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The Clergy Corner
On Monday of this week I sat down at Calvin College Fine Arts Center. I was there to learn from Dr. WIllie James Jennings. He's a Grand Rapids native who was raised near Franklin and Henry Streets at a time when African-Americans were redlined: they were only able to buy houses within that certain area. He was raised a Christian in a family which had him in church all day Sunday, from morning to night. He is now an ordained pastor and a scholar. He teaches at Yale Divinity School and is one of our country's leading thinkers on race and religion.
I was so grateful for the way Dr. Jennings mixed hard words and joyful love. My notes reflect his words: "We live in a racial and geographic wound, with spatial distribution of goods and services calibrated along racial lines. What haunts me is the way Christianity has been complicit in that wounding." But no words on a page can capture the infectious joy that radiated from him as he spoke difficult truths. I walked away from my time learning from him thinking, "Here is a man who has found his calling and serves his God." I have not yet read his books but I am looking forward to them!
I was so impressed by his first presentation as part of the January Series that I changed my plans for the day and attended a smaller conversation at Calvin's seminary that afternoon. What struck me there was not his teaching but his audience. I did not know one single person in that audience. I have lived and served God in Grand Rapids since 2001. Calvin is my local seminary and I am a professional clergyperson. All these years it has been here and so have I, and yet we are strangers. We are strangers even though we all would say we are followers of Jesus Christ here in Grand Rapids - and we know he meant that "all might be one" (John 17:21).
I was fortunate that at the end of the gathering, a kind person introduced himself to me, making me feel less strange and alone. But the awkwardness entering a space where I expected belonging and instead experienced alienation will stay with me. I do not yet fully understand what it means and that troubles me. One thing I know it means is that I am the only Episcopal clergyperson in our diocese who attended that conversation at the Seminary. I believe Dr. Jennings' work offers insights on the most challenging issues of our day. I ask your prayers as I try to learn from him to teach our church something of the truth and the joy he brings.
Thoughts to Ponder
In his book
The Christian Imagination, Dr. Jennings describes an encounter that happened in his childhood yard, when missionaries from First Christian Reformed Church visited his mother and him:
"The older man proceeded to talk about their church, the activities they had for kids, and what they were hoping to do in the neighborhood... The strangeness of this event lay not only in their appearance in our backyard but also in the obliviousness of these men as to whom they were addressing -- Mary Jennings, one of the pillars of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church... My mother finally interrupted the speech of this would-be neighborhood missionary with the words, 'I am already a Christian'...
"I remember this event because it underscored an inexplicable strangeness embedded in the Christianity I lived and observed. Experiences like these fueled a question that has grown in hermeneutic force for me: Why did they not know us? They should have known us very well."
For 2019, Holy Eucharist will be offered on the
1st, 3rd and 4th Sundays of the month.
All other Sundays will be Morning Prayer service.
Consider Your Calling: God calls us in many ways: as family members, in the workforce, and in serving one another in the name of Christ through faith communities.
If you picked up a blue form at church as part of the Time and Talent pledge, please prayerfully consider how you are part of building up the body of Christ here at Holy Spirit Episcopal Church in the coming year. This is our first year trying this process and it works best when everyone participates - especially and even those who cannot commit to anything at this time. Just return the form by January 31 with your name and a note saying "not this year" and know that simply your presence is a blessing!
Dates and times:
February 23: St. Luke's, Kalamazoo
March 2: St. Andrew's, Grand Rapids
March 30: Grace, Traverse City
Each gathering will begin at 10 am and end at 3 pm. Doors will open at 9:30 am. There is no cost to attend. Lunch will be prepared by the host congregation.