For many congregations, we can imagine leaving their building, losing their pastor, and wandering in a familiar, yet strange space would be daunting. In some ways it was for us. At the same time, we’d built a strong core of lay leadership. By this time, we knew how to get things done together.
If we’d learned anything it was that discernment is an ongoing process. Sure, projects, ideas, and service opportunities come and go, but the Spirit never stops working if we’re listening. We were a small, yet mighty congregation who was determined to continue serving the Arlington community.
We established a leadership team to help us discern our next steps. They were the point people who would bring ideas to the congregation. Then we would decide together what came next.
In the spring of 2017, we found ourselves back out in the community listening with our hearts. We took the lessons learned early in our journey and walked the neighborhood. As we did, we noticed something missing, green space. Sure, there were yards, but none of that was public, none of that was open to the community.
We remembered the developer was selling a portion of the land that couldn’t be used for affordable housing. The developer had a builder lined up to buy the property and create two private residences. We asked if they would be willing to sell to us instead.
It turns out the neighborhood association wanted the developer and Arlington County to preserve those lots for green space. If we were willing to buy it, then a lot of people were going to be happy.
The Spirit moves in funny ways sometimes. We’d walked away from that space and place. Now, it seemed we were being invited back. After talking through it together, the congregation unanimously agreed to buy the land.
We decided we would create a garden for everyone to enjoy. Late that spring we received the okay from presbytery to buy the land for $700,000. Early in the summer we held our first outdoor worship service there.
We often associate the Spirit with wind based on the Pentecost story. It’s hard to experience the Spirit unless we get outside the walls of the church and breathe together. In this case, our walks helped us see how the Spirit invited us to re-member our call to the community. It was a way to be a good steward of the resources we had and give back to the neighborhood.
Throughout the summer we continued to visit the garden, taking care of the space, meeting the people who used it, cleaning up the trash. It connected us to our neighborhood in a new way. We began to call it our front porch.
The movement of the Spirit can be sure and swift sometimes. Purchasing and creating the garden, our front porch to the neighborhood, meant we were coming back to Gilliam Place. Our call became clear as Arlington County, the Presbytery, and Gilliam Place wanted us to be grounded in the neighborhood.
Free from the roots of the old building, we allowed ourselves to begin to dream about how we would continue to serve our neighbors. Shortly after our first worship service in the garden, the groundbreaking for Gilliam Place took place on our new front porch. It was an exciting moment in our journey, and a calling to return.