As I travel around our area representing Arlington Community Church, I am often asked if that is where Rev. Dan Apra or Rev. Ken Barnes served. I am proud to be counted alongside these two great leaders in ministry. Rev. Barnes, who has been back with us for the last few years, served 22 years during the 1980s and 90s, and Rev. Apra, who died 7 years ago, served 15 years from the late 1950s to the early 70s. They represent eras, not just of growth in the church, but also of deep spirituality which was mirrored to the world by doing justice in very tangible ways. During those years of ministry with ACC, we became active in GRIP, started what is now the Richmond Food Pantry, housed homeless in our building for weeks at a time, and began serving lunches and dinners at the SouperCenter in Richmond. I have heard stories, not just of those two great pastors, but also of lay members, who during those years actively did justice by calling for a crossing guard near the school in North Richmond and brought needed household items to poor, immigrants and refugees in Richmond and North Richmond
Although stories about those glory days are told with a sense of romantic nostalgia, there was controversy; Dan Apra ruffled feathers with his support of Cesar Chavez’s Farm Worker’s movement and grape boycotts, and Ken Barnes had to mediate a divisive moment when a gay associate pastor did not get enough affirmative votes to receive a call. We are not averse to controversy, and yet we have still managed to step out with passion to make our name as a church who seeks, in the words of our New Beginnings Process, to Build a Just Society from the Inspiration of our Faith.
Standing in the legacy of justice at ACC, I have represented ACC at GRIP, the SouperCenter, and the Neighborhood House in North Richmond. I have attended North Richmond Municipal Advisory Council meetings. In capacity as your pastor, I have met community leaders in North Richmond, County Supervisor John Gioia and his staff, as well as Richmond City Councilor Ben Choi. I have volunteered to weed invasive blackberries and plant native plants along the Richmond Greenway. And I have taken some public stands in our name for what I believe is the best for North Richmond, an unincorporated piece of Contra Costa County, but unlike Kensington, has minimal internal resources to offer its own police or protective services.
I recently wrote a letter to Richmond City Council urging them to move forward with conversations with residents of North Richmond on the issue of annexation. My letter led to some deep and difficult conversation in this week’s Council meeting on the public role of Pastor, as well as whether these still match the passions and priorities of all of us as a congregation. In the next several months, the Pastor-Parish Relations Team is looking to broaden this conversation to the congregation as we evaluate together the ministries, passions, and priorities of the congregation, and how the pastor’s current job description plays into this. In all of this, we remind ourselves that, in the words of the Protestant Reformer’s, we are a “Priesthood of All Believers,” or in the words of our weekly bulletin, “Ministers: All the Members.”
We are at a historical moment in ACC; it is 85 years since the first Sunday School met in Kensington, 75 years since ACC was chartered, 70 years since our current site was purchased and our building was started. (For more on our history, click here.) Recently we have spent much energy and money on this building and grounds; if we are to maintain our legacy toward doing justice, we as an entire congregation must spend energy and money on that as well.
In this month of celebrating Reformations of our Faith, this week we celebrate ACC’s presence in this community. As we move toward Thanksgiving, I give thanks for all that is ACC-our historic legacy of doing justice and practicing deep spirituality, our present practice of claiming these for our own, our sights being set toward the future of faith in this place.
I wish you grateful hearts on this Thanksgiving Week, as Darrell and I head to Ohio to be with my family.