Scripture: Philippians 1:1-11
Allie, an aspiring follower of Jesus,
To all the saints in Rosslyn:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I thank God for every remembrance of you, praying with joy for your partnership in the gospel from the beginning up until now. Paul begins almost every letter with words such as these. Here, on my last Sunday in this pulpit, that’s what I want to say: I thank God for you.
I arrived here in Rosslyn nine years ago almost to the day. I was 29 years old; single, at least in terms of marital status; excited to move to an actual city, or at least walking distance from one. My car had been totaled just before I left Williamsburg and so I drove my rental car up here and then my dad went with me to CarMax and helped me move in to my little apartment at the very bottom of the hill. I was excited to try my hand at being a solo pastor for the first time. I was also terrified. I told you this once before, but I texted a friend just before my first Sunday service here and told her I was so nervous I was thinking about just not going.
It’s hard to overstate how much has changed since then. Probably there’s a lot that changes for any of us in almost a decade. I stand here now on the brink of middle age, married with two kids; that Metro-accessible apartment has, like a cliché, been traded in for a house in the suburbs. I do still have the car that I bought at CarMax that day, but my dad is no longer with us. And, of course, I’m no longer terrified at the prospect of leading a church, though I am still slightly terrified each Sunday morning of what Zoom will throw my way today. And then there’s all the ways the world has changed around us in that time, from Rosslyn itself – when I moved in, McDonald’s in Central Place Plaza was still a standalone brick building – to the obvious, Covid.
And you’ve been there, for all of it. Of course, some of you have come and gone in that time, but as a church, you’ve been there.
It is not every pastor who would otherwise choose to be a part of the church where they are appointed or called. For me, though, even though this has been my job, I have always felt that you all are my real church family. You celebrated with Jon and me when we announced our engagement during Prayers of the People and then when we got married. You welcomed our kids when they were born and made clear that you valued them as part of this community. You showed up at my dad’s funeral. You prayed for me and showed me grace in hard times.
It’s not that it’s hard to give up a job, even if it’s a good and meaningful job. The hard part now is thinking about not being part of this community. It still honestly feels a little surreal to say that. And yet, I thank God not just for how you all have been the church in these past nine years, but how you have been the church for me.
I thank God for some of the small memories that will stick with me. I think of learning to use power tools for the first time on my very first ASP trip. I think of Paul, one of our community members who I first met at Wednesday morning Bible study, playing his trumpet at our Christmas Eve service. I think of baking cookies in the Fellowship Hall with our youth. I think of the times a church member surreptitiously handed me a hundred dollar bill to pass on to someone else they knew happened to be struggling. I think of Bob, bringing his bag of food for our Fellowship Hall food basket every Sunday. I think of Pam and Don building a fort out of cardboard boxes upstairs in the choir room while I worked in my office and of Divine letting Lydia help her pack bag lunches. I’ve read that the most important factor in keeping kids involved in church as they grow up is intergenerational relationships, and I can only pray that we find those in Princeton the way we have here. I think of those of you who shared your stories of God working in your lives, and who have given others permission and courage to share.
If I tried to be exhaustive with this list I would undoubtedly fall short. But the Kingdom of God is in these little moments, things that might not have even seemed big to you at the time, but they are what I will remember this community by. And I thank God for that, for a community where rich and poor and young and old and immigrant and native Arlingtonian all come together as one.
I give thanks for the ways you have allowed me to use my gifts and passions here, the ways you’ve let me experiment with different styles of sermons and sung the books of the Bible with me. I thank God, even, for the challenges that I encountered in my time here, because they’ve allowed me to grow. I remember in one of our earliest congregational brainstorming sessions about the possibilities for redeveloping our building, Pat Senyo said to me, “Maybe God sent you here for such a time as this,” and I was like, are you kidding me, I know less than nothing about any of this. Well, guess what, I do now! I think of some of the times when I was worried about not having the people we needed for something, like starting a nursery. I learned something about faith then, I think, because although I never felt any sort of calm assurance in my soul that God would provide, I just kind of kept pushing things forward anyway until we had enough volunteers to proceed, and then looking back I said, oh, I guess that’s how faith works sometimes. I thank God for the way God has answered even my unspoken prayers through you.
Paul writes to the Philippians, “I am confident that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it.” Last week, I shared some of my hopes for this congregation as I prepare to move on. I hope you will continuously and increasingly live into your collective identity as the church, the Body of Christ. I hope that you, laity, will take the reins in reaching out and serving our neighbors and speaking out for justice and making God’s presence known in this community.
Of course I would love to come back to visit in five years and see a beautiful new building, with its more obvious main entrance and its rooftop terrace and its portal to the world in the sanctuary, helping us look out on the world we pray for and serve even while we worship. But in the end, a building is just a building. You are the church. And what I really hope is that you will continue to embody the Kingdom of God in your midst as you love each other, as you welcome people through those doors from everywhere in the world and all walks of life, and as you leave through those doors again to be God’s people in the world. I thank God that there will continue to be a place in Rosslyn where people with so many different stories can come and find a home.
Next week begins a new pastoral era here at Arlington Temple as Rev. Marti Ringenbach steps in. I believe that God has some good things in store with you and Pastor Marti working together. I will intentionally fade out of the picture so that Pastor Marti has the chance to develop relationships with you all, and to discern and share her own vision for where God might be calling this church next. I’ll be busy translating ancient languages, anyway! I do that knowing that you will love and welcome her as you have loved and welcomed me, and that she will most certainly see the Kingdom of God in your midst just as I have, and probably in new ways too.
I thank God for you, Arlington Temple. Thank you for being my church, and for letting me be your pastor. I don’t know where the future may take any of us, but I know that this place and this community will continue to be a part of me, just as it is for everyone who finds a home here for a time.
And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more, that you might continue to discern together what it means to be the church in this particular time and place, even when it’s hard, and that you might live that fully, so that everyone can see the good news made flesh.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.