It was fun to read the book of Jonah in Hebrew – but what good did it do the women I visited in their home just hours after they were assaulted by a husband or boyfriend?
What was the church doing for these women?
I felt like I was in an ivory tower, distant from the needs and pain of the world.
And I was angry by the resistance my seminary and some people in my church
- the ELCA – was giving to full inclusion of LGBT people.
So I left. I came home to Albuquerque and worked in a domestic violence shelter.
I quickly learned that if I was disappointed by people in the church,I was just as disappointed by what I had romanticized as social justice work in the women’s movement.
I learned that people are people, and we bring our flaws and egos into whatever work we do, whatever good we are trying to achieve.
After about six months I learned something else.
My father was diagnosed with cancer, and needed major surgery.
As my mother and I sat in the hospital, waiting, Pastor Melinda came to visit us.
I knew Pastor Melinda well. When I was a senior in high school, I was the youth representative on the Search committee that called Melinda to my home church, St Paul Lutheran here in Alb.
I had visited with her often during my college years and she had supported me,with much honesty and discerning clarity, in my first steps toward ordination.
But it wasn’t just my friend Melinda that came to pray with me that day.
Melinda came as a representative of the church –the community I’d grown up in, and the wider community I was struggling with.
I was not on good speaking terms with the church – but there was Melinda, wearing her clergy collar, praying with us and sitting with us and sharing love and support from our church family.
it’s not that we were not praying before Melinda showed up.
It’s not that we didn’t know God was with us.
But Pastor Melinda’s visit was a sign of the love and support of our community of faith – and it meant a lot.
Melinda brought a healing presence to us in the midst of our fear and hurt.
And I knew.
I don’t remember if it actually came to me that day, or if it grew in me in the days and weeks that followed – but I knew I wanted to be part of that healing community.
I wanted to be that person who carries into the room, not just my love,
but the love of Christ and of a community of care.
It was not a direct or easy road back, from that moment to my ordination 4 years later,
but I made it.
And now, nearly 20 years later, I am blessed to be a part of St Michael and All Angels, because I believe this is a place that knows something about the healing that is offered and found in community.
I have been privileged to speak words of acceptance and healing on behalf of this church.
I have been able to tell people who have been asked to leave other churches – you are welcome here. We see Christ in you.
I have been able to say to people who have been barred from communion in other churches – Come to the table.
This is the feast of Jesus Christ, and all are invited to share communion here.
These words have been healing for many who have come to us – and they have also been healing for those of us privileged to offer hospitality and welcome.
And they have been a healing witness to the larger church – the Episcopal church and all our Christian brothers and sisters – to what the body of Christ can be.
I have also found at St Michael’s a community of prayer.
We have an intercessory prayer list which goes out to over 80 people who covenant to pray for all the members, family and friends of this congregation who request our prayers.
We pray for one another as an act of love,
holding the pain and need of our brothers and sisters in our own hearts before God.
We don’t need to convince God to help us.
We don’t need to tell God something God doesn’t already know or invite God into a place where God is not already lovingly at work.
But we pray to bring ourselves and others into awareness of God’s constant care.
We pray because we believe, deep down, in the healing power of prayer – whatever the outcome of a situation.
We pray to find ourselves already held in the reality of God’s love.
And people tell me all the time that they feel the prayers of this community.
Two people I have visited in the hospital this past week have told me how much it means to them to know the people of St Michael’s are praying for them.
We encourage one another with our prayers.
this morning, we recognize the feast day of St Luke, the evangelist and physician who ministered with Paul in the earliest years after Jesus’s life on earth.
We remember Luke by offering anointing and prayer in this community,
offering ourselves and our needs to God, holding each other in love and prayer.
At our best, the church is a community of healing.
I was reminded of this at our Diocesan Convention,
which was in Las Cruces this past Thursday – Saturday.
Much of diocesan convention is about doing business – making small changes in the canons, passing a budget, hearing reports about archives and communications and lots of numbers.
This is a part of the church that can be off-putting –
the part we sometimes want to run away from.
In fact, I recently spoke with someone who told me candidly that he left the church after serving on the Vestry.
After seeing the business side of the church, it just didn’t seem like church anymore.
But this work we do – the work of convention,
the work of our Vestry,
the work of committees and fundraising and budgets and meetings –
is also about the mission of the church.
Karen Longnecker is a young woman from St Mark’s who serves on the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church. She wrote in an article in the most recent diocesan newsletter,
“Governance is messy, necessary, and an act of faith. . . . I am proud to be a member of a church that is democratic, and democracy is messy. Through governance we attempt to align our resources and priorities with the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God, the place where God’s reign makes all things new. This movement is often a daring and unpredictable act of faith. “
One of our speakers, Canon Lance Ousley from the Pacific Northwest, reminded us:
“The kingdom of God is marked by healing and whole-making –
bringing hope to those who are hungry, homeless, lost, and who feel unloved.”
The church has its flaws – it is, after all, made up of people.
But I love the church.
I love it for what it is – and I love it for what it can be.
In Las Cruces, I met Susan Hutchins, the director of Borderland Ministries, an outreach of the church which works in poor communities on both sides of the border.
They raise money to provide food for families.
But even more, they provide sewing machines and raw material for women in Palomas,
a community in Mexico, to support their own families.
A few years ago, when the diocesan staff was cleaning out the attic, so to speak,
they found thousands of Camp Stoney t-shirts from decades of summer camps, which they donated to Borderland ministries.
Susan said she gave out shirts to kids and adults, and is still sometimes amused to be visting a community just over the border and see a kid running around in a Camp Stoney
t-shirt. But there were still shirts leftover.
Then someone had an idea – the t-shirts could be made into rag rugs.
The women in Palomas made the rugs, and Borderland ministries sells them.
The full price of the rug – or the baskets and purses the women make with other donated materials – goes directly back to the woman who made it.
There were stories from Episcopal Relief and Development, which is also involved not only in direct aid but in assisting individuals and communities to become self-sustaining.
I heard about a project the national Episcopal Church office in New York is doing to reach out to young families who may have little or no experience of church, but find themselves with questions about God and meaning and community as they begin to raise children.
We celebrated again a successful summer of camp at Stoney, with over 90 campers in attendance, and the preparations we are making together to touch even more youth and adults in the 2015 season.
We, together, are the church.
Each one of us here is a part of a community which offers us healing and grace,
and then invites us to participate in healing and whole-making in a hurting world.
This is not the ideal community we would like it to be,
but it is a community which strives to love one another,
to welcome the stranger,
to bring good news to the poor and proclaim release to the captives.
We are a community of people who gather to be healed and fed,
and to carry hope into the world wherever we go.
Thanks be to God