February 8, 2018
Chris Richter and Stephanie Ruiz lead modern lives. Both Chris and Stephanie are A-type personalities and busy managers who commute daily to exciting careers. Husband and wife for four years, they have a blended family with kids from previous marriages. They even met on an internet dating site. So while both know the slight frenzy of Northern Virginia busy-ness, both are committed to securing the opposite of that modern frenzy through involvement in local church and worship.
The problem for Chris and Stephanie was the 10:15 Grow Hour, which is the hub of Galilee’s small group experience on Sunday mornings. There were so many groups that they were interested in joining, but an extra hour’s commitment at 10:15?
That was their yoga time!
The Richter-Ruiz family love a good obstacle course. (l to r): Abby, Ben, Jonathan, Stephanie, Chris, Josh. Chris is Galilee’s new Staff Parish Relations Committee chair.
“We were torn,” says Chris. “Pastor Jason’s The Current, particularly, is an intriguing class. The folks there bring thoughtful perspectives. It’s terrific to unpack tough ideas with Jason. However, in our crazy lives we treasure those things that Stephanie and I can routinely share. I was discouraged that many small groups met during our “yoga time” or during working hours throughout the week. I’m not a fan of highlighting problems or obstacles without solutions…so I thought I’d offer one.”
The solution to this obstacle for Chris and Stephanie was to start their own small group, which they call “Civil Christianity.” It meets on Wednesday evenings at 7 pm. “My perspective is that Christianity isn’t a spectator sport,” says Chris. “Being a part of something, for me, means being actively involved where I can do some good.”
“I’ve led small groups in the past, and I missed it. We build deep relationships in these settings – I think participating in small-groups is vital to building a personal sense of community, and I value that in my membership in this body of faith.”
“In the case of this specific group,” Chris explains, “I’ve wrestled in recent years with my definition of Christianity seeming to differ with society’s idea. Too often, we see Christianity represented as angry, inflexible, and judgmental. Unfortunately, the topics that most frequently divide us – from secular society and often from fellow Christians – are the stickiest, most personal and emotional issues. Separation of church and state, abortion, same-sex marriage, the justness or ugliness of war. In this small group, I decided to seek the help of others in asking and answering a question: how can we, as Christians, approach incendiary issues with grace and love, find guidance in the Bible, and best reflect what Jesus represents in a troubled world that has never needed Christianity more?”
The Civil Christianity small group is open to all who want to explore these issues. In addition to Galilee attendees, Chris and Stephanie have invited friends from other area churches, so if you come by on a Wednesday night, you are guaranteed to meet new people. You’ll find intelligent and lovingly-treated conversations, even when views diametrically oppose one another. Adam Hamilton’s Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White forms the basis for this class currently, but topics will change as the class grows and develops.
Chris and Stephanie don’t believe in Christianity as a spectator sport. They’ve jumped in with their whole team.
In addition to facilitating this new small group, Chris has taken on the role of Staff-Parish Relationship Committee (SPRC) chair. SPRC serves as a connection point between the congregation and the church staff. Much of SPRC’s charter takes the form of traditional HR functions – tracking workloads, advertising and hiring new staff when needed, evaluating staff, recommending appointments for clergy, etc.
As Chris sees it, “We are also a sounding board for the staff, particularly the pastors, as they carry out the challenging work of leading the church, in terms of both the faith journey and the day-to-day management of GUMC.
“My role as chair is fairly simple: we have an amazing group of people on this committee, my job is to work with them and the pastors to anticipate and mitigate challenges where they arise.”
The role of the church? That’s a bigger question:
“I believe that the purpose of the church is to bring people to God and to help us all deepen our faith and our consonance with the will of God,” says Chris. “Church equips us to help a world in need, materially and spiritually. I’m not sure that that purpose has ever changed. Our world is changing, though, and so we must evolve our understanding of what that purpose calls us to do and be.”