On my first day of General Convention, I had to start as a “visitor” until I could get my alternate name badge. That meant I had some spare time to explore the exhibits in the Exhibit Hall. I decided to grab lunch there, and after I made my purchase, I realized I didn’t know anyone in the eating area, and many of the tables were full of deputations or groups of friends. There was a table with just one petite older woman of color. I figured General Convention was partly about meeting the wider church, so I asked to join her.
We began the normal chitchat of the day – the weather, the food, etc. I asked her where she was from and she said, “Arizona now, but I’m from Kenya.” Well, you can imagine my excitement – one of my best friends from seminary is a female priest from Kenya. We launched into a conversation about what brought her to the States, and before I knew it, we were deep in a conversation about the husband who left her for another woman, the kids he left her to manage, the impact of the divorce on her family, the hurtful things a priest said to her about the divorce, the way she has experienced racism – not just as a person of color, but as a woman from Africa.
After we grieved the hard stuff, and my apology about the sins of the church, she began to tell me about the good stuff: the grandchildren she moved to Arizona to enjoy; the women she works with back in various countries in Africa to produce clothing that will feed their families; the school she is trying to help some of the women establish in their hometown. She was at Convention to display and sell their wares. She jokingly told me, “Yeah, I’m a little concerned. The women gave me several items that are going to be way too small for anyone here to wear.” I knew God had brought us together for a reason! “Mary,” I exclaimed, “I guess that means I’m going to have to buy one of those smalls!”
Later that week, I dropped by new friend’s booth. We embraced like old friends. I could see the wrinkles of hurt and toil on her face more distinctly this time, but I could also see the twinkle of new relationship in her eyes. I came away with a cute dress, but more importantly, I came away with a sense of kinship, of having connected with another human about the journey of life, and where God can work through us to do good. When we talk about evangelism in the church, I always try to remind Hickory Neck that evangelism is about hearing people’s stories and naming God in them. It is not easy work. It will involve sitting down at tables with strangers and maybe even starting by talking about the weather. But if you hang in there, you might just hear the story of how God is working through us all – and even find a new sister or brother in Christ along the way.