NOTE: This post will be updated as new information is available! Any changes will be noted below.
Our building has served us SO well throughout the pandemic. Because of the flexibility of our space, we've been able to outfit our sanctuary for live-streaming and construct our Canopy Church in the parking lot. We've taken advantage of our fence line (remember the Easter morning fence transformation during lockdown?); our front lawn (remember St. Nicholas' visit?); our driveway (remember our Advent bonfire, or our Ash Wednesday walk-up ashing?); nearby Alcova Heights Park (remember summer creek splashing? our 2nd birthday celebration?); our nursery and atrium as quiet overflow spaces, and so much more. We are beyond grateful for the gift of an endlessly adaptable space...and a flexible and creative community in each of you.
But as the weather gets colder, we won’t be able to meet outside under the canopies indefinitely, and we won't all fit comfortably in one service in the chapel. On top of all that, the AUMC building is up for sale! And while we are confident we will be able to remain tenants for the near future, we’ve decided that all these factors together means it's time to begin looking for our next worship space. For the past few months, vestry member Jenni McSwain has been heading up our efforts to explore different spaces around Columbia Pike. If you've joined us for summer canopy chats or prayer walks, you may have already joined us in prayer for prospective spaces.
So what are we looking for in a new space?
A larger space that would enable us to worship safely indoors with social distancing, good airflow, air filtering, and cleaning protocols
Ample space for kids, both in and out of the main service
A large enough space to continue holding a single worship service for the foreseeable future (after months of pandemic displacement, we want to stay together!)
A place where we can stay and grow and sink roots longer-term
A later service time. We'd originally moved to 9am to beat the summer heat, anticipating eventually holding two services at 9am & 11am in the winter. However, a single service would allow us to move to a more comfortable 10am.
Outdoor areas for gathering and playing and eating and chatting and praying and doing all the things we love to do together after the service
Particularly as we look toward a post-pandemic world, a space that enables us to be a part of our community in a meaningful way, to become good neighbors who love and serve Columbia Pike.
In other words, we are praying for a place that will enable us to worship, welcome and wonder MORE as we look to the future.
And we’ve got one prospective location we are really excited about: Randolph Elementary, just off Columbia Pike. Randolph is one of the most ethnically and economically diverse schools in Arlington: 41 different countries, 20 different languages, and 74% eligible for free or reduced lunch. Meeting in a school gives us a natural "in" to partner and serve the families at the school and in the neighborhood.
There's so much we love about the space at Randolph. First, they've offered us storage onsite, right next to where we’d setup each week, meaning that Sunday setup and takedown would likely be simpler and faster than what we currently do for the canopies (UPDATE: Randolph cannot offer us storage space, so we are exploring vans/trailers and the easiest possible setup. Fortunately, the area we will worship is accessible by ramp from the parking lot, so we still believe setup will be faster and easier than under the canopies). They’ve got a fantastic outdoor space with tables and a playground (zipline!!!!) and they back up to Doctor’s Branch Park, where neighborhood families congregate on Sundays. The indoor gym where we would meet has tested for excellent air filtration, and has multiple doors opening to the outside to let even more air through. It’s big enough to keep kids in the service on quilts and also has a large kids' room right next door when we're ready to begin separate programming. The rent at school is cheaper than what we currently pay, giving us some wiggle room to possibly maintain an office or redirect our budget (UPDATE: We have since learned about additional custodial fees related to COVID cleaning protocols, resulting in a final cost that is roughly equivalent to our current rent.) And the folks we’ve already met at Randolph have all been wonderful and excited about becoming partners.
Although Randolph is the place we're most excited about, it's not a done deal. We still have lots of outstanding questions. The biggest of those is when we would move. We’ve explored either the first Sunday in December or in January, but much depends on whether we could hold special services there — like Christmas Eve, or Amy's ordination the Sunday after Christmas. We’re also waiting to hear what the internet is like on the weekends to know what sort of virtual options are available to us, because we want to continue to make church accessible for all. And in the meantime, Jenni is still exploring other leads.
In the meantime, we will keep meeting under the canopies for as long as the weather allows. We've already endured sweltering heat and deafening cicadas, so we're confident we can bundle up, sip hot beverages, and soak up the sun for a while longer (we'll likely take down the canopies when the weather cools). Our weather policy will remain the same as it is now: when it's raining, snowing, icy, or simply too cold, we'll hold a hybrid service with limited numbers in the chapel and everyone else on zoom. No matter what or where, we will keep being flexible and creative and joyful as we meet together.
At the parish meeting, we received so many GREAT questions. Thank you for listening and thinking and asking wisely. But we know that processing a change like this can take time. So this Sunday, Oct 3, we will set up a place after the service for anyone to ask more questions or share their thoughts and ideas. It's a Donut Sunday, so grab a donut and come join us. We really want to hear from you!
If you've read this far, hooray! You've gotten all the key information, and if your brain is tired, feel free to stop here. But if you'd like a bit more food for thought about our next location, here's just one more nugget...
Several weeks ago, I (Amy) came across this passage in Eugene Peterson's The Pastor. He was described the forms of churches as cave, fortress, or tent:
"The great cathedral churches of Europe were fortress churches. They dominated the landscape and provided a center and sanctuary, protection against the barbarians, a visual statement that church defined and ruled everything around it."
"The first three centuries of Christian churches were cave churches—unobtrusive house churches and catacombs."
"Churches took the form of tents in a nomadic society, inexpensive and impermanent for a people on the move. The first biblical form of church architecture was a tent, the wilderness tabernacle."
Peterson then suggests that in "our post-Christendom society, Christians should be building tent churches, modest churches that don’t overpower the neighborhood but, rather, enter it, becoming neighbors in the neighborhood."
Incarnation has tried all three. We began as a "cave church" in the Grays' living room. We then moved to "fortress churches" (though very friendly fortresses) at Greenbrier Baptist and Arlington United Methodist. The pandemic made us nomads, a "tent church" on the move between Zoom and our canopies; we've seen that just as God met his people in the wilderness tabernacle, God has met us in our homes, on our screens, and in the parking lot behind the dumpsters.
As we consider our mission of worship, welcome, and wonder, and as we look to this next season of ministry, we are inspired by Peterson's vision for "tent churches." We are excited about how meeting in a school might allow us to enter the neighborhood and worship God there. Please pray with us and let us know your thoughts!
Amy and Liz