Woo – what a day! I woke up at 4:30 am and drove to Mo-Ranch to be examined for candidacy by the presbytery. It was my first presbytery meeting ever and I was beyond nervous. But, I read my statement, answered a few questions, and was unanimously approved with a warm, standing ovation. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the reception I received and for all of the people who have held me in prayer. Tonight I will celebrate and tomorrow I will get back to work because there is so much of it to be done. In the meantime, if you’re interested in what I said on the floor of presbytery, here it is:
In the church I grew up in–St. Luke’s Presbyterian in Atlanta—there was a secret passageway that ran through the storage rooms between the old Sunday School wing and the choir room. (I think I’m the only one that knows that) And if you stood on a chair in the top row of the balcony, you could climb onto the ledge of the round stained glass window in the back of the sanctuary, and it was just wide enough and just the right curve to sit comfortably and pray. And on the concrete underneath the carpet in the lobby of the new Sunday School wing, all of us who were children when it was built signed our names in permanent marker. Mine was bright red.
I know these things because I spent a lot of time in my church growing up. My church was my home. It was the first–and sometimes only–place that I felt safe, claimed, and embraced.
In the nook of that stained glass window and on a broken down mission boat in Manaus, Brazil, and a dozen places inbetween–my experience with church growing up convinced me of two simple but profound truths: God is love, and Church is home.
My Christian formation as a youth shaped me into a person who believes strongly in a relational God and that authentic, courageous, and vulnerable relationship is our most sacred calling–it is the mark of God within us. This conviction led me to a life of serving others in the nonprofit world, and then ultimately to seminary.
I believe in God’s steadfast and abiding love for all people. And I believe that though our brokenness would divide us from that holy love, Jesus offers reminder, redemption, restoration, and reconciliation. In the face of such grace, we are not content to be merely passive receivers. We are called and empowered–amazingly–by the Spirit to participate in the reconciling and restorative work of Christ. This is a weighty responsibility, but it is also an incredible gift.
A year or so ago, I was speaking with a group of prospective seminarians, and our Vice President of Admissions, Jack Barden, said that he was once told that one’s call ought not to be linked so much to a particular job or position, as to a short, simple, statement of purpose. He asked me to share mine and though I offered something up, I hadn’t really fully figured out my answer. I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
This summer, I spent three months working at Broad Street Ministry in downtown Philadelphia and I finally figured out my phrase–my response to his question. I found the words to express what I have felt for as long as I can remember.
Broad Street is a ministry that serves many in urban Philly who are experiencing homelessness and hunger through meals and other social services. Once a week, the staff meets to share stories, strategies, and compare notes. One week, one of my coworkers reported back about a “guest” who had been visiting Broad Street for a long time. This man had been coming to our meals for years, and had eaten every meal standing up–with his back against a wall–because he didn’t feel safe. This summer, on an otherwise insignificant week day afternoon, this man arrived at Broad Street and sat down at a table to eat for the first the time in God knows how long because he finally felt safe enough to do so.
I can think of no more poignant image of God’s heavenly feast and I can think of no more apt illustration of what I believe the work of the Church to be than this sacred welcoming home. This is what I feel called to. There are too many people in this world who feel homeless and unloved and too many who have been made to feel this way by our own church. Those who are homeless, LGBTQ, immigrant, mentally ill, and so many others. But we know better. I know better. I know–as I have been blessed to know my whole life long–that church is precisely the place where those who would otherwise feel lost should find the comfort and welcome to sit at the table and feel at home.
What seminary has taught me, more than anything else, is that faith is a lifelong journey and I am blessed to have so much more to learn. But this I know: God is love, Christ is love, Church is home, and the work before us is to make sure all of God’s children know it in the depth of their bones. The world is deeply hungry for it, and it is my deep, deep gladness, and my sincerest and most desperately faithful hope to spend my life exhausting myself in that holy, communal effort.