There is grace upon grace in my calling to Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church. Most of all, the riveting gift to accompany people of all ages on their journeys of faith, through the hills and dales of this weary, wonderful, broken and blessed world. I’m sure many pastors can say the same about their ministry contexts.
I, however, have an utterly unique blessing.
Most weeks, I have the opportunity to meet someone who has never before been to the church. Perhaps a relative of a member or an employee from a nonprofit or maybe a repair guy. Whatever the reason for the visit, I make it a point to invite the newcomer to see the sanctuary. I open the swinging door and step inside, shuffling quickly to my right not only to let that person pass but to catch the look on the newcomer’s face.
There are audible gasps. It is a beautiful sanctuary.
I trail behind as that person walks down the aisle, head swiveling from left to right and back again. It’s not only the overhead wooden beams and magnificent windows. It’s not only the surrounding trees that seem a part of the sacred space.
There is something in the air that I might drape with words like “shimmer” or “sparkle” — but words cannot capture it, just like “Spirit” or “grace” cannot speak of the ineffable.
What I can say is that this sanctuary exists because of the resources, energy and faith of hundreds of people over the years. But most of all, because of the leadership of Mindy Douglas, the founding pastor of Chapel in the Pines.
I first heard of Mindy while I was a student at Union Presbyterian Seminary. My wife knew Mindy from her time in campus ministry at the University of North Carolina. Mindy was a role model for her and many other Tarheels. Mindy was also active on Union’s campus, so I heard about the church she had organized and led. Chapel in the Pines opened its sanctuary the year I graduated from seminary.
I kept in touch with Mindy through NEXT Church gatherings. Whenever she spoke, she articulated the cusp of the “next thing” in the denomination and parish ministry in general. I admired her vision as well as her talent. Plus, she was hilarious and laughs at her own jokes!
From my view at Chapel in the Pines, I still admire Mindy’s ministry. She serves at First Presbyterian in Durham and in the neighboring New Hope Presbytery. I learned about her efforts to spearhead relief from medical debt for some of North Carolina’s most vulnerable citizens. The campaign through RIP Medical Debt is called “Building Beloved Community.”
It strikes me that this phrase is also a perfect description of Mindy’s ministry. Whether in wooden sanctuaries or the hearts of the faithful, she builds the kin-dom of God wherever she goes.
The other day, a piano tuner entered the sanctuary of Chapel in the Pines for the first time. I heard his sharp intake of breath and watched his eyes widen with wonder. Then, he turned to me: “Did you help build this?”
I smiled and shook my head. I have reaped where many others have sown — especially her.