{After a Sabbath break, Lent continues and we hit day number 11 and therefore the 11th mug from the Kellam kitchen cupboard. It’s a theme; that’s all I can say at this point.}

One would think that our cupboards would be filled with church mugs. My wife DSC07318.jpgJoan is a retired church musician and I am a retired pastor, so, yes, we have our share of mugs from the churches we’ve served. We have two of these from Bon Air Presbyterian Church (BAPC) in Richmond, Virginia. It’s a very special church to me, and to our family as well.

My first year in seminary, as part of a “Work of the Ministry” practicum, I was assigned to “shadow” the pastor Richard Perkins as he made pastoral calls, led committee meetings, and prepared for teaching and preaching. The church was (still is) a contemporary structure, and at that time the sanctuary was really an all-purpose room that served as dining room, recreation area (I recall volleyball and square dancing), and Sunday worship area. Folding chairs were set up, put away, set up, and put away…over and over. But it was a stewardship of space that made sense then, and I believe it still does. The rationale then still applies: why spend a million dollars on a room permanently dedicated to use as a worship center only a handful of hours a week?

The then-modern sanctuary with folding chairs didn’t lack a suitable feel for worship when we gathered on Sunday mornings, and using that same reconfigured space for fellowship and education made financial sense.

In my short time with Rev. Perkins I did not get to know him well, but perceived that he was dedicated to social justice and that the church took mission outreach seriously. Liberally, one might say.

Only a couple of years later, as a recently ordained minister, I would get to know the church more intimately. I was called to serve an ecumenical, interracial youth center as its “youth director.” The “Spanish Castle” counted among its strongest supporters the Bon Air Church. A Bon Air parent had suggested the need for such a neighborhood gathering place for teens, church members served on the Castle board, and its pastors rallied its cause when various controversies  arose (it was the 1960s after all).

And I found a church home there.

By the time the youth center closed a few years later, while Joan served as musician at another church, I took our kids to Bon Air. Our son was baptized there, and thanks to the moveable chairs in the sanctuary, the font was moved into a central position in the midst of the people. Eventually our two children went to the church’s preschool, then Sunday School, and youth group. They were confirmed there. I was involved with the youth group, and co-taught the senior high class on Sunday mornings. Joan was elected an elder. And the Associate Pastor Andy Sale led me and several youth and adults on a five day Appalachian trail hike.

I’ve titled today’s reflection “Mission.” Mission meant youth ministry, a peace group, building at least one (maybe more) Habitat for Humanity home on its own; supporting a halfway house for recovering alcoholics, welcoming Richmond’s homeless for a week each year, and helping found an ecumenical agency that unites surrounding churches in providing emergency help for people in need. That’s the proverbial tip of the iceberg. The list goes on. Still.

While I did work professionally in another church during part of the 22 years we lived in the Bon Air suburbs, I was finally called to serve BAPC as Associate Pastor (halftime) and focused my work in liturgy and congregational care. This church was our family’s spiritual home for so many years, a congregation filled with glorious music, nurturing educational programs, courageous mission outreach, faithful preaching, creative worship, and dear, dear friends.

It’s Lent, and I must mention one more Bon Air Presbyterian offering while I was there. Joan and I grew professionally and personally in countless ways from our denomination’s Music and Worship Conferences in Montreat, NC. One year the focus was on the Book of Common Worship, and that included a section on Daily Prayer. One Lenten season I suggested that the church offer a service of Morning Prayer for forty days. Assuming this would be a small group able and willing to meet each morning at 7:30, we gathered in the intimate space of the choir loft in a circle of, yes, folding chairs. We sang, read scripture, prayed, and sat in silence each morning. I have to admit that by the time Lent ended I was more than ready to let that daily discipline go, despite its “success” and how our participants had grown together! But forty days!

Nonetheless, or all the more, we repeated that Lenten discipline two or three more years before Joan and I moved from Virginia to Vermont.

We visited the Bon Air Church several months ago. The all-purpose room sanctuary is now completely renovated and dedicated to worship space. No more volleyball or square dancing. There’s a gym now for that. But there are still moveable chairs, new ones far more comfortable than the clanky ones that folded. And mission is still at the heart of the church’s ministry. Numbers are down, partly because the church helped plant new congregations deeper into the Richmond suburbs, but also because the “mainline” churches aren’t as mainline as before.

Still, when I pick up this mug for morning coffee (of course, a fair trade brew), I am reminded of the deep meaning of the term “church home,” and I am grateful God led us there and fed us there. We give thanks for all the saints at Bon Air, whether at rest now or still laboring to make the Good News a breath of fresh air for all God’s people!