One of the very first lessons imparted to me by a mentor in ministry was simple: Show Up. Show up for your congregation. Show up for your colleagues. Show up for your friends. Show up for social justice. I could keep going, but I think you get the point. It seems simple, but like most things, showing up becomes complicated.
Our city (and country) is deeply divided by race and class. This is no new reality. Shouting voices on television and social media encourage us to live more separated lives. It is difficult to overcome. Yet, we know that division is not God’s will. As people who live in the way of Jesus, we are called to build bridges and develop relationships, reclaiming what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. named as the ‘beloved community.’ Scripture calls it God’s reign. The first step is showing up. Since I cannot ask our community to do something that I have not done myself, showing up became an urgent call for the sabbatical.
During June, July and August, I worshipped at Pine Street Christian Church, our historic African American Disciples congregation in Tulsa. Prior to visiting Pine Street, I worked hard not to create any expectations of what the time would be like. Yes, I wanted to begin building a relationship. But, no one owed me a relationship simply because of my intent. In my study of African American experiences and my black friends’ testimonies, it is clear that we white people can have good intentions, but not always be truly sensitive to the experiences of African Americans and the multi-faceted reality of racism. People of color often have deep wounds created by well-intentioned white people. I carried this with me, knowing that I too have “stepped-in-it” and hurt someone unintentionally before in my life. My prayer was that when it happens, I will be able to hear with gratitude the truth shared with me and see the bravery it takes to share it. It continues to be my prayer.
As I prayed my way to worship that first Sunday morning, I asked God to teach me whatever I needed to learn. As usual, God provided in spades, because the people of Pine Street are ready to respond to the world with love and mercy. Before going, I did not let anyone there know I was coming. Much like at Bethany, though, once you walk through the doors, there is no staying incognito. Not only was I warmly welcomed, Rev. Brenda Denson called me forward to sit on the chancel! It was a humbling experience being welcomed this way. Each Sunday, Rev. Denson’s sermons spoke to my personal struggles of faith in a way that felt like she could see right into my soul. That, of course, was startling, and a balm to my heart.
Hmmm, at once startling and a balm to my heart? God sure does know how to make this journey of faith interesting. This summer’s sabbatical was just the beginning. Showing up is not a one time action, but a way of being. If we seek to see a more equitable and just city, it is our work to do. If we believe that God’s love is for everyone, we are called to build relationships that share love in a way that defy our world’s divisions. Let’s show up and see what God has in store. Can you join me this Sunday, September 15 at 3:30 pm for a worship service at Pine Street Christian Church? Meet me at church at 3 if you would like to carpool. Prepare to be back at church around 6.