Our works of piety in pursuit of the common good

April 1st, 2016

"I’m not sure how I feel about living in this city,” said a theologically trained young adult with a passion for social justice. As a relative newcomer to Washington, DC, he shared, “It seems that Washington attracts folks who care a lot about power and what it takes to get it.” After a bit more conversation he testified, “Foundry is saving my life right now. In worship I’m reminded of what is true and where the real power dwells.” This brief Sunday morning conversation captures the beating heart of the congregation I serve.

Long credited as an activist community and as a leader for social justice within the denomination, Foundry’s stated mission includes the call to “transform the world through active service and prophetic leadership.” This call gets lived out not only through formal initiatives within the congregation (for example, ending chronic homelessness in DC, engaging faith for racial justice, working for full inclusion of LGBTQ people), but also through the vocations of Foundry’s people, many of whom were drawn to Washington with a desire to serve the common good and change the world for the better. Highly educated, deeply committed, and expertly skilled, with many participants wielding great power and authority in their workplaces, the Foundry congregation might easily become a cautionary tale for disintegrated spirituality. When there exists such a wealth of human resources and such a robust expression of the “Protestant work ethic,” there is a strong temptation toward self-sufficiency and overworked responsibility. It’s not difficult to lose perspective and begin to feel that human skill, will, and strength are the prime movers ushering in the reign of God.

Upon arriving as senior pastor, I encountered what that young man’s testimony confirms: “active service and prophetic leadership” is grounded in and fueled by deeply felt and intellectually honest communal worship. A sense of openness and surrender to the Holy Spirit regularly characterizes Sunday worship in our congregation as we meaningfully engage the biblical texts, celebrate the sacraments, pray to a God whom we know is alive and at work, and belt out our faith and hope in passionate song. Through these engaging expressions of worship, we are reminded of “what is true and where the real power dwells.” Our congregation is one mile from the White House and surrounded by institutions wielding global power—yet in simple terms we are each dearly loved children of God, challenged to keep our egos in check and encouraged by the gospel promise of God’s steadfast presence and saving activity. We remember that we are not alone and that it is up to God, not us, to save the world.

In a world that is deeply broken in profound ways, God commissions the church to take up the cause of peace, justice, and compassion for the sake of the common good. But to do all the good we can, faithfully and over the long haul, a truly holistic and integrated spirituality—one of the gifts of our
Wesleyan tradition—must be nurtured.

God alone is “good” (see Mark 10:18 and Luke 18:19). So if the “good” is what we seek in our attempts to transform the world, then staying in love with God is not an option but a requirement, whether that’s achieved through corporate worship, prayer, spiritual companionship, holy conferencing, or other acts of piety. For Foundry UMC, weekly worship is the crucial place to ground and guide our action, offering a chance to tell and be formed by the truth: “Great is thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see; all I have needed thy hand hath provided; great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!” (UMH #140)

comments powered by Disqus