I started my wonderful journey at the Festival Center in February of 2020. Yep, just 6 weeks before we had to shut down due to a worldwide pandemic. I definitely didn’t see that coming! In the midst of the pandemic, because of an aging, over 30 year old building desperately in need of lots of repairs, we decided to undertake massive renovations. We began that process in March of 2020.
And oh, what a process this has been. Like all good things, it began with a vision and the vision had to answer the question: how did we want this building to reflect who we are and what we do? We are a faith-based community center called to come alongside and support nonprofits, justice-seeking organizations, and faith communities that are building movements for justice. Having spent 20+ years working for justice in local and national organizations, I knew that practical and oftentimes even spiritual support for groups serving alongside and mobilizing people directly impacted by injustice were sorely lacking. So, though we are geographically located in the Adams Morgan neighborhood in DC, we often say we are located at the intersection of faith, hospitality, and justice.
Having a vision for how we wanted this building to serve as a vital part of our call, I knew that my experience in building projects was quite thin. I was a Youth Pastor in a small church in West Texas right out of college when the church burned down and we had to rebuild. But since I was a youth pastor, very few church leaders were all that interested in what I had to say (though they did build a small gym because of our growing youth program!).
So, the first thing I did – and it turns out the best thing I did – was surround myself with people who both were experts in building and design, and who understood the vision of who we are and what we do. The first person I reached out to is on our board, Jim Edmonds. Jim is a retired engineer and long-time member of Church of the Saviour, so he gets the importance of call and missional engagement and he has forgotten more about building and design than I will ever learn in ten lifetimes. He has devoted literally hundreds of hours of his engineering expertise to this project and all of it was free. I say all of the time, there would be no renovations without Jim Edmonds and that is entirely true. Jim is a gift.
The best decision I made in the last three years was choosing our contractor. We had several bids from notable and trustworthy contractors, but I knew this was not like a typical building project. We needed a contractor who understood what a mission-driven, faith-based nonprofit even was. So, while most of the contractors who bid on this project looked like me – white, middle-aged men – one did not. U Source Services is a woman-owned, Black-owned, and first generation immigrant-owned construction firm in DC. Shirley Boubert-Rumble has been an expert, a guide, a counselor, and has become a friend. Iring U Source was THE best decision I have made in my time here.
I did not know when we started how much I would grow to depend on folks like Jim, Shirley, Terry Averill (our architect), Mounir Sedira (Construction Manager), Ed Cooke (Board Chair), and others. This was not something I could strap on my shoulders alone and power through. I definitely needed people around me who I trust implicitly and who I know support and share our mission. And I had them.
The challenge we have undertaken is enormous. Think about it, we are a nonprofit who, in the midst of a pandemic, have almost zeroed out our revenue stream so that we could undertake these necessary renovations. So, to say I am eager to reopen would be the understatement of the year.
We were set to reopen this Friday, March 10, but because of the length of the process to get the final permits from DC, we will have to push back our opening to March 27. In finding this out last Friday I was deeply frustrated and even a little angry at the slow movement.
But this was when being surrounded by people I deeply respect and implicitly trust was most important. I was reminded by them that a delay was not the end of the world and that this was just another strange twist in a 3 year journey that has been marked by unexpected twists and turns.
Sitting together last Friday when we realized that our March 10 opening was not going to happen and feeling all of the frustration, I also was able to regain a sense of hope and even laughter. I was surrounded by people who believe in what we are doing and who believe in us. , Like all of the advocacy campaigns I have been a part of in the last 20 years that achieve concrete and long-lasting change, great things are only accomplished by groups of people with shared passions who are committed to a shared goal. I am grateful to the members of my team who reminded me of this on Friday. I am grateful for my community.