Andrew Cheung is the senior pastor of Washington Community Fellowship, a Protestant community located less than a dozen blocks from our nation’s capital that strives to practice love as a lifestyle.
We talked about his interest in crossing boundaries, his personal walk through life with a sense of wonder, and in our ability to create healing for one another.
“I’m always this person who wants to cross boundaries, being an ethnic Chinese born to immigrants from Hong Kong but born in the states but all my living memory has been in Canada until I moved to Washington DC to pastor this church here.
So I’ve always looked at the world, trying to understand differences and notice different ways of looking at the world and ask, “How do we find bridges?” My Chinese name, in Cantonese, means “a household or a family of peace.” So this sense of peace and reconciling and bridging, that’s always been a part of who I am.
As a young young adult, my curiosity about people led me to say, “Hey, everyone is made in God’s image, whether they profess to follow Jesus or not. And so there are glimmers of God in every human being. That helped me to get over my judgment and desire to find differences, [and instead] to find points where I see this hope. I see this evidence of God’s character in a person.
In my church there’s a person that speaks to me a lot. She’s lived here for many years and has had a really hard life, a lot of health problems, family difficulties. And every time she calls me to pray for her, I find myself encouraged because her faith comes through in the way that she hopes and communicates.
What speaks to me the most is when people see the wonder of God and the reality of God and connect with them. So often, as a pastor, you’re going to help and to serve or to support.
And it can be often a giving, but I found that in this posture of giving, this other person has given so much to me in return. And so I walk into situations with a lot of humility and reverence, some might even call it—in Christian language—holy.
It’s a holy moment when you are able to share those things together with one another and God shows up. Those are the glimmers of God’s grace that are always at work in different people.
I’m not paraphrasing correctly, but I think Bono says, “God’s always at work.” The spirit of God’s always at work. We just need to figure out what God’s doing and join in along with it.
God loves everyone. And so if we’re willing to pay attention and slow down, step away from the instinct to judge or resort to transactional relationships, then maybe we’ll recognize God and become a little bit more like God in the process of that interaction.
I connect a lot with God in my thoughts, but also in nature and being outdoors. I need to be quiet to connect with God, but it happens in attentiveness, observation of surroundings, being present. I love to ride my bike. I love to hike and to notice any new place I go. I’m always noticing. I look at places and geography by walking and cycling, not always in a car. Because I feel like when you’re connected with the ground and observing the slope up, the slope down, which way is the wind going? What kind of flora and fauna are around you? Where’s the water source? Those kinds of things help me ground myself in [the idea that] God’s got this world taken care of, and I just need to pay attention to how God’s working in my life. Nature helps remind me of that. Helps put things in perspective.”
“I think racial healing is an outflow of our faith, like the gospel. The Christian faith…for me, one of the core beliefs and the good news of it is that God loves humanity and creation enough to reconcile the brokenness of our souls and our dispositions, which result in breaking relationship with God. So, fundamentally the Christian faith is about reconciliation and bridging differences and brokenness.
Racial healing therefore is, if all are made in the image of God, all races are made…different people, groups are all made in God’s image and are equal of dignity and worth. And the reality is our world does not live that way or structure things to value different people groups in the same way. And so I think the church is called to alleviate the suffering of those who are marginalized and oppressed, but also to speak prophetically—or to speak truth—to structures where that inequality continues.
So through my work with the racial justice task force—the Mennonite denomination that our church belongs to is predominantly white—we’re looking at ways that our structures, our history, the way we do things, might exclude people of color. And how do we move towards what some people call anti-racism?
Not just that we’re not racist, we’re trying to really shift it, deconstruct the racism that exists, and the white supremacy that is really integrated into American society, especially in our history. [We need] to be able to name that and say, “Okay, is there a different way of doing this? How do we elevate voices of people of color?”
Most recently our church has been preaching through this series called Just Relationships in an Unjust World and looking at justice, not just as the righting of wrongs. I think that this is a very American instinct—for a country that’s founded on a revolution—basically sticking the middle finger up to anyone who we feel like they’re oppressing, whether it’s taxes or unfair representation, or whatever. It is an important part of justice to identify right and wrong.
