Monday, October 20, 2014

Ode to New Leaf Church

Last week, New Leaf Church met for the final time in College Park. This lovely little church community made the courageous decision that it was time to die.

I wasn’t there; I haven’t been there for a while. The community had changed a lot since I left in 2012. It had no longer been the focal point of my returning when I visit DC. It had become a diaspora of young people moving and visions shifting and needs changing. In emails and conversations from those still there, I sense gratitude and acceptance around the ending of this place. I also know there has been some rupture, some hurt.

So I’m not sure how to receive this news.


I am twenty something and I arrive back home, after five years gone to college and Africa, and I am not the same; home is not the same; maybe God is not the same. I have lifelong friendships here, and these lovely people buoy me up as I adjust, but there is something missing: a community, a place that is big enough for the new me, a place to belong.

When I find it in this funny group of people called New Leaf Church, I catch myself laughing harder than I’ve laughed in a year. I catch myself feeling, sometimes, that I’ve never been more at home, never more fully understood, than in this place, with these people.

It is not true in the strictest sense, because I have been at home before: on a sleepover with girls who have known me through pimples and braces; on a starry night with blankets by a lake in Pennsylvania; in a sunlit cafeteria with bowls of rice noodles and baby corn and love through growing pains; even for a moment in a ten-thousand miles-away concrete classroom in Africa, singing with other homesick girls. I'm grateful for all. At New Leaf, though, there is something new: I am known, for the first time, as an adult. My ideas and gifts and talents are accepted and prized in new ways.

This is a kind of joy I needed. I am playing silly games in a brightly-lit living room, and I am praying fervent prayers by a candle lit at twilight on a winter Sunday, and I am creating new recipes or learning how to bike to work, taught by new roommates in a new neighborhood.


We are moving chairs and putting away instruments and microphones after church on Sunday evening, and they tell me that they want to start a writing group: a Friday night potluck where we can share our words. This group of nerds and me, we gather around vegetarian pizza and herbal tea and we read poems and stories and confessions, reluctantly at first but deeper as we grow. I learn to share of myself in a different way than I’ve been allowed to before—a way that fits me. Something amazing is at work. Writing group seems to invite all kinds of disparate people together into friendship, seems to welcome people who aren’t so sure about church, seems to be an authentic way to be open about our fears and our craziest creative ideas and our Jesus.

Without writing group, I don’t know if I’d have ever started my own blog once I moved away. I don’t know if I’d have ever come to believe that by being honest with a blank page, my story could matter to someone else.

At one point, the group started a blog called Resurrections. I guess it is fitting now. I can’t help but believe that New Leaf’s disbanding will not be the end of its impact.


In 2010, I catch my first conscious inkling that I might want to go to seminary. I have coffee with a New Leaf friend who is in seminary, and after a two-week panic of "if-I'm-going-to-do-this-I-must-do-it-NOW!" I let the thought drift away for a while.

It keeps coming back, through hospital waiting rooms and unexpected job interviews and the patient persistence of the Holy Spirit. I work in another lovely church for a while, and keep attending New Leaf in the evenings. I start thinking maybe I will really follow this inkling in my heart.

Three weeks before my wedding, four weeks before my move to a new state (which I am not looking forward to), I am signed up to preach the sermon at New Leaf, and I wrestle over it late into Saturday night and even into Sunday afternoon, never quite getting it right, revising in my head as I drive around the beltway to church. The topic is Jesus' words, “Do not worry,” so how could I really get it right, when worrying is all I do lately? I feel so inadequate, so presumptuous, to pretend to speak words from God.

I arrive a few minutes late (traffic) and I am invited to sit on a stool with a small group of people I love sitting around. The message comes to life as I speak. I am not funny but they are laughing at my jokes. I don’t have it figured out but in the discussion afterwards some insights come to light. We meditate in silence, and Jesus is here.

Afterwards, a few different people put a hand on my shoulder and tell me they see in me the gifts to be a pastor. They know I am thinking about seminary still, and they tell me to leap ahead, to go for it. On a hike a couple weeks ago, another woman in the community also affirmed me in this way. Today, here, I look around at the faces and I realize I am going to go for it. I am really going to take this leap of faith, apply to seminary, be a pastor.

This community, the one that has been my home, gives me the courage to live fully into my gifts. They echo the quiet whispers in my heart, confirming what I already hope and fear and know about my future. I am full of gratitude and love for this community, and I see how ministry can be enlivened by deep relationships; I see how I could be a pastor of a place like this.


What does it mean that a church where I felt home, where I felt called to ministry, where I felt affirmed in my gifts—no longer exists?

I don’t know.

What I know is I’m grateful. For the people who struck off on a risky venture and started a church in a new place, with a new idea of authentic community and spiritual depth and commitment to the poor. For the people who taught and sang and baked bread and folded chairs and made power point presentations and prayed and sent emails and offered bread and wine. For the people who kept going even when it hurt, and for the people who knew it was time to say goodbye. For the people who let me sing, the people who let me write, the people who believed in me enough to give me a wooden stool and a microphone to speak the gospel, the people who held my tears when Grandma died and danced like fools at my wedding.

New Leaf is no longer a worshiping community. But it is not a failure. It has been, and still is, a deep blessing in my life. I would not have become who I am without New Leaf.

And I know I am not the only one.


  1. This is wonderful, Katie.
    Thank you for taking me along on this journey with you.
    What a special, meaningful place.

  2. Thanks for reading, Cara! As you know, feeling at home in a place is a rare and wonderful blessing...