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Progressive Voice: A Faith Community’s Vision Through Discernment

The Reverend Sharon K. CoreBy The Reverend Sharon K. Core

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or

We live in a time when organizations constantly need to be aware of their structure, purpose and business plans. They need to innovate and tend to their reputations or risk the danger of disappearing.

Remember RCA, Eastern Airlines, Woolworth’s, and Enron? All of them are gone. By contrast, there are Apple, IBM, Netflix, and Samsung — all companies that have reinvented themselves successfully.

This reality of needing to attend to direction and purpose doesn’t just include businesses. The reality also applies to churches. The way churches engage this work is through a process called discernment.

Several years ago, the Arlington Presbyterian Church congregation began to wonder who God was calling us to be and what God was calling us to do. We spent much time in prayer, studying scripture, talking to one another, and talking to people in the community.

Whatever God wanted for our congregation, it would be discovered through deep and intentional listening.  As members engaged this time we were seeking to answer the question, “For whom are our hearts breaking?”

During the summer of 2012, the searching took on a new emphasis as a vision team was formed.  As we continued the discernment process, a threefold vision began to emerge:

  • create and nurture a community of disciples following Jesus Christ
  • be a people and place of crossroads for the diverse population along Columbia Pike
  • redevelop our property so that committed affordable housing can be built.

Not surprisingly, the third piece of our vision has garnered the most attention, as Arlington Presbyterian entered into a relationship with the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH), who will purchase our property and build a mixed-used development that will include affordable housing, amenities for the residents, street-level retail and structured parking.

However, as important and perhaps harder are the first two parts of our vision. Who we understand ourselves to be as a faith community is deeply rooted in the Christian faith and the commitment to be disciples of Jesus Christ.

The decision to sell the property is a business decision. But more than a business decision, it is also an act of faith. Likewise, the identification of APAH as our solid business partner is not just good due diligence. It is also good stewardship of the church’s resources.

For example, APAH offered our congregation the opportunity to name the development. We chose Gilliam Place, named for Ronda A. Gilliam (1906-1970). Mr. Gilliam was Arlington Presbyterian’s first African American member, an Elder and founder of a clothing assistance program, among other accomplishments in the community.

Naming Gilliam Place for this humble and dignified individual, who strived to make his neighborhood better, aptly represents our legacy. Remembering Mr. Gilliam through the name of the building will continue the story of Arlington Presbyterian — a story of visionary men and women carrying on the tradition of radical willingness to trust God — woven into the history of the development of community along Columbia Pike.

During the redevelopment process, Arlington Presbyterian will seek to strengthen its community of disciples through outreach in the community.  We have an interest in returning to the property after construction by leasing space on the ground floor of the building. Through continued prayer and discernment, we will use the next year to consider how God is calling us to new ministry and service in this community.

Every aspect of our congregation’s journey has started with prayer, been sustained by prayer, and been sealed with prayer. We continue to keep our minds and hearts open, listening for God’s continued guidance and following with trust and faith.

The Reverend Sharon K. Core is pastor at Arlington Presbyterian Church. She has had the great joy of being with this congregation since December 1998.

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