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At 31 years old, Kevin Lum knew he was ready to lead a congregation. The only question he had was where. He believes God had not only called him to his occupation, but that God would also call him to a specific place. So, he and his wife, Charla, set out on a road trip to find out where that might be.
"We like to joke we were basically giving God some suggestions of places we might like to go, says Charla."
They started out in Denver, Colo., and then went on to Arizona, Utah, Nevada and California. "I was particularly praying that California was where God called us," Kevin jokes. "San Diego, or somewhere warm all year long."
Every night they'd arrive in a new city, hop out of the car, find a restaurant for dinner, walk around, and then wait for some sort of sign that this was where God wanted them to be.
Staying in D.C.
They were on the road for a month, and still, no sign. Then they got back home to Washington, looked at each other and realized: they were supposed to stay in D.C.
After six years in the city, the Lums knew all too well how transient and career-focused the city could be. But that wasn't the D.C. they wanted to live in. So, they decided to take responsibility to create a community worth staying for.
Now, just one year later, Kevin is the pastor of his own congregation, called The Table Church. Members meet on H Street Northeast, right near the Lums' apartment.
Services are held inside Douglas Memorial United Methodist, a church in the historically African American neighborhood for more than 100 years. "I felt a little bit awkward as this white kid to say 'I've got a new church for you!" Kevin recalls.
He sent emails to pastors in the area, with low expectations that someone might respond. But by the end of the evening, Douglas' pastor wrote back and after meeting, offered a partnership.
Building a community
The next step was attracting church members. They threw parties, brunches, and dinners and talked with their friends and friends of friends about a vision for a new church. It would be a church devoted to helping everyone in their neighborhood, with projects like a produce market, where both church members and neighbors can buy fruits and vegetables on a sliding scale.
Approaching this issue as a faith community, Charla Lum says, bonds people together for the cause. "A faith community can speak into the myth that 'I am a separate entity to everyone else.'"
The Table Church is now pulling in about 60 people to services on Sunday evenings. The crowd is a lot of young professionals, but also members of the host church, Douglas, and some children as well. Most of the church's outreach is online, with new participants finding out about services through Twitter and Facebook.
Corey Self is a member and says finding a group of people committed to staying in D.C. has changed the way he practices his faith. "There are so many negative things that go along with the church... being this institution that oppresses. But being a group of people who want to love each other, because we're called to love each other, with no exceptions."
And after only a month of gatherings, Kevin says, that's just about the best response he could have wished for.
[Music: "Sigh No More" by Mumford & Sons from Sigh No More]