But I’ve been looking at justice as the biblical idea of Shalom or the Hebrew idea of Shalom, which is the flourishing of all. Of blessing. And so it’s more directional as opposed to naming right and wrong. So here is something that America has done to the African American people…we’ve built our wealth on the backs of African Americans. There’s tons of stats that everyone can Google, about Black wealth versus white wealth. And through this series, we’ve been talking about reparations and how scripture can inform reparations. Actually we can find the act of reparations in scripture and say, “Hey, we as a church can be a part of this repairing of broken relationships and moving towards a more flourishing life for all.” But especially those who have suffered under the legacy of slavery in America specifically. And obviously that comes out in other people groups, Native American land loss, any non-white immigrant group in the history of America, Chinese, Japanese.
I think the church does have a space and I think the church sometimes leans too far toward, “Let’s just focus on our relationship with God and focus on being good people and living lives of integrity.” The vertical aspect.
[[And I’m advocating a little more horizontal view.]]
It’s both, which is cruciform.
Some Christian traditions will emphasize the activism part. But some have said that that’s happened at expense of the vertical spiritual convictions and nurture.
The formation of our relationship with ourselves and our souls and our spirits and our minds in relationship with God is having horizontal impact wherever we live and God calls us to be.
We just start with where God’s placed us and pay attention. So for me, living here in DC on the east end of the Capitol Hill neighborhood, when we moved here, we heard the term gentrification. And then we just needed a place to live. And so we were able to find a place to live here and not realizing, “Wait, are we part of this problem?” Then the other question for me is, “Am I really part of the problem? I’m not white.” But I am participating in that economy that advantages mostly white people.
I’ve been thinking about housing, partly because this is my own interest. And in seminary I took a class on the theology of the built environment. How do we plan our cities and our spaces and how do we zone things? And what does that say about what we believe about community and relationships?
That’s how I think about things. And so when it came to housing, you hear about Black and white wealth and home ownership and how historically in America home ownership has been the biggest form of building wealth. We began asking together with another minister here in the city, “How do we address this wealth gap possibly through home ownership? Or how do we give Black families access to home ownership?” This is still very preliminary. We’re still in this learning. So we’re reaching out to different people in the area to find out, what are the opportunities? Who’s doing what?
This started with someone who came to me and said, “We have came into some funds. You’ve been preaching on Black wealth gap. Could we do something with these funds to help with that? Do you know anyone who’s doing that?” So that really has spurred that. I just wrote an email to another congregant today and said, “Hey, you’re asking about this. And these are the conversations I’m having. How do we take action with the resources that God has given to us and help with this?”
I don’t know where it’s going to end up, but it feels more than just a wish and a prayer.
What I’ve tried to do as best as I can, is to point out, “Hey, have you noticed this? Why is it like that? And how does our faith inform a possible appropriate response to that?”
It comes back to connecting more dots of this curiosity. In an observation it’s like, “I noticed this.” Are we willing to take a step back ask, “Why is this the way it is? Why are there different outcomes? Is this affecting people differently?”
“I’m inclined towards adventure and new things and unknowns. Very simple examples of my wife and I, we like to go hiking or go to restaurants or whatever. She’ll prefer to go to things that we’ve been to before, but I’m always looking for new ways, new places to go. And so I enjoy the adventure and the unknown and the questions and the observations that come out of new situations. So I think I’m dispositionally inclined to be in spaces where that’s okay for me.
We can either approach the world with fear…like fear of change or fear of the thing I’m comfortable with is being threatened, or I don’t want the chance of that being threatened or challenged. Or we can go into the world with a sense of wonder and humility and learning, which I think helps us become a fuller human human being.
For me, the Christian faith offers the internal strength to do that without becoming proud or self-righteous at the same time. We can approach the world with fear and holding on to what we know out of fear of losing it or the people that we love, or the ways that we know…or we can go into the world with the sense that, God’s got me, God’s got the world. It’s going to work itself out in God’s view, but we don’t see it all completely.
