This is the fourth in a four-part series on homelessness in Fairfax County. Links to other parts in this series are at the bottom of this article.
Watch video of a Rising Hope UMC service here.
It’s noon on a Thursday, and Rev. Keary Kincannon lights a candle in the sanctuary of Rising Hope United Methodist Church. He fiddles with some electronics, and a video pops onto an overhead TV screen. A man in a shiny purple suit is leading a spirited worship service, in the African-American tradition, to clapping and singing from the audience. The sounds of gospel fill the small room as people begin to filter in.
“Hallelujah!” the man on the television cries. A man with developmental disabilities sitting in the rows of chairs answers back: “Hallelujah!” he yells.
Today’s sermon is on radical hospitality. The congregation is enthralled. “That’s right!” one says. “Go on preacher, preach!” cries another.
Kincannon is in his element.
Rising Hope is more than a church. It’s a food pantry, a soup kitchen, a clothing closet. Its staff offers job counseling, an addiction recovery program, English language classes and a children’s ministry. It houses the Ventures in Community Hypothermia Outreach Program, or VIC-HOP. Services are held Tuesday through Friday at noon, and on Sundays.
Kincannon, 62, likes to say he brings the power of Christ to “the least, the lost, the lonely and the left-out.”
“We make no bones about being a church — that’s who we are and that’s our purpose,” he said. “And we believe that lives can be transformed when a relationship with God is developed. But we also realize that that relationship calls all of us to serve one another and to care for one another.”
A Ministry on Wheels
Rising Hope has been in its current location on Russell Road for about six years. The ministry started with Kincannon and his car.
Kincannon, a graduate of the old Fort Hunt High School, attended Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, where he is currently working on a doctorate on John Wesley and the poor. He realized upon graduation that he wanted to go into mission work. He loves his home church, Aldersgate United Methodist, but adds, “I’m not called to pastor a middle-class church.”
After graduating from seminary, Kincannon worked with a ministry in Washington as a community organizer, helping low-income renters establish tenant co-operatives. Still, he felt called to be a minister. He talked with his bishop, who encouraged him to start his own church.
“The only thing I had was my salary, my wife, my daughter and my car,” Kincannon said. “And in those early days I would just drive to the places on Route 1 where I knew there was some need and there might be an interest in doing something.”
Kincannon talked to people in homeless shelters, in fast-food restaurants, at homeless camps in the woods, at laundromats and at low-income housing projects. He started his first worship service in a community room at Pinewood South Condominiums.
He later moved worship services to a public housing project, where the church was chartered, and after that to several different locations, including at what is now Mount Vernon Plaza Shopping Center. “We started to really put our roots down there, but when the landlord saw the kind of people that was coming into the shopping center, he wouldn’t renew our lease,’ Kincannon explained.
The church’s next location was in an office park. Then, in the mid-2000s, the church received a $500,000 from a benefactor and opened shop in the church’s current location, formerly a psychiatric services building.
“I try to help people see that Rising Hope isn’t about just a hand-out — giving things away — it’s not about entitlements,” Kincannon said. “But it’s about what we’re trying to build here, and what we’re trying to build is a place where we work together in the community to address the community’s problems, try to bring solutions to those problems.
“In religious language I would say we’re trying to bring the values of God’s kingdom here into what we do, so we understand we’re about loving and caring for one another.”
Sharing God’s Love
Kincannon doesn’t show one face to the public and another in private, said Tom Devine, chairman of the Route 1 Ministry Board, which oversees Rising Hope. With Kincannon, what you see is what you get, he said, and what you get is genuine concern and acceptance.
“He ministers to people who others ignore, or, if they didn’t have Rising Hope, they wouldn’t have a church,” Devine said. “ … He has a vision, but he treats everyone with respect. I think that’s one of the key things. He can be meeting with a politician, or he can be meeting with someone who lives on the streets, and he treats them all with respect.”
Kincannon knows man does not live by bread alone, Devine said. “The one thing that Keary emphasizes is ministering to the spiritual needs, as well,” he said. “Rising Hope is not just a social services agency. Keary recognizes if people are starving, they need food, but he also understands the spiritual component.”
June Stowe, Rising Hope’s volunteer finance chairwoman and treasurer and former employee at New Hope Housing, said she loves Rising Hope’s commitment not only to serving the poor, but also empowering them. For example, food pantry recipients also volunteer there, she said.
Kincannon, she said, “is totally a pastor who knows how to surround his congregation with love, but he also knows love requires you to have people responsible for what they do.”
A paper-and-pencil sketch of Jesus hangs on the wall near the entrance to the Rising Hope’s administrative offices. It was drawn, Kincannon said, by a woman he served who died a year ago. The woman struggled with bouts of binge drinking — even resorting to drinking Listerine — and was known to pass out at various locations along Route 1. The last time she fell, she suffered a fatal head injury.
Kincannon deeply involves himself in the lives of the people his ministry serves. He calls himself a non-judgmental person, except when he’s judgmental about people who are being judgmental.
“I just have a real passion for including everyone in God’s love,” he said. “And no one is to be excluded from God’s love. I have just a real passion that every person has been uniquely made, has got a unique purpose, has got something good about them.
“They may not see it yet themselves. They may not know what it is inside of them. And people that don’t see that are some of the people that are spiralling down into drug addictions, and making wrong choices, and that sort of thing. But that doesn’t mean that they’re any less loved by God.”
About This Series
Homelessness is a serious problem for many in Fairfax County, especially because housing is so expensive here. This series will introduce you to some of the more than 1,500 people in Fairfax County who have experienced homelessness recently as well as the people trying to help them.
Part 1: A Night at the Shelter (Monday, March 12)