I spent this weekend at Camp McDowell, the camp and conference center of the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama where the Diocese had gathered for its annual convention. I had some moments of mild exasperation–sitting watching a whole lot of videos and listening to presentations can get long. I am not a big fan of church gatherings, especially large ones. My little introverted self has to work hard to stay engaged. It’s not that I like controversy and chaos, but when all the resolutions presented are passed unanimously without any discussion between motion and vote, I find myself wondering if we are playing it too safe, staying too settled in the comfort of a tidy kind of faith. All of that is there and I was also aware of abiding affection, deep long history, joy and gratitude that moved quietly through the raucousness of lots of people gathered together.
I, who have often had to fight to open a place for myself, who, equally often, has chosen to sit on the edges, sometimes filled with a self-righteousness that embarrasses me, who have been equally prideful at times about not belonging, now find myself called and welcomed into a faith community in ways that give me a lump in my throat. I had the chance to get to know a handful of people from my parish better. Watching darkness fall, way out in the country, talking to a remarkable person, I was beyond glad to be where I was. A group of us set out to take a quick walk between business sessions and ended up taking a longer than expected hike that reminded me of the hiking I did at Tahoe during my 30-day retreat a few years ago. I haven’t been exercising like I should and I was also the only woman in the little pack, but I kept up. I even made myself cross a hanging bridge which is one of those experiences that fills me with fear- and of course, that meant I had to cross it again on the way back to our meetings. I had forgotten my camera at home but had my cell phone with me so I got to take the picture above.
Yesterday at the closing Eucharist, the priest I serve with and I decided we would not vest and process or sit with the rest of the clergy. Instead, we sat pretty far back in nave with our delegation, nobody special or singled out. I am beginning to understand that in the ebb and flow of ministry, there are times to press ahead, push out to the edges, create the spaces where discomfort–and grace–help continue to usher in the kingdom of God. There are other moments when the invitation is all about “the abiding with”. I love the passage in John that describes the call of the first disciples. They asked Jesus where he was staying and he replied, “Come and see.” then, according to John, “They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day.” (John 1:39, NRSV). They hung out together. That weekend when there’s no where else you can go, nothing else you can do but just remain, and see, and be with the people you are with? Not all the work of trying to usher in the kingdom is about endless struggle, suffering and strife. It is also about the companionship that Jesus invited his disciples into.