Removing obstacles and moving forward

July 29, 2022 by Rev. Dr. Andrew Kort

I serve a downtown church with a parking lot big enough for four, maybe five, cars. During the week it serves us just fine as the staff and membership have all navigated this scenario for years. However, on Sundays, many members who drive downtown for worship will park—for free!—at a city garage located steps from our campus.

Recently it was announced that the city was tearing down the crumbling decades-old garage as a part of a massive multi-million dollar building project. The project seeks to protect our downtown from rising sea levels and transform that area into a vibrant community space with shaded gathering spaces, a splash pad, a raised promenade, and seating areas. And yes, a new and improved garage will be built in the same footprint in roughly 12-14 months. It sounds great! And it will be great! But all anyone seems to be talking about is the temporary loss of the garage. I can't tell you how many times I've heard, “How will anyone ever get to church on Sundays?” So, now we have one more thing to be anxious about.

Demolition began a few weeks ago. I can attest to how loud it was and we even felt our administrative building shake as the heavy equipment rumbled down our street and began its work of destruction. However, during this time, a few things became evident.

For one, we have found the parking situation to be more than manageable. In fact, in some ways, it is better. This is due in large part to the generosity of one of our neighbors. The funeral home one block away is kind and generous enough to welcome our worshipers into their parking lot on Sunday mornings, where they can make the 300-foot walk to our sanctuary. This act of neighborly hospitality has been a gift. It has also been a reminder of the blessings of being a good neighbor and having good neighbors. It also has shown us once again how many times our fears, worries, and anxieties cause us to stress about something that has a workable solution found in the kindness of others. Community has helped ease the burden of our fears.

Now that the garage is down, literally rubble, something else has happened. People walking by are able to see a view of the city they've never seen before. From our offices, I sometimes watch as people stop long enough to take photographs with their phones. Granted construction sites don't typically make it onto postcards, but there does seem to be something invigorating about seeing something in a new way and from a new perspective. It has allowed for a more expanded vision, and I think encourages us to think about what could be in our lives and ministry. It invites us to consider what might be in front of us this whole time but remains hidden, blocked, or distorted by something else. And when that obstacle is removed, we can not only imagine something else, but also realize that we are often in the midst of an abundance of good things. In these pandemic times, it seems many of us are discerning what old and crumbling programs and traditions need to be torn down and perhaps rebuilt in new ways.

Finally, in our conversations we have now been talking in terms of reframing this issue. We've moved from lament to hope. We have moved from seeing this temporary inconvenience as a hindrance to finding hope in the opportunity that is being built around us. Members are connecting for ride shares. Young people have helped members download and understand an app with shuttle service information. People are taking advantage of our online offerings. It has been beautiful to behold. We are delighting in the reality that the people of God continue to move forward even in our complicated, messy, interrupted, and inconvenienced lives together. In the middle of it all, I cannot help but wonder if God is teaching us again about the importance of community, imagination, and being on the lookout for hope.

Rev. Dr. Andy Kort serves as co-pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Annapolis, Md. graduated from Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C. He received his Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary and his Doctor of Ministry degree from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Prior to his time in Annapolis, he served as Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Bloomington, IN. Before that, Andy served as Pastor of Pilgrim Presbyterian Church in Phillipsburg, NJ and Associate Pastor of Larchmont Avenue Church in Larchmont, NY.