Celebrating 5 years of The District Church

tdc launch day 1

I took this picture on September 19, 2010, when I walked through the doors of the cafeteria at Capital City Public Charter School and felt like I was home.

It was the first public gathering of The District Church — 48 people and two kids showed up. It was a testament to the strange and marvelous way that God works; we’d grown a lot in just four months from a small group of about a dozen folks, none of whom had ever intentionally started a church before. Little did we know what was to come out of the faithfulness of Aaron and Amy Graham in responding to God’s call to plant a church in DC.

I found this video from 2011, where I share some of how God led me to be a part of this community I’ve called home for the last few years:

Yesterday, we celebrated our fifth anniversary. Five years of learning how to follow God better, how to love others better, how to be more like Jesus. Five years of doing life alongside new friends, old friends, dear friends, and family. Five years of seeing God’s faithfulness and God’s Spirit doing far more than we could ever have done or even imagined on our own.

Five years has seen a vast amount of change even in my own life:

  • my job description has changed from Leadership Resident to Associate Pastor to East Side parish pastor to Pastor of Teaching and Formation;
  • I’ve been ordained, baptized folks, and married folks;
  • I met Carolyn, we got engaged, married, bought a house, got a dog (living into our Jeremiah 29 commission? Next up: plant a garden!).

And what I thought would be a year-long internship has become my home for as long as God has me here.

I’m so unbelievably grateful for God’s grace in my own life. And even more so in the lives of those I’ve been privileged to get to know over these last five years; whether they’ve been passing through DC or whether they’ve put down their roots here, countless folks have chosen to throw in their lot with the rest of us, desperately daring to believe God is still at work in our city.

Let me share with you our most recent (5th Anniversary Edition) Annual Report, another testament to God’s faithfulness and the power of God’s Spirit:

Here’s to all that’s gone before and all that’s still to come. Thanks be to God.

Where is God in suffering, anxiety, and depression?

My good friend and brother-in-ministry Aaron Cho is one of the pastors at Quest Church in Seattle. He preached this weekend from the book of Job on suffering and delivered such a powerful word that I’m leaving it here for you.

Meanwhile, at The District Church this last Sunday, Aaron Graham (our lead pastor) preached on “Overwhelmed: The Fight Against Anxiety and Depression.” Too often our churches don’t know how to address mental illness — but we have to bring it out in the open and disarm it of its power. You can listen to that podcast here.

Overwhelmed

The vision of The District Church

Aaron preached this Sunday on the vision of The District Church, and it was for me both a great reminder of what God’s already done (and what we are thankful for) and an inspiring look forward to what we feel like God is leading us into.

Vision Sunday 2014Some quotable quotes (my paraphrase, in some cases):

Vision not birthed in tears quickly turns to pride. Have you wept over our city?

Ask for God’s favor. But remember that God’s favor is not given for our benefit but for those in need.

We are called to lead by serving.

We don’t have as much of a membership process at The District Church as we have an ownership process.

If you want to know what The District Church is about, give it a listen.

Also, just a reminder, we’ll have the amazing John M. Perkins preaching this coming Sunday — come join us at 9:30am, 11am, or 5pm. More info here.

JohnPerkins_landscape-1

Gordon Cosby (1918-2013)

GordonCosbyGordon Cosby, founder of Church of the Savior, a church which began in our DC neighborhood in the 1940s, passed away yesterday morning.

Four years ago, just before I moved to DC, Church of the Savior was featured in a Washington Post article as its time as a church came to a close–“Activist D.C. Church Embraces Transition in Name of Its Mission.” Over its sixty years of existence, though it never grew to more than 200 people, the church had an amazing way of birthing communities of people that cared about their neighborhood: Christ House, Jubilee Housing, Jubilee Jobs, Potter’s House, Christ House, Mary’s Center, Samaritan Inns, to name just a few of the dozens of ministries that were created to see more of the kingdom of God in the neighborhoods of Adams Morgan, Mount Pleasant, Columbia Heights, and beyond.

Jim Wallis, my old boss at Sojourners, once described the Church of the Savior as having had “more influence around the country than any other church I know about.” Without Gordon and Mary Cosby’s commitment to Christ and to our neighborhood in decades past–long before it was a safe or popular place to be–Jim and Sojourners would not be who they are, our neighborhood wouldn’t be what it is, and neither The District Church nor I would be who we are.

