Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister



State of the Church: “Jesus is Knocking”

Sunday, November 15, 2009



Revelation 3:14-22


Rev. Dean Snyder


Today is my annual state of the church sermon.


I want to say a particular word of thanks and gratitude to our church councils. Led by our congregational council, our six councils working together as a connectional table have developed 5-year goals to take us through our 200th anniversary in the year 2014.


This is the culmination of 4 years of study and work. Last year we developed our statement of call and our key scripture which is on our bulletin cover.


This year we have 5-year goals which we will now work to develop into action plans.


I didn’t want to encourage you to read during my sermon, so members of the congregational council will hand out copies of the 5-year goals after the service and they will be available upstairs to chat with you.


There are four goals:


  1. Reaching more people through our worship, opening our doors wider;


  1. Ripening our fruit, developing more community among us, more learning, more fellowship;


  1. Transforming our world through mission and advocacy and prophetic leadership; and


  1. Doing a better job of supporting our ministries.


I hope you pick up a copy of the goals and study them.


I care about all of our mission and ministry, but we are very fortunate to have a talented and committed staff. We have a very strong staff.


I care about transcendent worship, but Dee and Stanley now plan, prepare and coordinate our worship and music. They are gifted and talented in worship and music. I trust them to prayerfully organize our worship. And Dee is working with Paul Nixon to plan our new Sunday night gathering. Dee and Paul have the skills to run with it.


I care about challenging study for all ages. I care a lot about our children and our youth. But Theresa Thames-Lynch is on it. She is a self-starter. She started as our minister to children and family and is now coordinating all of our education and discipleship programs. Mark Schol is working with our youth. I can trust T and Mark to make sure we offer challenging study for all ages. Lakisha Lockhart, our Racial Ethnic Fellow, is helping us become more ethnically inclusive.


I care about us being a caring community. But Dee and Bob McDonald are on top of this.  They are working hard to build more and more caring ministries and working at making sure everybody is invited to be included and engaged in our congregation.


I care deeply about mission, but Jana Meyer is a mission dynamo. She is everywhere at the same time doing everything to make mission happen. Katy Wheat worked with Jana for the past two years as our US-2 missionary, she did amazing work. Now Amihan Jones is here and plunging in. I don’t know if you know that someone who lives in Texas has been giving us $20,000 a year to underwrite our US-2 young adult missionary program because they believe in the mission we do here. Our donor prefers not to have her name mentioned but we are very grateful to her.


Mission is in good hands at Foundry.


Ed Koch is our controller and getting our financial systems working well, Julia Sanders is brand new in our office and getting our office functions under control. We are looking for a COO to oversee the operations side of the church as you’ll see in the Focus. I know we will find the right person because I asked Adele Hutchins a month ago to pray that we would find the right person for this position so I know we will. Katy Wheat is helping us with development. Alan Zabel spends so much time fixing our building he might as well be on staff here. Peter DeGroote is here to keep things moving while we search for a COO.


I hope you treat the staff list on the back of your bulletin as a prayer list. We have the best nursery attendants anybody will find anywhere. We have Richard doing our signing (he is always dependable). We have Ken at our sound board. Ken loves Foundry Church. Rosa coordinates the coffee hour. Rosa had this stole made for me in El Salvador. We have our evening and weekend receptionists, Thomas our custodian.


We have a talented and committed staff. So here’s the question ….the question is what is there left for me to do?


So I’ve been asking where I am led and called to focus my energy during the next five years, and I’d like to share my thinking about this with you this morning.


I have four big holy audacious goals for the next five years. I have come to these within the context of what our councils have done to develop congregational goals and all the work that has been done on our statement of call and key scripture over the past four years.


As I’ve talked with Jane about these at home, she has told me that one of the four is not like the others and that she thought it really didn’t fit, so I am going to mention that goal first and then move on.


We need to fix up our building. Three years ago we did some work on the building but we have lots more to do. We have two generations of deferred maintenance to deal with. We have wires inside our walls that absolutely need to be replaced, we need a new elevator, we have space we are not using well, bathrooms that will never look clean, floors that need replacing, stained glass that needs to be preserved. We have lots of work we need to do on this building.


Someone told us not long ago that when he came into our building during the week, he assumed we were a dying church based on the condition the building is in. When he comes here on Sunday he sees a vital congregation. But that is not the impression our building gives.


The councils’ 5-year goals include holding a capital campaign in 2012. If we have a successful capital campaign in 2012 we can start some of the work by 2014, our 200th anniversary.


