|East Tenth UMC has some really striking old stained|
glass in its 1911 structure. The simplicity of the old
sanctuary invites contemplation and reverence.
The work I have committed myself to in leading Near East Area Renewal is top priority for me, but the fact that NEAR is developing affordable housing and building community relationships within St. Clair Place--the neighborhood in which East Tenth UMC is located--creates good synergies. Both keeping the two roles separate and working the angles of them together when appropriate is a fun challenge.
I've been following the full range of Sunday by Sunday readings from the Revised Common Lectionary and preaching from one of the texts. I'd forgotten how intriguing and fun this can be. Each week is an adventure as I let the texts work on me through the course of my daily work in the community. Throughout the summer and early autumn, I've preached from the Old Testament stories in Genesis and Exodus. They naturally reflect on the history of salvation and the liberating acts of God that create opportunities for community.
These are lovable and caring people. On the one hand, disparate, few, and somewhat fragile; on the other hand, steady, informed, and with a persistent sense of belonging. My sense is that they've hung in there through an unusually high series of pastoral changes and unusually diverse range of pastors. I'd like to think that I could offer them a long-term pastoral tenure, even as part-time, but we'll take it one year at a time. First things first.
I've been fascinated by East Tenth since my days of serving at Shepherd Community in the 1980's. East Tenth represented to me a church that "gets" loving its community and neighbors. It still does. I've enjoyed friendship across the years with its 1990's pastor Darren Cushman-Wood (now Senior Pastor at North UMC). I've enjoyed my numerous opportunities to preach at East Tenth when its pastors have been away. I never imagined serving as pastor of this historic urban neighborhood congregation.
My sense of the East Tenth Street UMC community is that it's life and future is connected intimately with it being turned inside out in neighborly love in the larger Near Eastside community. It's own internal life is limited, but it's direct and indirect reach into the community is rich. I imagine a spiritual formation that reflects an historic Wesleyan ethos and first-generation Methodist practice of social holiness and service to low-income and at-risk neighbors.
At the same time, I am anxious to initiate a few home-based small groups or clusters that will reflect something of the class meetings that also historically defined and catapulted Methodism to its earlier effectiveness. Accountability and encouragement within a group of 8-12 people meeting weekly is a powerful thing. We'll see how that develops over the next six months.
In all, I've clearly bitten off more than I can chew. I cannot invest the time I feel is needed to turn some corners that need to be turned. I accepted the assignment thinking I could help the church remain viable and grow as one of the last mainline congregations on the Near Eastside. There is a slew of new neighbors in St. Clair Place to consider. New folks are attending church steadily and core church folks are clearly and naturally expressing care in the nearby community. This is promising to me. I hope growth and renewal continues. For now, I'm just happy to be reconnected and serving. After being on the bench or sidelines for a few years, I think it's good for my own soul.
If you're not doing anything on Sundays at 10:45 am, you might enjoy what we're up to at East Tenth.
John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA