Our theme for the month of March is “Part Two.” Writers were challenged to choose a piece they’ve previously contributed to the post calvin and revisit it, perhaps writing a sequel or reflecting on how things have changed.
India’s original post is “The Uppermost Room.”
In October, I wrote about the church I grew up in—a dwindling congregation rattling around in a beautiful, huge, old building. I was thinking a lot about the space, but lately I’ve been thinking of the people, a faithful band of congregants stretched thin.
With a new pastor in the pulpit after a long stretch of interim pastors, I’ve been hopeful. But in the past few months, we’ve hit a new series of lows.
Two beloved members of the church died unexpectedly. Willie filled the sanctuary with jazz and kindness. Ray welcomed newcomers at the door with easy conversation and offered rambling yet eloquent prayers.
Our pastor is on medical leave for the next three months, needed but inopportune.
A series of budget cuts tell me we don’t have the money to operate as we have been.
In spite of it all, I’ve joined the choir again, donning the billowy turquoise robe. My mother has joined too. She told me she felt despair when she used to sit in the front of the church, but now that she sits in the choir loft, she sees the faces in the pews. She sees how they pay attention, and she sees newcomers who filter in after the passing of the peace or leave without staying for the coffee hour.
Last week, six other members and I sat in a corner of the social hall, sharing bowls of chili and King’s Hawaiian bread. During the season of Lent, we’re reading Mudhouse Sabbath: An Invitation to a Life of Spiritual Discipline, by Lauren F. Winner, who, as it happens, is on the roster of speakers for this year’s Festival of Faith and Writing.
Winner, a professor at Duke Divinity School, is perhaps better known for writing Girl Meets God: On the Path to a Spiritual Life and Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity. She grew up in the Reformed Jewish tradition and became an Orthodox Jew while she was an undergraduate at Columbia. There, the Orthodox Jewish student community was her world, but near the end of college she became increasingly fascinated with Christianity (her mother grew up Southern Baptist) and she converted, joining an Episcopalian church. In Mudhouse Sabbath, she explains eleven Jewish practices and how she weaves aspects of them into her life as a Christian.
Winner writes about the Jewish concept of hachnassat orchim, or the bringing in of guests, and the general concept of hospitality. In her own life, she is embarrassed by her messy housekeeping and wishes her cramped apartment were more conducive to entertaining. She concludes that, as the early church leader Julianus Pomerius writes about the “unbending of one’s self,” so hospitality is both unbending and allowing others in to your most bent places, whether this is dirty laundry or self-doubt.
As we read, we found ourselves wishing she was writing less about her individual life and more about a more communal hospitality, that she would give us instructions on how to practice hospitality toward new people who come in to the church.
I’ve been wondering how we’ll function as a community with our pastor on leave or how we’ll extend hospitality without the member who did that best.
I was still thinking on this in the abstract when, on Sunday, as the last notes of the postlude had barely faded away, my choirmate made it concrete: she told me she wanted me to step in to make sure the church newsletter gets put together and fill one of the committee spots that Ray had held.
I hesitated, then told her I would. I’m still pondering what it means for us to be in fellowship and how we unbend toward others, but updating the newsletter seems like as good a place as any to start.