be a Christian AND Anglican AND to explore baptism AND/OR confirmation! Quauhtli also introduced us to Q Commons and curated some great discussions on how to advance ‘the common good’ in our neighborhoods.
Becoming a 'Congregation'
Incarnation also continued to progress toward organizational benchmarks. It was time to take our next step towards ultimately having a vestry, and so in February the Incarnation Transition Team was born: David Griffin, Eric Owen, Jamie Floyd, Nancy Sung, Leigh McAfee, Liz Gray and Megan Westmoreland. Megan and Leigh served as ‘crypto-wardens’ (OK that’s not technically an Anglican term - but it seemed to fit their role). The Finance, Personnel, Hospitality, and Outreach teams formed, and the other microteams continued to think about our life together.
By September 2019, we were ready to accept our first members, and in September (one year from our launch date) we accepted our first members with bells, balloons, cake, and much rejoicing — and we've celebrated this "birthday" ever since!
Our Diocese (Diocese of the Mid Atlantic, DOMA) has a checklist of hurdles for a ‘Mission’ to leap over to be recognised as a ‘Congregation’. One of them is to have an elected Vestry, and so in September at our parish meeting we voted in our very first vestry class of six enthusiastic souls: Jeff Walton, Nancy Sung, Clayton Clark, Emily Williams, Ben Goebel and Eric Owen. How hard we worked these dear people, as they began to establish the systems beneath the day to day of church life: ensuring we had good policies and practices for child safety, managing money, caring for our resources (people and stuff) etc etc. They were thoughtful, engaged, prayerful and wise.
And then in November, the Diocesan Church Planting Committee approved our application to become a congregation (thanks mainly to Amy as she produced so many inspiring documents, explaining and demonstrating what our life as a community was like — a giant multi-paged ‘snapshot’ of everything!), and then the Bishop’s standing committee gave us the thumbs up, and then Synod voted, and YAY! we were officially a ‘Congregation’, and I transitioned from being Vicar to being Rector (and the Bishop came and laid hands on me and our team in December). This meant that we had passed criteria demonstrating that we were a sustainable, thriving, community of worshipers.
. . . And we truly did feel like we were thriving! Our community was gradually growing as people found us through friendships, conversations in dogparks or in the streets where we live. But as we approached a year at Greenbrier we were longing for a space with a greater sense of permanence and visibility, where we could set up permanent signage, invite our neighbors to events throughout the week, be in closer proximity to the Pike, and allow Josie to further develop the Atrium as our children grew. And so in December 2019 we moved to the Chapel at Arlington United Methodist Church (AUMC).
At AUMC, we had space to think about the beauty of our sanctuary and have a sense of being 'home'. We spent every weekend of November (led by Grant) cleaning, painting, taking gum off the pews, installing a/v equipment, and making ourselves thoroughly at home. And then in Advent we had our first service in the Chapel. Oh, it looked so beautiful thanks to the hard work of Mandy Sahm, Kim McKnight, and all who helped fold paper stars and hang greenery. Week by week we marveled at creation and artwork through our Advent theme, ‘Heaven and Nature Sing,’ in worship to our great and glorious God.
Amy adds: One of my favorite Incarnation memories was the day we decorated the chapel for Advent. So many hands helped to fold the paper stars we hung from the ceiling and helped assemble greenery wreaths laden with symbolism (Kim's creative vision!). After assembling and hanging decorations, the Sahms prepared a German picnic of grilled sausages on the front lawn and invited a passing neighbor to join us, a day laborer who spoke little English. Erin served as impromptu interpreter and we shared stories over our German meal, ending with our neighbor praying blessing over us in Spanish.
Around the same time, Morgan was discerning a call to church plant, and we announced this development to the congregation in a December letter.
Morgan adds: In September, I began a church planting residency program in Arkansas that I would fly to every other week. I began praying about where God was calling my family to plant a church while I continued to cultivate my calling as a priest and future church planter as I served at Incarnation.
The year ended in singing — carols inside the Chapel and outside on the lawn, shouting out our praises and our desire for God to be known in 22204 — and a glorious Christmas Eve service with a record number of guests squeezed into the pews.
Next week… 2020!
In other news
Ash Wednesday, March 2: join us at Greenbrier Baptist Church at 7am or 7pm as we step deliberately into Lent. Come. Pray. “Remember that You Are Dust, and to Dust You Shall Return.”
Anglican fact: we do not say or sing the word 'alleluia' during Lent - this Sunday make sure you appreciate the glory of 'alleluias' before we go into the alleluia fast of Lent! It's also our last Sunday using the Kenyan liturgy for a while - so remember to send all your fears and doubts and the devil's works to the cross with all your energy this week.
We continue to monitor Arlington Public School's guidelines over masks, as well as referring to the CDC data and our Governor's orders. We will do all we can to shepherd you, our community, smoothly into the new normals that lie ahead. We recognise that this is choppy water for many, and so we would urge you to pay attention to your body, listen to the ways you are reacting and feeling and reach out to Amy or myself if you want to ask questions, talk, offer suggestions or process!
With great delight as always — I invite you to add your anecdotes below and if you want to chat or walk or pray, let me know!