If you have read my book, you know Embrace Richmond started with me asking my neighbors the question, “If you could do anything for God and knew you would not fail, what would you do?” At that time, I drew a picture of a bus with a cross on top. It was mobile ministry bus taking the dreams of my suburban community into the city and connecting it with the dreams of our urban sisters and brothers. In hindsight, I kind of wish I would have drawn a stationary building instead of something with wheels! Since its inception, Embrace Richmond has been a ministry on the move – both literally and figuratively. We have been housed five locations in seven years and we are not done yet.
It is time again for us to say farewell to one home and embrace the next phase of our journey. On March 1st, we will say good-by to our home off Commerce Road which we have been privileged to share with the CARITAS Furniture Bank, Homeward and The Healing Place for the past two and a half years. While we are sad to leave our friends and partners, we are very excited about our new home at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. In some ways, we have come full circle. As I shared in my convocation message at BTSR in the fall, Embrace Richmond grew out of the rich theological foundations laid by my seminary experience. While BTSR will be the sixth physical address for Embrace Richmond it was the first spiritual home for the ministry.
This move is both a physical change but also reflective of what God has done over the past year. We believe that this move will do far more than provide a roof over our head but will set us on a new course: A course that more fully aligns us with our goal of strengthening communities by mobilizing people of faith in works of service.
One of the greatest privileges I have had over the past year is the opportunity to teach Christians solid, biblically grounded practices around “neighboring.” As my CFA coach, Jay Van Gronigan, pointed out so much of our training as Christians both in seminaries and sanctuaries focuses on the first portion of the great commandment – loving God with all our heart, mind and soul. There is almost no training available for people of faith around the second portion of the great commandment – loving our neighbors as ourselves. So much of what goes on under the title of “missions” is more about the needs of the church and the giver than it is about truly loving those in need as ourselves. As I have had a chance to visit with pastors, particularly those who are planting new churches, it is this kind of learning that they are hungry for.
So how will this move impact us? It has forced us to make a firm commitment to our Hillside friends. Effective March 1st, we will open up a satellite location in the Hillside Court community which will be staffed by Embrace team members from 11:00-2:00, Tuesday through Thursdays. During the increased hours, we will be offering new projects focused on health, employment and youth. More information about this program expansion will soon appear on the Embrace Richmond website. Our goal is that by September 2011, this Hillside portion of our ministry will be fully operated by Hillside residents and that it will serve as a connecting place for at least half the Hillside households.
At our BTSR headquarters we will focus on recruiting and training the next generation of pastoral leaders and laity. Having such close proximity to BTSR, Union Presbyterian Seminary, J Sargent Renalds Brook Road Campus as well as Virginia Union University will significantly increase our ability to recruit and train mentors to serve in our community based programs as well as help prepare individuals to serve in other parts of our city and through other ministries. We will be conducting future Unity Works sessions at this new location and are hoping to offer a class on community development at some point in the future through BTSR or one of the other schools who are a part of the theological consortium.
With the successes in connecting with the residents of Hillside using an Asset Based Community Development model, we are hoping we can help other individuals and congregations develop their own ABCD based ministries in other communities across the city and ultimately across the state of Virginia. We are planning to have an ABCD training in the month of May. This training will be conducted by Jay Van Gronigan the founder and Executive Director of Communities First Association, an organization dedicated to equipping churches for community based ministry across the country using ABCD principals.
Through our affiliation with Communities First Association, we have been blessed to catch a glimpse of what God is doing across this country as Christians learn to be good neighbors and learn to walk in solidarity with the materially poor. We have seen God doing the same work here in our own city and hope that we can play a small role in fueling this exciting movement of God.