I’ve started to pray that Foundry congregation members will make lots of money between now and 2012. Lord, we pray that this congregation will experience salary increases and new sources of income and resources, that they will have lots of money by 2012 and we also pray that you lay it upon everybody’s heart to want to give all that money away… or at least lots of it. Amen.


This is our house. People are not going to trust us when we talk about taking care of the earth and taking care of the community if we do not take care of our own house. We’ve got housekeeping to do. That is the one focus Jane says doesn’t fit with the others, but we’ve got to do it.


So here are the other three:


First, we can end chronic homelessness in Washington DC by 2014. Working together as a congregation, working with other congregations in the city and other people of good will, we can end chronic homelessness by 2014.


We need 2,500 units of permanent supportive housing to end chronic homelessness in Washington, DC. We already have about 600 since we began this campaign. All we need to do this is 19 million dollars in the DC budget each year through 2014. That’s 19 million dollars in a 9 billion dollar budget. To end homelessness. And, over the long haul, permanent supportive housing is actually cheaper than shelters, cheaper than people using hospital emergency rooms, cheaper by far than prison.


I think it is cheaper than what happens to our souls when we walk past people sleeping on benches and church steps at night. I think something bad happens to our souls when we stop noticing or caring that people in our city are living on the streets.


I remember when this first began. When I first started out in ministry you didn’t see people living on the street. There were flop houses and there were missions and SROs on skid row where people rented a bed for a few dollars, but you did not see people sleeping on the streets and in doorways the way we do now.


I remember being aghast when this started. And the majority of the people who were chronically homeless were people who are either mentally ill or who suffer the illness of addiction or both. They were ill. And they still are.


This started on my watch. When I started out in ministry it wasn’t this way. I was a minister of Jesus Christ and I let this happen. I served Christian churches that let this happen.


I intend to do everything in my power to stop it before I hang up my alb and stole.


There are people we know because they have come to our Walk-In Mission for help who are already living radically changed lives as a result of permanent supportive housing… people whom we thought would never find stability and they have.  


I intend to talk about ending homelessness again and again, to work with you and other congregations and other pastors, and Jack Evans and Laura Zeilinger at the city Permanent Supportive Housing Work Group. 


When I began in ministry if you saw a person living in the street people would say: “We’ve got to do something. We can’t let somebody live on the street.” The very idea was inconceivable. Anybody else remember? What has happened to us that now we pass somebody in the street and hardly notice? We can end chronic homelessness in Washington DC by 2014.


Number 2. I feel led to focus time and energy on opening the church’s doors wider to people who have given up on church because of un-Christlike ways the church has acted. There are people who reject church not because they reject Jesus but because the church has not represented Jesus well.   


A few Sundays ago a team of Foundry volunteers did a two-minute survey of people in our neighborhood during our worship services. They got 88 people to respond to the survey. It is not a scientific study but I found the results fascinating.


One of the questions the survey asked was “What is the most important thing that churches need to remember?” Let me read you some of the responses.


  • To be open.
  • God welcomes and loves everyone, regardless of who, how they choose to worship, and regardless of whether we can forgive them and accept them.
  • Inclusivity.
  • They’re not perfect either.
  • Don’t judge others.
  • Their historical mistakes—slavery, etc.
  • Open heartedness.
  • Inclusivity and affirmation of all people—all religions.
  • One message doesn’t have to be the right message.
  • Preaching true Christian values (tolerance, love).
  • Love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Tolerance.
  • Importance of tolerance.
  • Respect all religious practices and beliefs.
  • Do unto others as you would have them do to you.
  • Be open, nimble and responsive.
  • Not to judge.
  • Do not judge.
  • Love everyone.
  • Be as open to all as possible.
  • Welcome more people.
  • Help people.
  • Avoid being evangelical.
  • Try to be religious.
  • Accepting diverse views.
  • To listen.
  • To be open minded.
  • Not to preach.


What are the assumptions behind those statements, do you think? What do those folk assume about us? Why do you think people told us over and over again that they thought the most important thing churches needed to hear was not to judge?


The church has not always done a very good job of representing Jesus. People have felt judged, they’ve been told not to ask questions, not to disagree, not to think, not to be creative, not to be sexual, not to be alive, not to be themselves.


There are people who, no matter what you or I say or do, when they come into a room with pews and an organ, they will hear negative messages from their past.


They carry so much negative experience with them that anything that feels like traditional church to them won’t work.


