Friday morning, March 29, the Commander Supreme dropped me off at the Amtrak station on Staples Mill Road. I’m taking train #84 to the National School Board Convention in Philadelphia.
I have flown into Philadelphia before, but only to make a connection for another flight. So, I’m hoping to find a bit of time to see the City of Brotherly Love.
The train was on time, and it was a long walk down to the business class car. We pulled out of Staples Mill headed for the next stop, Ashland, also known as the Center of the Universe.
After Ashland, we kept pushing north with the conductor announcing Fredericksburg as the next dot to connect with along the route.
The dots continued—Quantico, Alexandria, and finally into Washington, DC where the train’s engines are switched from diesel to electric. This routine takes a good 20 minutes, and I know when the transition is complete. The lights and air come back on, and the train is slightly jolted when the electric engine is coupled to the remaining cars.
We slowly move out of the dark, underground parking garage for trains. It is good to see daylight again.
The further north we inch, the less of the encroachment of spring we see.
Along this route, I have done some reading, dozed off several times, and gazed into the passing landscapes. The only intrusion into my sluggish routine is the business man sitting behind me.
He is taking important phone calls. His voice isn’t playground loud, but his voice dominates the quietness in the car. But, all of his phone conversations include the following words—“Do you know what I mean?” All I can say is I should have kept a count.
Every conversation included “Do you know what I mean?” In many of those conversations, that question was used multiple times. I’m sure my count would have found a place in the Guinness Book of Records for the most repetitious use of a question while riding a train from Richmond to Philadelphia.
Quite often along this route, my gazes into the passing landscapes are unexpectedly jolted by an oncoming train. It appears the separation between the two trains is about the length of a ruler. I can feel the force of the speeding energy as the silver streak zips by Train 84, “Do you know what I mean?”
Baltimore, northern Maryland, and Wilmington, Delaware are behind us. The engineer has the train bearing down on the 30th Street station in Philadelphia.
Somehow the coaching from the Commander Supreme works, and I order without incident a Uber to take me to the hotel. It is a slow ride with lots of traffic. These Uber drivers must have ice water in their veins. If I were driving, I’m sure I would have exploded. I can see the headline—School board member from Virginia jailed for traffic meltdown.
My hotel check-in was painless. I barely walked a half city block and crossed the street into the convention center. This place is huge. Another seamless registration occurs as a symbol on my cell phone was simply read by a scanner.
Slowly, my colleagues arrived. We gathered for a reception and dinner.
I brought along my running gear. I planned to get in an early Saturday morning run.
After checking with the friendly attendant at the front desk about a recommended route, I left just before the beginning of civil twilight.
It didn’t take too many steps to feel a pinch in my heart— as homeless individuals dotted my route.
Some were stretched out over metal grates that were spewing a cloudy exhaust vapor of warm air. Others were wedged against a building. Still some had carved out covered spaces in the whimsical building designs of an architect. Their bodies had become acclimated to their routines and environments, unlike society, sleep did not desert them.
One of my turns took me to the corner of Arch and Broad streets home of Arch Street United Methodist Church. I made a left turn.
As I plodded past this side of the church, a rectangular shaped sign caught my eye, printed on the sign were the following words:
United Methodist Church
A Reconciling Congregation
I made a mental note and resolved to come back for another look.
It was a good run. Back at the hotel, I cleaned up, grabbed some breakfast, met colleagues in the lobby, and we walked over for the opening session.
Nearly 5000 people were packed into the main hall of the convention center. No matter who you were up on the large stage, you were going to be seen as massive monitors were carefully positioned in the hall.
At a midday break from the convention, I walked over to Arch Street UMC. I took a photo of the sign and walked around the building again.
The sun was out. Spring was teasing Philadelphia.
But the Gothic gray of this aging building could not hide in the warm sunlight. I’ll bet there are stories in each inch of the church’s architecture. Even the homeless had temporary homes in its exterior nooks.
Once the afternoon sessions were complete, we readied ourselves for another reception, this time at the Franklin Institute Science Museum. We were only in one section of this facility, but it was instantly impressive.
The reception was very nice, and when I arrived back at the hotel, I did some research about Arch Street UMC. I was hoping they might have an early morning service. Turns out, the church hosts 8:30 and 11:00 services.
So on Sunday morning, I was up early. I went down to the workout room, and rode a bike for 20 minutes. Then came back to the room, took a shower, dressed, and went to the lobby for breakfast.
After breakfast, I regrouped, and then left the hotel for the short walk to the church. The Philadelphia half marathon was taking place so lots of runners were streaming by the convention center. It was a good morning for a run, cool and overcast.
The 8:30 service was held in the Chapel. A small, but enthusiastic crowd had gathered. The focus for this service was going to be about mission work the church supports in their neighborhood and Philadelphia. Good music and hospitality marked this simple worship service.
I departed just before the service finished, so I could walk back to the hotel and gather what I needed for the opening session at the convention center.
The last session I attended on Sunday afternoon focused on equity in school systems for all students. Lots of points were made, but one that stuck with me was creating a “sense of belonging.”
Back in September of 2018, I started teaching a Disciple I Fast Track class. Since January, we have been working on key pieces of the New Testament of the Bible. Last week in class, one of my classmates wondered out loud—“why doesn’t the Methodist church speak out more on important social issues?”
A really good question, and I didn’t have the research expertise to respond.
But, I might guess that the United Methodist Church is still staggering from the most recent decision that was made at the church’s General Conference in February. This decision resulted in a “tightening of its ban on same-sex marriage and gay clergy.”(NY Times)
Circling back around to equity, this recent decision by the Methodist church, isn’t creating “a sense of belonging.”
In the Sunday morning bulletin at Arch Street UMC, there was an announcement that on Sunday, April 7, LGBTQ members and constituents would be ushering at the 11 a.m. service. Then following the worship service, the LGBTQ group would be going to brunch at a local restaurant. While enjoying their food and fellowship, the topic for conversation is going to be “If The Church Were Christian.”
My goodness what a conversation starter!
Today, I read a scripture from Isaiah 55, verses 5-6, this first line caught my attention: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way;”
I can’t tell you how many times in my life I have gone astray and gone my own way. But somehow, I have always been pulled back to the church.
Now, it seems to me that the Methodist church has gone astray and is moving in a direction that doesn’t create “a sense of belonging.”
On the Arch Street UMC website, the following statement appears about its status as a reconciling congregation:
Arch Street United Methodist Church is a community of faith-keeping and faith-seeking people who embrace diversity in our congregation and community, and affirm the dignity and worth of every person as created in the image of God. We celebrate and give thanks for all of the gifts of God among us. Our welcome knows no boundaries, whether of age, racial or ethnic background, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity, economic or marital status, or physical or mental ability. We welcome all to share in the ministry, fellowship, and blessings of full participation as members of Christ’s body.
That statement of a reconciling congregation would seem to be the foundation for creating a “sense of belonging.”
United Methodist Church— “do you know what I mean?”