As a priest, it is pretty rare that I get to sit in the pew, let alone worship in or experience another church’s community. But last week I had the opportunity to do that in two very different, but blessed ways. The first was taking my children to Vacation Bible School (VBS) at a local Disciples of Christ church. The church is one of our ecumenical partners, and I had preached there during a pulpit exchange last Lent. Our children had requested attending VBS, but our shared Episcopal offering was at a time we could not do. So off to the Disciples of Christ church we went. As we ate dinner each night, and as the kids ran off to crafts, music, teaching, and play, and as I sat in on the adult class, I felt like a guest in a wonderful house of hospitality. I watched as within just a week, the church members fell in love with our children, giving them hugs and high fives, teaching them powerful lessons about how they are made for a purpose and that God is always in their corner. It was a wonderful gift to be welcomed as strangers and sent off as fellow disciples in Christ.
The other experience was quite different. A gentleman who had worked for the cleaning company we use at our church passed away unexpectedly a few weeks ago. His church hosted the funeral, and I attended the service on Sunday. The funeral was admittedly a difficult one. Lonnie had experienced a rough road in life – from the loss of family, addictions, homelessness, imprisonment, recovery, and new life. I only knew his story superficially, having been introduced to him through one of our parishioners who was a mentor of his. But what I witnessed was a community of faith who completely embraced Lonnie in every way – loving him fully, accepting him as he was, incorporating him into the life of the church, welcoming him into their homes, and being active agents of his recovery and faith life. They offered me a powerful witness about what Christ-like relationship looks like.
I come out of those experiences with two distinct conclusions. First, I have a renewed appreciation for my own faith community. Though I learned powerful lessons last week, I also developed a renewed love for Hickory Neck and our distinct work in furthering the kingdom in the greater Williamsburg area. My experience reminded me of what radical hospitality can feel like as a recipient and made me want to offer it more.
Second, I am impressed with the broad range of expressions of faith in Williamsburg, and I am grateful that there is a place where anyone can find a church home. The witness for Jesus is strong in this community. I suspect that the more we appreciate our collective witness, the stronger our individual witness will become. If you have not invited a friend or acquaintance to church lately, I encourage you to do so. Experiencing the gift of Christian hospitality, community, and formation at Hickory Neck is not a gift to keep to ourselves. That gift can be life changing!