This is part of the reason that we will be doing our new Sunday night gathering upstairs with no pews, no organ, and no pulpit. We’ll sit around café tables. Instead of a sermon the way I do it down here, there will be dialogue and discussion. It will be pretty much the same basic content but it will be more of a conversation. I’ll wear running shoes, jeans and my India Pale Ale T-Shirt.  


The image we usually think of from Revelation of Jesus knocking on the door is an image of Jesus knocking on the door of our hearts but what Revelation is really talking about is Jesus knocking on the door of our churches.


I think there are people who belong to Christ that the church has lost because of its message of judgment, narrow-mindedness and conformity. We will try to connect with some of those folk in our Sunday night gathering up in the Fellowship Hall. If that doesn’t work we’ll start a service in Madam’s Organ or somewhere else.  


I feel led these next five years to do whatever we need to do to reconnect with people who are drawn to Jesus but who have been turned off from church. They are Christ knocking at our door.


Number 3. The United Methodist Church’s official position that says “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” was put into the United Methodist Book of Discipline in 1972, the year I graduated from seminary and served my first full-time appointment. This happened on my watch and I intend to do everything possible to fix it on my watch.


This one is tough because it is so hard to see the way ahead. We have worked so hard for so long to change the United Methodist Church and the progress doesn’t feel anywhere commensurate with the effort.


I’ll be honest. I can’t see the way anymore. I can’t see how we will get to where we need to go.


I can’t see it but I do believe this: if we continue to work, if we continue to educate, to legislate, to agitate, to protest, to dialogue, to love… a breakthrough will come. I think it is going to be a breakthrough that will surprise us and I am believing it will happen during the next five years. 


I don’t know what it will be but I believe it will happen.


Did you know that Rosa Parks was not the first African-American to get arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus in the South to a white person?  Irene Morgan was arrested in 1946. Sarah Louise Keys was arrested in 1955. Nine months before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin refused to move from her seat on the same bus system.


Rosa Parks was not the first, but for some reason nobody knows when she did it there was a breakthrough. No one could have known it in advance.


In 1964 African-American Methodists had been working for 24 years to end the central jurisdiction—the structure of segregation in the Methodist Church. They had educated, they had dialogued, they had organized, they had legislated, they had protested. Then during the 1964 annual conference Methodists were voting on a resolution to merge with the Evangelical United Brethren Church. A young reserved delegate from west Texas got up to the microphone and made an amendment to the merger resolution saying that the Methodist Church should not take the structures of segregation into the merged church, and the resolution won. It was a breakthrough. No one would have ever predicted it would happen. By the way, the young reserved delegate who made that resolution was William Astor Kirk, our own Bill Kirk.


There is a story in the book of Judges. In the story God send the Israelites into battle against the Benjaminites. The Israelites lost the battle. Twenty-two thousand Israelites died in that battle. In a battle God sent the Israelites to fight. The Israelites mourned and wept that night.  


The next day God sent the Israelites to fight against the Benjaminites again. The Israelites wept before the Lord and they inquired of the Lord, “Must we go up against the Benjaminites again?” The Lord told them to go into battle again. And they lost again. 18,000 Israelites died.


The Israelites wept and mourned and asked the Lord not to send them into battle again. The Lord said, “Go up, for tomorrow I will give them into your hands (Judges 20: 19-48).”


Sometimes God sends us into battles we will lose. Sometimes we lose the battle again and again. There are casualties. We weep and mourn and ask God to not send us into battle anymore. I don’t know why God sends us into battles we will lose.


But then God says, “Go up one more time, for tomorrow I will give them into your hands.”


There will be a breakthrough. I know we are tired. We are grieved, but tomorrow God will give them into our hands.


Please read our goals. Please think about fixing up our building. Think about ending homelessness.  Think about opening our doors to people who belong to Christ but don’t know it because the church has not represented Christ well. Think about a breakthrough in the United Methodist Church.


We will need your help. Your time, your talent, your resources. To do what we have set out to do we will need a 10 percent increase in our 2010 budget. Times are tough for some of you; some of you will not be able to increase your pledge.


So some of us will need to increase our pledges more than 10 percent. Some of us who have never pledged before, will need to pledge for the first time and to pledge generously.


Our stewardship ministry team has prepared a yellow sheet with information for you to look at. Please take this home with you and read it this week.


Pray and think about it, and come back next week when we will talk about the spirituality of giving. Thank you for your kind attention.