Thirty years ago this past May, as I prepared to graduate from high school, members of Western took a historic vote. In true Presbyterian fashion, under the leadership of their charismatic pastor, they discussed and prayed, and then voted to move the church’s site six blocks away, from 19th and H to 24th and G Streets. As Rev. John Wimberly wrote them, “This is the most difficult, interesting, challenging, heart-rending decision I have ever been part of in ministry.”
John couldn’t have known then how true his words would remain true over the next five years. He and Western’s leaders anticipated work with the IMF to determine real estate terms, conversations with architects, and meetings with others in Foggy Bottom. Surely they did not imagine the headaches those years would bring: protesters who thought the church should give away the proceeds, opposition from the Foggy Bottom Neighborhood Association, or a zoning board prohibition of Miriam’s Kitchen’s feeding program. Nor could they have foreseen the joy of a judge’s injunction against the zoning board action, setting a precedent for all kinds of faith communities expressing religious freedom through serving those experiencing hunger and homelessness.
This Sunday, the date we set aside each year to celebrate our relationship with Miriam’s Kitchen, we highlight 25 years since Western’s move and the court case that legalized the already holy work of feeding and caring for others that happens here. John Wimberly will be back, and we’ll get to hear from him, Susie Farr, and Jack Hume about what those years taught them and our church about God at work. I hope we’ll get to welcome back some long-time friends, as well as those who want to find out more about this time in the life of our church and our shared history with Miriam’s Kitchen.
I’ve had the privilege of looking back at some of the letters, clippings, and photos of those days. We’ll have some available for you to see, too. Some of you may have some of your own; I hope you’ll bring them!
I hope to see you this Sunday. If you happen to be away for Thanksgiving, I hope you’ll join all of us in giving thanks for this remarkable time in the history of our church and our shared mission with Miriam’s Kitchen!
Giving thanks – for all who celebrate our freedom to serve others and for all who continue to serve,