I’m on a staff mission trip this week, right here in the City of Richmond.
We had first talked about going to New Orleans, to assist in the endless, ongoing recovery efforts following Hurricane Katrina, but then—because of the economy—we talked about going somewhere a little closer and more affordable, like West Virginia. Finally we decided to stay right here in Richmond, believing there is plenty of mission work to be done in our own city.
We were right about that.
This “mission trip” ties in perfectly with one of our regular rituals. You may not know this, but at the close of each staff meeting we stand around the table, join hands, and say the Lord’s Prayer. But when we get to that part that says, “on earth, as it is in heaven,” we say, “in Richmond, as it is in heaven.” It’s what I’ve been saying to the staff from the beginning, that I believe Jesus was trying to establish God’s kingdom on earth and that he called some disciples to help him do that. When they asked him to teach them to pray he said, “Pray that God’s kingdom would come, that God’s will would be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” And so I see it as our role—as a church and as a staff—to help Jesus bring heaven to earth. That’s why we pray at the end of our staff meetings, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, in Richmond, as it is in heaven.”
This week we are putting hands to our prayers.
Associate Pastor Steve Blanchard has organized the week so that we spend some time working at the church, some time working in the neighborhood, some time working in the poorer parts of the city, and some time working with refugees from the other side of the world. It really is a “Jerusalem-Judea-Samaria-and-to-the-ends-of-the-earth” kind of experience. So far it has involved a good bit of cleaning, painting, and heavy lifting, but it has also involved opportunities for the staff to work together in ways we rarely do.
I’ve moved furniture with Ron Maxwell, one of our custodians; swept floors with Reinaldo Vega, who maintains our facilities; and run an errand with Vanessa Carter, one of our cooks. The errand with Vanessa was especially enjoyable, not only because she is so much fun to be around, but because we were returning a piece of furniture that she and Doris (our other cook) had picked up by mistake. They were cleaning out a storage unit, and got so carried away with the project they loaded a set of shelves from the unit next door. It turns out those shelves belonged to a sculptor who was working in that unit, and who was none too happy when he found out someone had “stolen” his shelves. So I offered to go along with Vanessa to take back the shelves and offer an apology.
How often do I get to ride around Richmond in a pickup truck with Vanessa? Not often. She drove, and if you had seen the two of us you would have wondered what we were up to, with her driving and me talking (as usual) and gesturing with both hands as the shelves bounced around in the back of the truck. We returned the shelves with apologies and had a chance to talk to the sculptor about his work—beautiful pieces made of plaster in various stages of completion, some of them drying on (you guessed it) shelves. By the time we left he was laughing heartily and wishing us well and I got the feeling that even in that mission of apology, a little heaven had come to earth.
I’m glad we stayed in Richmond this week. Even though we will miss out on some of the camaraderie that comes from riding hundreds of miles in a church van, eating bologna-and-cheese sandwiches, and sleeping on the floor in a church basement, we will focus our attention on the city God has given us as our year-round mission field, and by the end of the week we will have a better understanding of what it will take to be an answer to the Lord’s Prayer.