photo © 2009 Robert S. Donovan | more info (via: Wylio)I love this time of year because I can sit in the sun and allow it’s warmth to penetrate my skin and thaw me from the outside in. This year, spring carries with it so much promise, hope and joy. It is a literal representation of what is happening in my own life and ministry. I feel like the ground I have been plowing for the past eight years is thawing. In some places the seeds we have sown through the ministry of Embrace Richmond are starting to take root and I even see buds forming in places I never expected would bear fruit.
The journey of Embrace can be marked by our physical locations through the years. This week we moved into our sixth site which marks for us a whole new season in our existence.
We started in late 2004 in my garage. I guess you could call that the conception period. No one, including me, knew that what we were witnessing would one day take on a life of its own.
However, by March 2005 it was time to give birth to this new baby. We incorporated and moved into our first borrowed building – Highland Park UMC. This was truly our infancy. We were completely dependent on the generosity of others. From our free space, to our volunteer labor, we were vulnerable and fragile.
In the summer of 2005, when a gun man decided to fire upon our guests, we knew it was time to stand on our own two feet and find space that was safer for ministry to really grow. It was with great fear that I signed the first lease with First Contractors and we moved to Lombardy Street. During those toddler years we hired our first part-time staff. It was as if we were learning to walk. We fell down a lot and I have a lot of scars to prove it. However, it was in our Lombardy location that Embrace Richmond found its identity.
By late 2006, we had completely out grown our little home off of Lombardy Street. We had grown confident and made a bold move to a space 5 times the size off of Sledd Street. When we selected the site we had no idea how strategic this location would be. It was right next door to CARITAS, the largest emergency shelter in Richmond, which is run by Karen Stanley, one of the top Executive Directors in the city. Our Sledd Street years were like grade school. Karen taught me a lot about running a non-profit and helped me build collaborative relationships with agencies across the city. I learned what being an effective Executive Director required and I committed myself to the task.
By the summer of 2008, the furniture bank component of Embrace had out grown me and the Sledd street space. I had found a new site off Commerce Road but the price tag was well beyond our means. Though there was always a mentoring component in our program design, the furniture component was requiring all my time and was the component that Karen Stanley was most interested in helping me expand. I was growing increasingly discontent with where Embrace was heading and was personally struggling with my own call. I realized that summer that I was not called to be an Executive Director of a furniture bank but a pastor of an urban expression of the church. I approached Karen and asked her if she would consider absorbing the furniture bank component of our program. CARITAS took over the furniture bank in the fall of 2008. We had grown one baby to the point of graduation and it was time to let it go. It took me about a year to fully transition out of a leadership role with the furniture bank, but it has been a tremendous blessing to watch it continue to grow and thrive under the direction of CARITAS.
From the time I resigned as the director of the furniture bank in the spring of 2009 through today, Embrace has been rediscovering its original call to be the holistic relational ministry that I had envisioned in 2004. Over the past year, with the publication of my first book and increasing name recognition among church leaders, I have had the blessing of doing a lot more speaking, teaching and coaching and have found that I absolutely love these opportunities. Our community development efforts in Hillside Court have grown and God has brought us the most amazing staff imaginable. Our staff has the training and experience to take the ministry model we have developed beyond Hillside and to help congregations move from the sanctuary to the streets all across this city.
I think our new location at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond marks a new season – I feel like we are going to college. In the next few years, I hope we are able to take all the lessons we have gleaned from this wild ride, discern the truths from these lessons and ultimately begin to teach the next generation of Christian leaders how to do church beyond the walls. In this new season, we will be dedicating ourselves to studying what God is doing across this country and will strive to distill what we glean and communicate it in a way that the Metro Richmond community can be blessed. In this new season, I will get to do more of what I love – read, write and teach.
I am very excited about this new season in our journey. In many ways I feel liberated. I feel like I just stepped foot into the promise land. I know the many trials and challenges of the past eight years have made me appreciate this season more than I would have had it come earlier. I also know that without the journey of the past, I would not have been ready for what lies ahead.
Thank you all for letting me take this little trip down memory lane. I needed to reflect on the past in order to more fully see the future.
Please pray for Embrace Richmond during this season of transition and for us to have the wisdom to take full advantage of future that lies ahead.