After thirty four years of ordained life, I have developed some assumptions about the church and its ministry. I can own some of these assumptions, but many of them are so embedded in my practices and habits that I don’t know that they are even there.
In the Introduction to his book, People of the Way, Dwight Zscheile outlines some assumptions that most of us bring to the Episcopal Church; that we are shaped by the “establishment” nature of the history and practice of the church.
He indicates that we assume:
- that people are looking for a church and that they will know how to find us
- that people come to us already Christians and that we can just make them church members
- that everyone must learn our “charming and antiquated customs and language, rather than claiming the vernacular principle that lies deep in our heritage”
- that we assume a place of privilege, where we “dispense resources or power from the center, as benefactors” (page 4)
We may quibble with some of these assumptions. I, for one, am indeed charmed by our customs and language. Not just charmed, but fed by them. Yet it is the case, as Dwight indicates, that our assumptions can impede our Gospel call to follow Christ in a posture of “mutual vulnerability, where we receive God’s hospitality through the neighbor or stranger” (page 4).
Last week I went over to the soup kitchen next door. I go once a week or so to talk to some of the 200 or so men who wait outside in line for soup, and later for a meal. In a very real way they are my neighbors. One man whom I have talked with a couple of times wished me a happy new year. He then said that he hoped that 2014 would work out better than 2013. Not just for him – but in a movement of his arm which extended to include everyone on line, but his hopes for the new year extended to everyone on the line. “It’s not going to work if we all don’t receive the blessing. It’s not just for me.”
I knew something of his challenged circumstances. But he offered a level of greeting and hospitality that warmed my heart on a cold day. It broke open my assumptions. I thanked him for his graciousness. I told him that his joy made my day.
You never know who your teachers are going to be.