Ministry Inquiry Reflection
Rebekah Enns, 3rd year, History major with minors in Peacebuilding, Pre-law, Political Studies
At the beginning of May I began my work with Fourth Street Community Fellowship in Washington, D.C. (Virginia Mennonite Conference). Sponsored by the Korean NGO Action for Peace through Prayer and Aid (APPA), Fourth Street Community Fellowship is an outreach church for the homeless and impoverished population of Washington, D.C. The church congregation draws from a primarily homeless and impoverished African Americans demographic and is led by Rev. Sang Jin Choi, a Korean national who has been living in the US for close to 20 years, and a team of volunteers from suburban Korean churches. Each Sunday following the service, the congregation partakes in a meal together that has been prepared by older Korean woman.
Rebekah in Action
- Bekah at Fourth St Community Fellowship
I went into this summer hoping to work with an active, non-traditional congregation that had some ethic diversity and drew from a different demographic than the church in which I usually worship. I wanted to reflect on what church could look like in a different setting. I began my summer hoping to engage with a different concept of what it meant to be church in the world, to build relationships and to be inspired by a community living out Jesus call to be the light and salt of the world. As I interacted more and more with the Fourth Street Community Fellowship, I found myself to be extremely judgmental of some of their practices, their theology, and their structure even as I was encouraged by the relationships I was forming with the community members.
One of the major challenges for me this summer was the language barrier between myself and the rest of the church leadership. As I could not speak Korean, I was excluded from most of planning and decision making processes. Instead, because of the particular dynamics of the church, a significant focus of my internship was on using my gifts of writing and editing to enhance the resources of community. I spent a majority of my time writing and editing public statements, reflections, and pamphlets. While I enjoyed using these particular skills for the benefit of the church, I had been hoping to engage much more with the leadership and organization roles in the congregation.
Thankfully, I happened to read “Making the Small Church Effective” by Carl S. Dudley. Through his book, Dudley challenged me to examine my own conceptions of what church is and how the church community is measured “successful.” I had expected to find that Fourth Street Community Fellowship would be defined by its outreach programs to the impoverished in Washington, D.C. However in reality these programs seemed to be a lot less active or effective than they seemed on paper. Yet, Dudley’s book reflects on how the programs, while they might be seen as beneficial and essential by the denomination, the pastor, and the large church, are not at the heart of a small church. Dudley asserts that “a small, caring, single-cell church has a different definition of success” (66). At the heart of the small church are the relationships, and as time went on I began to appreciate more and more the relationships that were built and sustained within Fourth Street Community Fellowship.
I was truly inspired by the community that has been built among the members or Fourth Street Community Fellowship. As previously mentioned, the congregation is made up of mostly homeless and impoverished African Americans. Many of them have been coming to worship at the APPA building for 5-10 years and they truly see the church as their own. Against the advice of the other Korean pastors in D.C, Rev. Choi initiates the homeless and impoverished members as deacons of the congregation once they have been attending for over 3 years and have shown leadership within the community. In this way, the members are empowered to take ownership in their church. As a whole, the congregation was extremely welcoming to me and very excited to help me grow with them during the time I spent there.
Throughout my time with Fourth Street Community Fellowship I participated in many aspects of their public ministry. I began to lead the weekly intercessory prayer during my first service there and continued to collect and lead the prayers each Sunday during the remainder of my internship. Rev. Choi provided me with some direction as to how the prayers were usually led, but encouraged me to experiment with different styles and approaches.
I also gave two sermons during my internship. I enjoyed the process of prayerfully preparing and writing sermons that would be applicable to the congregation. I truly wanted my sermons to be applicable to the people I was worshiping with and spent a great deal of time reflecting on what God had placed on my heart for us to study together. In this I had very little direction from Rev. Choi, other than an encouragement to keep it simple and short. However, I did receive a lot of positive feedback from Rev. Choi, the Korean volunteers and the congregation after both my sermons.
During the last 4 weeks of my internship I worked with the Korean youth service camps hosted by APPA. This part of my summer was the most stressful, as my expectations for the camps were very different than their actuality and I was not given a lot of guidance in organizing or directing the programs. Often the programmed schedule would change as the day went on and I would find myself unprepared for or uncomfortable with what actually took place. However, the hour of time I spent leading the morning and evening devotionals with the kids was the highlight of each day. It was a privileged to watch and listen to them interact with the scriptures in a new way and discover the character of Jesus for themselves.
The primary goal for my internship was to witness how the followers of Jesus interpreted the concept of church in a different setting. Thus, I spent a lot of time during my internship reflecting on how and what the church is called to be and act. Key to my reflections were the passage from the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus describes his followers as “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-16) and Paul’s description of the church community as a body in Romans 12. I found myself hung up again and again on Romans 12:3: “for by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”
As I reflected on the dynamics of the church in that community, I noticed that it was a challenge for me to humble myself and my expectations enough to give grace in my interaction with Fourth Street Community Fellowship. Eventually I recognized that my judgments and expectations where standing in the way of witnessing God’s transforming power in that community. One of the greatest lessons I found myself learning this summer was that God is working to transform the world despite the mistakes and weaknesses of the church. Each time I found myself judgmental of APPA and Fourth Street Community Fellowship, I would encounter a story of how God was still using that broken and flawed community to transform the world.