As I worked on the sermon for this past Sunday and reflected about events of the week, I couldn’t help but relate to Elijah a little bit (from 1 Kings 19: 1-18). I felt alone. I didn’t know what to say to take the pain away or to explain how we should respond to the violence filling our world.
After quite a bit of typing, deleting, adding, and crossing out I stood up to preach at First Presbyterian Church in Kinston, NC. My heart ached but I felt at ease for the first time in a week. As I looked out at the faces of those gathered, I knew them. I had just met them, but I knew them. We shared this grief and pain, we shared in the struggles of everyday life beyond the horrific events in the news from Orlando. We shared in the excitement of Father’s Day and we shared in our celebration and praise of The Lord. Despite only meeting thirty minutes before, we knew each other.
There is a power that comes from knowing one another. I experienced the surface level of that, but I quickly learned that this knowledge of one another– their histories, their memories, their stories– ran so much deeper. Following worship, several individuals came to talk with me and then direct me to talk to one particular gentleman. We had just sung “Happy Birthday” to him so I knew “who he was,” but the reasons they shared for their request told me so much more. I had just played trumpet for the offertory and this gentleman used to also play; “this was like a birthday present for him!” several told me. Others explained more parts of his story to me as they guided me down the aisle to officially meet him.
Before worship began, a family invited me to their home for lunch. As we broke bread together that afternoon, they shared their stories of living all over our country as well as in England and Australia. Their son celebrated and shared his own memories from family adventures. They shared what they love about First Presbyterian and some of the things they have been involved in through the church. After we finished lunch, they shared their artwork and Civil War collections with me. They opened their doors and allowed me to get to know them.
In this world filled with violence and hate, spending time with the people we know and love can help to distract us. Spending time getting to know and love new people can serve to push that hatred away, even if just a tiny bit at a time. What is incredible about all of this is that in this world, filled with millions of people who we will never know personally, we are united with one another through our faith.
During my sermon on Sunday, I echoed the words of The Lord and asked the congregation “Why are you here today? Why did you come to church?” I told them that I came because that is where I feel safe in times like this- in that sanctuary, and in sanctuaries around the state and the world, with people who I know even just a little bit because of our shared faith and trust in God. I seek shelter and comfort in these places that I may only ever visit the one time, but will forever be joined with through the waters of our Baptism.
When we know that we are with others we are already joined with, together we can make a difference.
When we take the time and make an effort to get to know one another at a deeper level, we just might begin to change our world.
It was very apparent that the congregation at First Presbyterian in Kinston, NC knew and loved one another and that made a tough morning just a bit easier, it even turned some of our grief into celebration.
How do you provide space for your congregation to get to know one another?
Share your ideas so that we can get to know you better!
Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer
Opening image from http://www.mutualresponsibility.org/