In its 2003 Annual Report, Rising Hope United Methodist Mission Church noted, "More churches are asking us to come and explain how we do what we do."
That sentence took on national significance last weekend, but the difference was that more than 20 ministers and lay church administrators from across the nation came to Rising Hope instead.
They were all attending their denomination's School of Congregational Development in Washington, D.C., sponsored by The Joint Committee for Congregational Development and the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church. On Sunday morning, they fanned out across the region to learn first- hand how it is done.
"The focus of the school is to train superintendents and pastors on rebuilding congregations," explained Lynn Caldwell, superintendent of a church in western North Carolina,.
"I came here to Rising Hope to learn about their successes because I have been appointed to a downtown church that we are hoping to revitalize," said Pastor Sonny Reavis, High Point, N.C.
RISING HOPE United Methodist Mission Church is located in a townhouse at 8805 Engleside Office Park. It's congregation is composed of members that include "the least, the lost, and the lonely," according to its pastor, the Reverend Keary Kincannon.
As Reverend Roy Vanderwerf, a pastor in South Minneapolis, Minn., explained, "My church is one third white, one third African American, and one third Liberian. When I get back I'll have a whole bunch of things to try on them."
Reavis said, "The church attempts to match churches with pastors' abilities. What we've seen here [at Rising Hope] is the realities of life that can destroy people and what can be done to correct that."
He went on to note, "The church I was assigned to was once "Mayberry" and people there are still trying to deal with the demographic changes that have taken place. Hopefully, I'll find some answers here at Rising Hope."
Mike Albro, director, Addiction Recovery and Outreach in Frederick, Md., said, "I wanted to see the spirit here. I wanted to see if we can share ideas and resources. We are an inner city church with about one third of our congregation in recovery from alcohol or drugs."
The Reverend George Earl, senior pastor, Frederick Centennial Methodist Church added, "There has been a 30 percent increase in homelessness in Frederick City that we have to administer to. The economy and the mobility of the homeless is a very real concern. Homelessness attracts homelessness. There are more resources in the city than in the country," Earl emphasized.
"We came to Rising Hope because they are facing many of the same problems we are facing," Earl noted. "We hope to learn from Rev. Kincannon."
Soo Ung Kim, a layman from a new congregation in Fairfax City, visited Rising Hope because, "I've heard about this church and I wanted to see their accomplishments for myself. Rev. Kincannon attended our chartering service in March. We met with him a year ago to give us some guidance," Kim acknowledged.
"I teach ESL to the Korean people in my area. I didn't realize a lot of the things about the people until I started teaching —particularly how to help people heal."
ONE OF THOSE attending the Rising Hope interaction session was Larry D. Crane, Goldsboro, N.C. "I thought I was going to one of the other churches. But I got on the wrong bus and here I am. I believe I've just been given a message," he said.
"I'm a pastor of a very traditional church. But, I've recently been told by the Bishop that my request to start a new church next year has been granted," Crane said. "I'm going to Clayton, a suburb of Raleigh. It's an expanding suburb with lots of challenges."
One of the most distant ministries to participate in the Rising Hope forum was Travis Park Corazon Ministries in San Antonio. It began as Cafe Corazon with a group of young adults at Travis Park United Methodist Church.
"It's purpose was to fill a need of providing Sunday morning breakfast in a comfortable environment and a loving atmosphere to homeless men, women, and children of San Antonio," according to those attending the Rising Hope visit.
Corazon Ministries now has more than 120 volunteers who serve over 10,000 hot meals to the homeless. They also offer a variety of aides that include among others mental health services, recovery groups, medical and vision clinics, dental hygiene services, job placement, and legal aid.
"I'm delighted we were one of the churches they wanted to see," Kincannon said. "We have pastors and lay people from all over the country here today. They came here to see what we are doing, how we do it, and how they can reach out to their communities."
This analysis was brought home to the visitors in a very real way as they mingled with many of Rising Hope's parishioners during the regular Sunday dinner supplied by the church. This Sunday it was catered by Daks Restaurant just north of Rising Hope Church on Route 1.
One of those parishioners, Tony Abdul, praised the efforts of Kincannon and Rising Hope as he enjoyed his meal. "This is a great place," Abdul said. "I'm homeless and trying to find work. Rising Hope is the best."
Kincannon emphasized, "Equally important as our work with the poor, is our work with the established, church-going, middle class; many of whom are searching for ways to put their faith into action. At Rising Hope, rich and poor serve side by side."
RISING HOPE'S annual report noted, "With the purchase of 8220 Russell Road, made possible by the generous contribution of Edwin and Helen Lynch, Rising Hope will become a stable fixture serving the low-income community along the Route 1 corridor. Our hope is to start renovating in August 2003" and "move in by January 2004."
Kincannon foresees the need to raise $900,000 to bring the new location to fruition. He noted, "Last August the District Stewards and the District Council on Ministry approved a District-wide capital funds campaign."
But challenge is nothing new to Kincannon. After graduating from Fort Hunt High School in 1967, he, by his own description, "Wandered around aimlessly" and in and out of several universities.
Finally, through an encounter with an old friend he came to the conclusion, "maybe religion was the answer." That led to his eventual enrollment in Wesleyan Theological Seminary. He became an ordained minister in 1981.
But the rebel in him could not be quieted and he eventually convinced the hierarchy to let him start a church that would reach out "to the lost and lonely." That resulted in the creation of the Alexandria District Outreach Ministry to the working poor, sheltered, and homeless people of Fairfax County.
In June 1996, Rising Hope was chartered as a United Methodist congregation, and Keary Kincannon became its pastor. Since its founding, Rising Hope has had five locations starting with Kincannon's car.
But he is quick to point out, "Rising Hope is not only a church for the homeless. It is for everybody. Especially those most in pain. We have a wide spectrum of society in our congregation. It includes lawyers, school teachers, and government employees."
Kincannon said, "One of the miracles of Rising Hope is that many in the community we set out to help have begun to find their own healing by reaching out to others. What we're about here is empowering people."