And yet because of God’s love for me and for the world, I get to be a part of this movement of the world towards justice and peace and flourishing and beauty and love, that the world hasn’t seen enough of yet. So it comes out of a heart of worship, if you use the Christian language.
If God is really God in the sense of supreme and of beauty and love and wisdom and truth, then really God is God over all of creation and our world. So the more of God that we can get people to see the more of the world will become a better place. So that foundation is what I think gives me the ability to stretch out into things that I don’t really know much about. And I’m willing to take a risk because it’s not really my life on the line.
Another paradigm is the growth mindset versus the fixed mindset. Fixed mindset says, “Things can’t change or this is the only way I know.” Where growth says, “Okay, there’s things I can learn here.”
In Western civilization, America’s probably a little slower than Europe and Canada in terms of moving towards post-Christian. And so I think there’s this instinct that also probably coincides with loss of white supremacy. Like, traditionally here, where we want to preserve what we know. And I think sometimes that creeps into our spirituality and we’re afraid of change. Change is going to happen, but [the question is] what kind of change moves us towards this flourishing of all.
What we’re trying to do as a community is to say, “Look, this is the good news of God’s love for us and for the world. We don’t exist for ourselves, our faith isn’t just for us to feel good about being a good human being, becoming a better person. It’s actually to be a part of God’s changing transformation of the world as we follow and serve Jesus.” It’s my conviction.
And so wherever people are called, whether it’s in their paid vocation or unpaid vocation or raising of kids and serving as volunteers that this is that sense of seeing glimpses of God’s grace at work in the world, to have this posture of always saying “God’s at work somewhere here…help me to pay attention to that.”
How do I join in with that? As opposed to building these walls for us to feel safe about the world that we know. Christian faith isn’t just an esoteric spirituality, but it’s meant to impact the world around us where there’s needs. We step into those systems, then we can speak into those or name those things to equip our people to look at the world with wonder and curiosity and hope. Not based on our efforts, but based on God’s work that we get to be a part of it.
I think the Christian faith for me, really gives a true freedom that I can work for justice. I can work for good things in this world and be okay that it doesn’t end up the way I expect it to be. Without that sense that God’s got this, we get frustrated, depressed, anxious, judgmental when things don’t go the way that we expect. [We want] to help our people say, “We can do this because God’s already doing it. And he’s inviting us to be part of that process of moving the world towards Shalom and flourishing.”
And you find out that you get to flourish as a result of it, because God works in you as you join God in that work. So there’s something really beautiful about that.
[My simple message is] God loves you and God’s got you and you can trust God.
Maybe more from a philosophical [view], there’s more to the world than we see and know, and when things are going on, there’s always something else going on. Take the time to notice those things.
The thing that’s in front of us, often isn’t the thing that’s most important. Be willing to ask some of those questions. Do a bit of unearthing and find some wise people along the way. We’re not meant to do life alone. We need others to remind us of who we are and to remind us of the good things in our lives and also sometimes to point out the things that we can do a little bit better. Out of love.
We don’t get to define everything for ourselves by ourselves. If the world started to do that a little more, I think we’d find it a little more compassionate, a little more patient, a little more tolerant and inclusive in the biggest sense of the word.”
-What are the divides that are present in your life?
-Can you think of a time when you were able to bridge one of those divides?
-Do you favor new adventures? Or familiar settings? Where did that come from?
-Do you live in the wonder and mystery of faith, or do you prefer clear answers?
-Is there a time when you felt like you were giving to someone else, but you felt like you received as well?
-Talk about the difference between being non-racist and anti-racist.
-What are the institutions and systems that need to be challenged in regards to race in our society? In the church?
-Are there ways you are actively working toward racial healing? Are there ways you’d like to?
-Andrew says that “the church sometimes leans too far toward, let’s just focus on our relationship with God and focus on being good people and living lives of integrity.” Do you agree?
-What are the big questions you are asking yourself these days? Are you challenging yourself to move forward? Or letting yourself off the hook when it gets difficult?
-How do you balance your vertical looking versus your horizontal looking spirituality?