KOH2RVA: Day 363

Preschool-ClassRemember how I was complaining a few days ago about spending too much time answering email and not enough time with people? Well, I got some of that time yesterday, with some of the most delightful people in Richmond.

I accepted Mary Hiteman’s invitation to stand with her at the Mulberry Street entrance of our building and greet the parents and children who were coming to our preschool’s open house.

They came in droves.

Some children were so shy they hid behind their mothers’ legs when I tried to say hello, others ignored my greeting altogether and galloped past me into the building, excited to be back at school. But all of them were beautiful, precious children. Most of their parents were happy to stop and say hello, and seemed grateful that I was taking an interest.

Because there seems to be a disconnect between the church and our preschool. There are parents who bring their children every weekday and never think of our building as a church. To them it is a school. A good school, certainly (you should have heard them gush), but nothing more than that. So as I shook hands yesterday and introduced myself as the pastor many of them seemed to be making the connection between the church and the school for the first time. “Ohhh,” they said, and I could almost see the light come on.

I’m hoping to maintain that connection in this school year by greeting children and parents at the door more often, telling the children Bible stories during chapel, and showing up for special programs and events. When I came to Richmond five years ago the staff asked me what we could do to “reach the Fan,” the neighborhood surrounding our building where so many of these parents and children live. I said, “What if we didn’t try to reach the Fan? What if we tried to love the Fan?”

That’s what I was trying to do yesterday: love the Fan and the people who live there. And what an easy way to do it! Stand at the door as they bring their children into our building; squat down and say hello to precious little boys and girls; and then stand up and shake hands with their parents, look them in the eye, and tell them how glad I am that they have brought their children to our school. And as I was doing it that thing happened that has happened so often in this year of mission…

…heaven came to earth.

KOH2RVA: Day 146

book buddies

Yesterday was a cold and windy day in Richmond, Virginia, but I had promised to drive a church bus to the East End and that’s what I did. There was a lot of play in the steering wheel, and when a gust of wind caught the side of the bus on an interstate bridge I had a hard time holding it in the road. But I did, and eventually made it to the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School where Melissa Brooks and I picked up a load of sixth graders and brought them back to First Baptist Church. The idea was that these sixth graders from a poor neighborhood would come and read books with preschoolers from a rich neighborhood.

And that’s what happened.

I can’t tell you how much I love this picture, not only because of the way the sunlight is coming through the window and falling on the floor, but because of the way this sixth-grade boy is reading to this preschool girl, and the way the book is helping them forget—for the moment at least—that they come from different worlds. They are in the world of the story, together, and it is a world of perfect equality.

When I asked our staff six months ago how we would measure the success of this year-long, every-member mission trip, David Powers said we would measure it with “pictures and stories.” Well, here’s a picture that spells success. And the story behind it is remarkable, too.

So often when I look at pictures of mission trips I see affluent, educated people helping people who are poor and uneducated. And that’s not a bad thing; to whom much is given, much is required. But I love the way Melissa Brooks and Mary Hiteman partnered to turn that around. Melissa lives on Church Hill and has been volunteering at the Anna Julia Cooper School, a school for students of limited resources primarily from Richmond’s East End neighborhood. Mary is the director of our preschool at First Baptist, which draws most of its students from the historic (and affluent) Fan District. “Why not get the two schools together?” they thought, and this was the result: a day of learning, laughing, reading, praying, dancing, storytelling, and baking enough gingerbread for everybody to take some home (it smelled so good on the bus back to the East End!)

Is KOH2RVA a success?

Well, yesterday it was. And I’ve got pictures and stories to prove it.

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Photo by Melissa Brooks

Inauguration Day 2009

rJust before 11:00 this morning Mary Hiteman, Director of the Weekday Early Education ministry at First Baptist Church, asked me if I had “two minutes.” 

“Sure,” I said.

She led me down the hall to one of the children’s classrooms, and introduced me to a two-year-old girl who was wearing a T-shirt with Barack Obama’s picture on the front. 

“Who’s that?” Mary asked, pointing at the shirt.

“Obama!” said the girl.

I had squatted down to her level to say hello and told her, “I like your shirt.”

“I’m glad you do!” said one of the teachers, making it obvious that Mr. Obama had not been her first choice for president. 

“Well,” I said, “this is one of those days when we come together as a country, regardless of who we voted for.   On November 4th you vote your conscience—and I’m glad you did—but on January 20th we support our president.”

As I watched coverage of the inauguration later I marveled at how well we seemed to be doing that.  This orderly transfer of power, almost unique among the nations of the world, was carried off with a generosity that made me proud to be an American.  Mr. Bush was extraordinarily gracious in handing over the reins of leadership, and Mr. Obama was equally gracious about receiving them.  There were no overtly partisan remarks; very few boos from the crowd.  On the whole we seemed to understand that there were larger issues at stake, and that if we were going to prosper as a nation it would take all of us working together. 

So, three cheers for Mr. Obama and three cheers for Mr. Bush and all the cheers in the world for the way power was passed from one president to another on this day.  Just before Bush boarded the helicopter that would carry him away to his new civilian life he and Obama not only shook hands, they hugged.

Where else but America?