Much and Nothing Has Changed

By Young Lee
In the 1989 film, Back to the Future Part II, Marty McFly and Doc travel 30 years to the future to the year of 2015! Yes, that was only 7 years ago. The familiar street names and the courthouse and clock tower situated prominently in the town center, reassures them that they are in their hometown, Hill Valley, California. (Fun fact: the same courthouse was featured in Gremlins and To Kill a Mockingbird.)

Yet, though the location felt familiar, so much has changed! Cars now fly and rainbow iridescent caps are the new fashion trend. Youth speed along the streets…and over the water…not on skateboards, but on levitating hoverboards. Nike still makes high-top sneakers, but now they light up and self-lace, promoting laziness with a little neon bling. (Fun fact: The future is here now! You too can buy Nike Adapts which lace up on their own with a click of a button on their app.)

After 30 years, nothing and so much had changed in Hill Valley.

For many of us the pandemic has felt like we’ve been frozen in stasis, and we’re just starting to wake up from the fog. Some of us are heading back to our offices, albeit for one or two days a week. Others of us are venturing back to our favorite restaurants, to the airports, and even to the movie theaters. And as we slowly wake up from our hibernation, we are realizing that a lot has changed and at the same time nothing has changed.

I think many of us are feeling very similarly about church. As most of us now have returned or are slowly returning to in-person worship, you might be noticing that a lot has changed and at the same time nothing has changed at Emmanuel.

At the beginning of 2021, we moved from the Arlington campus of George Mason University to our new home at Rivendell. The drab padded auditorium has been replaced with a beautiful resonant sanctuary. We no longer smell the aroma of Pollo Rico beckoning us to come in. Instead, we are tempted by fish tacos from District Taco and barbeque from Sloppy Mama’s. The children now have an enclosed courtyard and playground to run around in rather than playing on the red Capital bikeshare bikes situated precariously close to Fairfax Boulevard.

Much has changed!

Over 26% of our congregation began attending Emmanuel sometime during the pandemic. Families and individuals have also moved away as many companies have shifted to fully virtual. Thus, many of us are coming back to a community that has been infused with new faces to meet and new names to remember.

Much has changed!

In June of 2020, Stephen Bates moved up from Asheville, NC and took over as our new worship leader and youth group director. The youth group has more than doubled in size during this period of time, and we’re starting to hear a new unfamiliar sound at church – the thud of basketballs on a gymnasium floor. Almost overnight, the youth are now tall enough to play alongside the adults and numerous enough to kick-off the adults from the court.

Much has changed!

Finally, during the pandemic, we have seen the ethnic composition of Emmanuel shift from about 37% non-majority culture individuals to almost 50%. Nearly every month, we are treated to an incredible Sri Lankan meal, lovingly cooked by one of our new church members. The sounds of people speaking Spanish and even Tamil during fellowship time have become more commonplace and louder in volume.

Much has changed…

…and yet, nothing has changed.

Emmanuel is still the same caring and nurturing community where newcomers have always been welcomed – not as guests – but as family members. Though the numbers have grown and the facilities have changed, Emmanuel’s commitment to discipling our children and youth towards a greater understanding and love of Jesus have only become stronger. Our recent growth in diversity is new but it’s only the byproduct of a vision that has remained unwavering since Emmanuel first launched. And though the draft location and participants have changed over the years, the winner of Emmanuel’s Fantasy Football league remains relatively consistent! (You know who. Hint: 2011, 2012, 2018, 2019 and 2021)

However, more seriously and most importantly, though the appearance of Emmanuel looks different, the foundation of Emmanuel remains consistent. The life of our community, the motivation of our ministries, and the central focus of our worship and preaching continues to be the Gospel. As we slowly but surely step out from the fog of the pandemic, there’s much that seems different. However, the grace of God, which resounds in our new sanctuary and salts our conversations with newcomers, has never changed.

Much has changed and yet, nothing has changed!

Pandemic | Community | Diversity | Newcomers | Youth Group | Back to the Future | Fantasy Football | Sloppy Mama's