How do we faithfully live into 4th century creeds, surrounded by 19th century musical and liturgical traditions, in a 21st century context? It’s true, the exact compounds that go into this alchemy are specific to St. Paul’s, an Anglo-Catholic parish snuggled on a shady stretch of K Street in Northwest DC. But while St. Paul’s may pride itself on its differences from our fellow Episcopal parishes–incense! Stained glass! Marian altars! Solemn Evensong!–the disconnect between our parish and the wider community is sadly common. And the root question–how we can be faithful to who Christ has called us to be, while also mindful of what He is already doing in the lives of our neighbors?–is also common to Christians at all times and places.
So we’ve assembled a team that represents not just our parish but our neighborhood, Foggy Bottom, writ large. Some of us are young, some of us are old, and some are old but would rather not think of ourselves that way, thank you very much. One is ordained. Four of us have law degrees (and one other will, someday). And four of us actually live in the neighborhood–which means that our team is more representative of 25th and K Streets than our parish.
Appropriately enough, we started with the physical and tangible. On a cold and rainy November morning, we led a contingent of parishioners around the boundaries of our parish. We were surprised and delighted that the crunchy tan gravel of the C&O Canal, the gleaming alabaster steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and, most of all, the charming brick rowhouses are all ours to tend, the people inside them all ours to discover and celebrate.
As the weather grew colder, we sensibly retreated indoors, to redirect our focus from the tangible diorama of our city streets to who exactly lived in these places. We poured over demographic reports telling us about our neighbors’ age, race, income, occupation, preferred social media–you name it, we have it. The sheer volume of information seemed, at times, overwhelming, even scandalous. Should we really know this much about our neighbors?
Then again, did Jesus really need to know that the woman at the well had been married five times (John 4:18)? Knowledge is the key to intimacy. As winter rolled into spring, and as spring has ripened into summer, we’re still trying to learn as much about our neighbors as possible. We’ve gone on more walks around our neighborhood. We’re creating avatars to represent the ‘average’ resident of Foggy Bottom (not an easy task–you try aggregating a college student with a retired person!) And we’re considering some goals for the coming year, ways that we can get out of our heads and open our doors to those around us. We’ve seen there’s a lot to harvest. But we need laborers–in our parish and beyond (Matthew 9:37).
Parishioner, St. Paul’s, K Street
Digging into the Work is an on-going series reported by Tending Our Soil congregations as they implement some of the practical steps to growing in strength as vital bearers of God’s love in the world. St. Paul’s, K Street’s experience with getting to know their mission field is the first of the series.