Today’s guest post is by Beth McMahon. Beth is a deeply active member of the Northminster community. On November 20th about twenty Northminster members participated in an event called “Bless Richmond.”
It was the cheering teenagers by the front door who set the tone for the evening.
Every time a vehicle pulled up, whether an individual car or a shuttle bus from the remote parking, the group of about 20 youth from the ROC (Richmond Outreach Center) let out a whoop at the top of their lungs and came running to take the bags of canned goods that guests were carrying, donations for the Central Virginia Food Bank.
And that was how the first-ever Bless Richmond event greeted attendees from dozens of churches across the city on Sunday evening, November 20, bringing us together at the U-Turn Sports Performance Academy for an evening of worship and prayer.
Hundreds of Christians of all ages and races streamed into the former Circuit City facility, filing into rows and rows of folding chairs set up across multiple basketball courts. A buzz of anticipation filled the room, folks greeting friends from other churches, waving and hugging, as the worship band cranked up on stage.
With Northminster’s own Logan Jones and Rachel Shultz leading us, along with David and Lori Bailey and other band members, we soon were immersed in worship. Voices and hands raised to God, four thousand voices joined in song: “Lord, you are good and your mercy endureth forever…”
Surrounded on every side by brothers and sisters, a wall of joyful song washing over me, all I could think was, “This is what heaven is going to be like.” The music ebbed and flowed, opened wide to draw in the whole world with a lyric in Spanish and another in Swahili, and swelled our hearts with the image of Jesus’ love: “The mystery of the cross I cannot comprehend, the agonies of Calvary…Your blood has washed away my sin, Jesus, thank you…”
And we prayed. Pairs of pastors from diverse congregations led us in guided prayer times of praise, thanks, confession, and intercession. Grouping in threes and fours throughout the huge room, we thanked God for bringing this event together and lifted up the needs of the metro area. There were no sermons, no individual who was in the spotlight; the focus was on God and on our city. With the sense of unity across the room, it only seemed obvious when one of the pastors encouraged us, “I want every church here to be every other church’s biggest cheerleader. We’re not here to compete with each other; let’s rejoice in what God is doing in this city through us.”
Then, as we sang, “The blood that Jesus shed for me…will never lose its power,” pastor Shawn Franco of Cornerstone Church knelt in front of layman Emmett Bailey, one of the leaders of Victory Life Church, and gently bathed his feet in a basin of water. White hands and dark feet were washed together in the healing waters of Jesus’ servant love.
After nearly three years of meeting for prayer and friendship-building, the vision of a group of some 30 Richmond pastors came to fruition in this Bless Richmond service. But the foundations of the gathering went back even further, to 1866. In a city emerging broken from the Civil War, Bishop John McGill founded a convent in Church Hill, where prayers were faithfully offered for the city. In the 1980’s, the convent outgrew its property, and another group of believers purchased the site, founding the Richmond Hill Christian community. One of their primary ministries ever since has been bringing together Christians across denominations to pray for Richmond.
This moment in our worship at U-Turn Academy seemed to condense all of that history down into one kairos moment. Seeing the humility of pastor Franco, the glory on Mr. Bailey’s face, the tears on his cheeks and the joy in his outstretched arms, it felt as if we were witnessing a glimpse straight into the heart of God, who has been working for generation upon generation to heal the wounds of this city, divided by race, war and class. This night was one more opening where the Spirit could slip in and bring God’s kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.”
As the band prepared to lead us in a final song, further evidence of God’s kingdom breaking in through us: one of the leaders announced how much food we had brought to hand off to those cheering teenagers. It totaled some 14,000 pounds, which would provide more than 11,000 meals for hungry neighbors. We cheered, we shouted, we whistled to hear the tangible way God had used us to bless others.
Saying good night to the 15 other Northminster folks I had traveled here with, my heart was full. I thought about the events, beginning last spring, that had led our little group to be part of this service. Our church community has been going through a process of listening for God’s word to us about “what’s next.” It began with our Leadership Council and purpose team leaders months ago, and has grown to include a larger group who attended a series of three “y’all come” discussions in November. Many clear themes have emerged from the talking, listening and praying, but perhaps the clearest has been that Northminster is called to be a church focused on building relationships with its community and helping meet the needs that surround us. Attending the conversations in November, I sensed a rising level of excitement and purpose in our midst. God is on the move among us.
Bless Richmond “happened” to fall at the end of those three Sunday sessions – a fitting close to an exciting process. But it wasn’t coincidence. Instead, I think it was God’s reminder to us that God is on the move among dozens of the churches of Richmond, as well as at Northminster. The opportunities God has for us in our own little neighborhood are just one piece of what God is up to throughout our city – and even our country and our world. God’s kingdom is seeking to break in through us, with economic, racial, physical, emotional and spiritual healing. Bless Richmond shouted to me how blessed Northminster is to be part of that picture.
No wonder those ROC kids were cheering.
See Logan, Rachel and the band (and a few Northminster folks in the crowd!) leading the song “Jalali Yesu” at Bless Richmond:
More about Bless Richmond at this website.