Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.
This verse from Isaiah 58 is on the cover of NVM’s Mission Study under the title “A House of Prayer, A House of Community.” The writers of this mission study, which this congregation adopted in 2014, felt that these two things go together, in a metaphorical and literal sense. Spiritually, this congregation desired to build a faith community that would be known as rebuilders, repairers, restorers even as it was literally rebuilding, repairing, restoring our church home. So it is that the congregation and the building come together to provide a welcoming and sacred place of hospitality, as our mission statement reads.
These words of the prophet Isaiah actually are found in the context of a word of judgment. God is making it plain that the people’s religious practices are not acceptable, because they are accompanied with oppression and violence “with a wicked fist,” says the prophet. Instead, if the people desire acceptance from God, they should loose the bonds of injustice, let the oppressed go free, share the bread with the hungry, bring the homeless into your homes, and cover the naked.
If your religious practice has these characteristics, the prophet goes on, then your light will shine forth and your healing will spring up quickly. God will satisfy your thirst in the parched desert, indeed, you will be like a watered garden, like a spring of water. And, you will be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in. These words are, indeed, a worthy statement of what our community desires to be.
“Noe Valley Ministry is currently in the process of refining the vision of its mission as ‘A House of Prayer, A House of Community’ in a building designed to support that vision.” That’s a line from the Mission Study which speaks directly to the big project at the time, the renovation of the building. The church was re-envisioning its relationship with building users so to better practice good stewardship of the building without becoming overwhelmed with upkeep. So, in moving back into our beautifully renovated building we also developed a more professional relationship with the people and groups that use our building. And we became more intentional about being identified as a community of faith. We even decided to keep Presbyterian in our name!
I’ve asked around but it seems that the origin of the motto, “A House of Prayer, A House of Community,” is shrouded in mythic history. It’s been around probably from the very early years of the founding of NVM in the 1970’s. And has been resurrected from time to time to be applied to whatever endeavor and project our church was contemplating, whether it be finding funding for a new roof or when the tri-faith project was being explored. Whatever the history, we continue to create “A House of Prayer, A House of Community” to “provide a welcoming, sacred place of hospitality for all.”
And so it is that once the renovation work was finished, we moved into a beautiful, awesome (in the fullest sense of that word) space for worship and community. Truly a welcoming space. And that is due, in no small part, to the incredible work of the building committee in putting it all together. Marcella Breton was one of those building committee folk. I’m going to ask her to step in here to talk to us about the welcoming design elements that are part of our building.
And we have enjoyed our beautiful worship space for several years now until, that is, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit our world. And, so it is, we have not been able to use our worship space since the middle of March. That’s six months! As wonderful as our Zoom worship services are (thanks to Christine, Kelly, the choir, volunteer readers for making this happen every week), they don’t quite live up to the welcoming experience of in-person worship.
But it isn’t just our physical gathering for worship that’s been affected. This pandemic has also affected our desire to be a welcoming place for the community. The success of our mission strategy was based on a building fully used by a variety of groups, both long-term and one-timers. Thus, over the years we’ve had a very busy building with a pre-school (Hola Kids!), three therapists, AA, music for kids, movement classes for seniors, and much more. And music organizations, both regular series tenants and one-time concerts. All of this masterfully managed by Christine Tawadrous. Christine notes that “building usage was almost at mass capacity and as a congregation we were truckin’ along with the congregation periodically looking inward to assess whether we felt like we were on the right track.”
Then COVID-19 hit. And we took a hit, financially. Let’s take a look at where we’re at. Once the shelter-in-place started, all classes and events were canceled. There have been no public events since March 16. We were able to continue to keep our therapist tenants until just recently. Two of our therapists are not able to make a go of it and we are currently looking for new tenants. If you have any leads, give Christine a call.
Importantly, the nursery school is still alive. They were able to shift to ‘essential worker’ childcare. It was a struggle for them but they worked hard to make it happen and they’ve been able to continue to pay their rent. Now the school is open to all children. They have to keep the children in pods of 10 with a maximum of 30. In order to do that we’ve worked it out for them to use the dance studio in addition to their own designated space. Again, hard work because they have to attend to may detailed restrictions in the use of the space to make it happen. FYI: no parents are allowed in the building.
The building committee is exploring all of the issues associated with opening up the building for other events, such as concerts. But we are a long way off on that as the city still has in place pretty severe restrictions, including the number of people that can attend and cleaning procedures.
With all that, yes, our financial well-being is hard pressed. And to help us understand where we’re at, I’d like Cindy Cake, our intrepid treasurer, to step in here to paint a picture of our financial situation.
Finally, a word about the future. When and how will we be able to gather together for in-person worship? Well, probably not for some time. I’m on a Faith Leader Task Force that is working through guidelines for in-person worship. The general tenor of these meetings is ‘frustration’. We don’t know and the city, even with all their rules, isn’t much help right now.
Here is what I know today. The city has approved the meeting of no more than 12 people in outside spaces, with the excepting of funerals which can be inside but still only 12 people. They allow for one person at a time to come into a sanctuary to pray. There is talk of expanding the allowance to 25 people for inside meetings, but only if the space is big enough (no more that 25% of the capacity). But no singing! We could meet in the parking lot, if we had one. But no singing! And, one more thing – no singing!
So, we will continue with Zoom and do the best we can with what we have. But that is a lot, because we have each other and we can still practice creating a welcoming, sacred place of hospitality for all, ‘A House of Prayer, A House of Community’. Amen.