I had a chance to meet and pray with Gordon last year (with Aaron). It was amazing–and amazingly humbling–to be in the presence of such a good and faithful servant, and I’m grateful that I got the opportunity to spend some time with him.

Thank you, Gordon, for your life and your faith; I walk in the path you carved and I follow in the footsteps you’ve left. Rest in peace.

Others have also written (far-more-eloquent) tributes to him, including:

Why The District Church?

Hey friends,

Having shared some of my personal journey in Washington, DC: Chapter 2, I thought that you might appreciate knowing a little more about the church. (Let me warn you now: this email is long. Like, really long.)

A Church for the City

At The District Church, we want to be centered around and excelling in worship, community and justice; we want to be a church that seeks to love God, to love our neighbors, and to love the city to which God had called us. If you look on the church’s website (www.districtchurch.org), one of our first descriptors is “A Church for the City.”

This vision and passion is built upon God’s words to the Israelite people in exile in Babylon in the 6th century BC: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7).

Washington, DC is a fascinating city. On the one hand, it is a city rich in culture and history, a city to which movers and shakers from all over the world come, a city that leads the country in terms of life expectancy, education and income.

And yet it is also a city with devastating poverty, a struggling public education system, and an HIV infection rate higher than many sub-Saharan African nations—it’s estimated that one in every twenty adults in DC has the infection.

People come to DC to change the country, to change the world … and yet changing the city is often overlooked. We want to be a church that seeks to make a genuine, tangible difference in the place to which we have been called.

Moreover, community is hard to find in a city whose transience is so ingrained by the political cycles; in this context, we want to be a church that provides such to people. People may—and will—leave DC because God calls them to other things, but we don’t want people leaving DC because they couldn’t find a faith community and friends.

What We’ve Been Doing

As “A Church for the City,” we’ve been doing outreach into the neighborhood, including:

  • Cardozo HS Footballmaking connections with schools in the neighborhood, including cheering on one of local high schools at their football games with Young Lifers;
  • Central Union Missionserving at Central Union Mission last week;
  • sponsoring a Christmas tree for Columbia Heights, and organizing a tree lighting, complete with alternative Christmas marketplace. We’ve already got the support of the local councilmember, so we’re just working on getting a tree and lights!

In short, things are happening, and we’re super excited!

Prayer Updates and Asks

Your thoughts and prayers have been appreciated. To recap:

  1. Aaron and I have been figuring out job responsibilities, schedule and routine;
  2. I’ve applied for a couple of part-time jobs, as well as giving my résumé to friends at faith-based non-profits in case project/consultancy work becomes available; and
  3. I’m still (happily) ensconced in the Grahams’ dark (important when you’re a light sleeper like me) and warm (important when winter starts rolling in) basement.

Moving forward, I’d appreciate prayer for the following:

  1. For continued development of the job, and particularly for discipline and discernment on my part. It’s easy for me to get carried away doing work that I love, but I need to be consciously drawing boundaries and taking time off, otherwise I’m gonna burn out real soon!
  2. That fundraising continues apace (more below), that the church is able to purchase a house in the area to serve as a community outpost of sorts (which I would be able to stay in, which in turn would reduce the amount that I need to raise), and/or that a part-time job works out.
  3. That we continue making inroads into the community—it’s exciting to begin building some good relationships with folks in the neighborhood, and we want them to continue!
  4. For me on December 12 since that’s the date that I’ll be preaching for the first time (ever)! I’m starting to get really excited about it, and will post a link to the audio when it becomes available in a few weeks.

Support Update

The support has been slowly and steadily rolling in, and I’ve now raised about 33% of what I need for the year (November to November). To put this into context, I’m looking to raise about $2,500 per month (or $30,000 for the year), which includes rent, utilities, health insurance, food, transportation … everything, really! Through a combination of monthly and one-time gifts, I’m now at just over $10,000 for the year, which is pretty phenomenal for just a month of support raising!

Thanks to you all, whether you’ve given, committed to give in the coming months, or been willing but unable to give; your support and encouragement has been invaluable to me.

The next step for me is to ask each of you to connect me with somebody you think would be able, interested and willing to support me; I’ll be emailing again soon to follow up with this!

Thanks again, friends. Happy Thanksgiving (if you celebrate it)!

Peace,

Justin.

Previous installments:

  1. Washington, DC: Chapter 2 (October 11, 2010)
  2. Beginning November (and the Leadership Residency) (November 1, 2010)