|Why is this bridge painted red?|
Magnolia Plantation and Gardens in Charleston, S.C.
I prayed about Aldersgate's situation for days before I met with the district superintendent. I prayed that God would speak to me through our conversation, and that God would grant me the grace to accept what I heard. I felt pretty sure I knew what I would hear.
I was fairly confident that I either would get a "no," or the D.S. would like the idea of Aldersgate merging with a big church, bringing along our millions to bless the ministries of that church.
By this time, the value of Aldersgate's property had blown up to millions in my mind. That's how much the members felt the property was worth. The building sits in a primo location in Chapel Hill, where property in general is scarce and pricey.
The district superintendent and I met in a coffee shop in Chapel Hill. I admit to missing the days of having a private district office in which to meet. Ah, well.
I told her about light rail -- how construction would disrupt the only street that provides access to the church building, how the elevated train would practically side-swipe the church building, and how the congregation probably would not survive the construction phase.
We discussed the two options I had taken to church leaders, assuming the property could be sold: the house-church or a merger with a large, healthy church. I told her church leaders were open to both. I waited for the "no" or the cautious enthusiasm for a merger. I got neither.
She liked, she actually liked, the idea of a house-church. I had to pick my chin up off the floor, and I had a weird feeling in my gut about all the praying I had done that God would speak to me through our conversation. Was God speaking?
My surprise is defensible. Despite the repeated message from on high that churches and pastors should be "nimble," creative, and take risks, the United Methodist beast of a bureaucracy is anything but nimble, and does not tend to support "risky, creative" (read: "cockamamie") ideas. An elderly, declining congregation becoming a house-church is a fantastical concept. Ridiculous, even. Furthermore, I could not uncover the existence of a single United Methodist house-church despite focused Internet searches. Would the powers-that-be really allow us to risk millions of dollars on this?
Actually, the D.S. did not believe Aldersgate's property was worth millions. Light rail probably would devalue the property, she said, which likely wasn't worth as much as everyone thought it was worth even without light rail. Any potential buyer would know about the light rail plans. I told her we would get a commercial market analysis done of the property's value.
That day in the coffee shop, I laid out a compelling vision of a U.M. house-church and intentional living community. The D.S. liked all of it, especially the idea of a focus on healing and hospitality. She suggested I contact the dean of Duke Divinity School, Elaine Heath, who was interested in the concept of intentional community living.
A big door swung open that day. It was such a big door I almost panicked -- What the heck am I doing? I swore I would never do this again!