What's Going On in Northern Virginia?
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So much anger, hatred, violence, suffering . . . what good could ever come of it?
But 1,100 miles away in northern Virginia, a seed was planted. Ministers began looking for answers – not wanting anything remotely similar taking place in their communities. They soon realized, perhaps in moments of divine revelation, that maybe they were part of the problem.
The underlying and convicting question was: How could the body of Christ (the Church) demonstrate the love of Christ to others when its many parts (as the apostle Paul explained to the Corinthians) preferred to attempt to work independently of each other and (in some cases) refused to even accept each other — much less love each other?
If one were to listen to the national media, the only possible issue keeping churches from experiencing unity as a body is race. For some in northern Virginia, maybe race was part of the current challenge (or perhaps had historical ties to racial division). But what seemed to be really splintering the Bible-believing body of Christ was denominationalism — us vs. all the rest.
But when ministers decided to start coming together in a monthly multidenominational gathering to meet, get to know one another, and get ahead of potential future violence — as they had observed in Minneapolis and other communities — some surprising discoveries were made.
When they stopped focusing on the differences and focused on the similarities of their shared fundamental beliefs and callings, it opened doors of communication and understanding. Soon it was as if long lost brothers and sisters were discovering one another.
Pastor Stevie Burke, lead pastor of Christian Life Church, an independent church in Manassas, regularly attends the minister gatherings.
“We agree on the things we can agree on and make that the central thing we do,” Burke explains. “There are nuances that make every church different . . ., but even in my own family, my brothers and I have differing beliefs, but that doesn’t keep us from being family.”
As the meetings and months went by, God began to work in unexpected ways, breaking down barriers and bringing ministers of different denominations together to love and serve each other and their communities.
One of the results was covered in an earlier AG News article that told of God guiding Chapel Springs Church, an AG congregation, pastored by Scott Leib, to gift hundreds of thousands of dollars to help Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, victim of arson, open its doors again.
But while Chapel Springs was in the midst of helping Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, Pastor Bob Griffith of Christ Chapel (AG) in Woodbridge had found a fellow pastor who shared his passion for the body of Christ coming together to do Kingdom work.
“I met Pastor Stevie Burke at the multidenominational church leaders gathering and soon realized he had the same heart as mine in churches working together,” Griffith says. “We talked about working together and came up with the idea of swapping congregations — bringing our congregations to the other person’s church . . . that takes some trust, so we decided to trust.” (Interestingly enough, it was Burke who also helped Leib connect with Pastor George Carlisle of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church.)
Griffith says that ministers coming together in unity could only accomplish so much – what was vital was for that message of unity to be communicated to, accepted by, and acted upon by congregations. However, a message or sermon wouldn’t be enough.
“It had to be lived out,” Griffith says.
That’s where the church swapping came into play. In January, Christian Life Church visited Christ Chapel AG, mixing in among the congregation. Burke ministered from the pulpit, speaking on the power of choice and how just as one chooses to serve to be a follower of Christ there are other choices that bring unity to the body of Christ.
“The service was great,” Griffith says. “Many people came up afterward to tell me that they loved what we did, how great it was having another church here, and asking what else can we do with them and other churches . . . it became a catalyst for dreaming for our congregation to do other things with other churches.”
A month later, Griffith and congregants from Christ Chapel AG visited Christian Life Church. Griffith felt led to speak on what some might see as a peculiar topic, especially considering the circumstances of a church swap — foster care.
“I spoke on the power of unity, working together, and that one way we could do that is helping the vulnerable in our community,” Griffith says. “So, I proposed to them that we do foster care together, both of our churches working together to support and work with foster care organizations in our community.”
The message was received with surprising enthusiasm. Griffith says following the service people in the church came up, excited about working together with foster care. One member commented to Griffith, “Thank you for sharing. We’ve been praying about serving the community and this is an answer to prayer!”
Since then, the two churches’ youth pastors have gotten together and are working on how the youth program can work together and serve the community together in addition to the congregations continuing to work on a joint foster care plan. Also, hearing that Griffith’s wife, Wendy, spoke while Griffith was ministering at Christian Life Church, Burke has invited her to come speak to his congregation this fall.
“Our church can’t wait to do it again — to experience having others come and we love on them and go to someone else’s church and they love on us,” Burke says. “It brings a whole different perspective to being a part of the kingdom of God . . . it’s great to walk down the street and someone recognize you from having been at their church — seeing one another as a brother or sister in Christ.”
Burke, whose church has already done several church swaps with other congregations, says what’s taking place in northern Virginia is the fulfillment of a message God gave him nearly 40 years ago, where God showed him three clouds becoming one, moving in front of the moon, and then the clouds disappearing as the moon showed through them.
“He told me that night, ‘My desire is that the world would see Me through My church,” Burke recalls. “Seeing that coming to pass, seeing the body of Christ coming together to impact our communities for Christ is amazing and has been a blessing to me.”
In a world where there’s so much division, including churches divided over territories and beliefs, Griffith points out that the Bible calls believers to be unified in Christ. What has resulted in northern Virginia is churches seeing each other in a loving light and those outside of the Church seeing the Church as a unified, Kingdom-minded body of Christ, rather than disjointed, squabbling groups of “so-called Christians.”
The significance of this unification was made crystal clear when even while Griffith and Burke were first discussing how to bring their churches together in a coffee shop, a woman overheard their conversation.
“We were getting ready to go,” Griffith recalls, “and she came over to us and said, ‘Excuse me. I couldn’t help but overhear what you’re talking about. I’m so excited and encouraged that two pastors from different churches are talking and working together — I would be so excited to go to one of your churches, because I’m currently not going to one.’”
Could there be a clearer confirmation?
“The community is aware of what we’re doing as leaders,” Burke says. “They’re taking a different look at the Church as we’re moving forward together, which is giving us an opportunity to make an even greater impact as we do things together to change the culture and the narrative. I’m excited for what God is going to do and that He has found us trustworthy in this.”