Maybe you've noticed that I love the church I serve.
This little congregation has been my most profound experience of community - beyond family, friends, neighborhood, and alma maters. I have been shaped by the way they wrestle, struggle, celebrate, and serve at every turn. They are extravagant grace and when I am with them I can see heaven.
I will never forget my first Ash Wednesday, when L got stuck in the lift elevator in the back of the Sanctuary, riding up and down with a thud while eating a hot dog until one of these saints set her free and gave her a hug. K, who looks exactly like Flavor Flav, came up for ashes with a shit-eating grin. He had not noticed the solemn atmosphere, responding to my declaration of his dust with, "Alright, alright! Yes, Ma'am. Whoo!"
I smile whenever I think about M and S serving communion at Recovery Worship some years ago. S balanced and broke the bread gingerly on her deformed, motionless arm while declaring Christ's body broken for us. M pronounced her line, "The blood of Christ shits for you." Clarifications were futile since the dementia loop was too short and everyone understood. The sacrament had new meaning, shared through the beautiful strength and weakness of these women.
I rode in squad cars, coordinated interventions, watched last breaths, and wailed with the suffering. I received the ashes of a man no one would claim but us from the county. People trusted me in the midst of their anger, grief, addictions, recoveries, relapses, fifth steps, and darkest secrets. They welcomed me into their different realities as I listened to experiences of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and phobias. I learned about homelessness and housing, renter and refugee rights, planning for an active shooter and how to use a defibrillator. There was no class at seminary for these things.
I learned generous and nimble ministry where everyone receives dignity, shares the vote, debriefs with feelings, finds inclusion, wonders aloud, and it is safe to challenge and correct others about the stuff that matters. It was not uncommon for a Jewish woman to sing the Good Friday solo and a Muslim woman to staff the nursery. New neighbors about my age wandered in to find what they didn't know they needed: proxy grandparents, scrappy worship, solid theology, room to breathe, shared leadership, peers rooted in vocation, and another crack at being the church despite past heartbreak or continued skepticism.
My body grew and changed to hold my daughters while members and neighbors brought thousands (thousands!) of diapers for our use. I thought of their generosity each time I changed one, always reminded that we don't have to manage the crap all by ourselves. They let my children show up as they are, loving them through chatty stories and temper tantrums, once pouring piles of Cool Whip straight into their palms during coffee hour. Each night my son is wrapped warm in a quilt they so lovingly made.
We repaired stained glass windows and ripped out carpet, built a shed and crafted clever marquee signs. We loved our neighbors and welcomed the stranger, making small talk in broken Spanish and Somali, finding space for our Muslim brothers and sisters to pray, anointing the sick or cold in dead of winter. We blessed and sent those who moved through our community, we buried those who were called home, and we welcomed in many more than I can count.
We flipped lefse and rolled meatballs. We ate soup and samosas, drank wine or counted days sober. We opened windows, waved dish towels, and kept morale high until the smoke alarm stopped beeping. They prank called me at the office or made me jewelry at the group home. They remembered Pastor Appreciation Week, baked me bread, forgave me often, and left restaurant gift cards in my mailbox. Each Christmas Eve I found a ham and a pound of butter with my name on it. They encouraged my vacation time instead of keeping track. They understood better than and before I did that I am a person and I am enough.
Zion is alive and beautiful and unique in the way it has receives real and broken people for magnificent relationships and love. I know many people think their church is a special snowflake. Zion is a special snowflake with a unicorn-shaped cherry on top. Shamelessly biased, I know. This post has turned into my mix-tape for my relationship with Zion.
When I told Jasper that we only have a few Sundays left at Zion, he was sad. "You mean our next church won't be yellow?" There was devastation when he realized his church friends weren't coming with us - and I am sorry to say goodbye, too. But it helps me bounce back from that jealousy thinking of them carrying on, showing up, and welcoming someone brand new for the next chapter, which is brimming with wild possibilities. This niche of the kingdom will continue to provide creative hospitality, humor, and hope to a wide community of members, friends, neighbors, and partners. And they will follow the Spirit somewhere I never imagined in my time there.
Being tugged someplace new doesn't mean you are suddenly called away from the place you are now. But perhaps it means you have been privy to extravagant grace that cannot be contained by one parish or one neighborhood. Perhaps it means your backpack has been emptied and refilled several times since that Ash Wednesday six Lents ago. If I start wandering, I might find out what I've got in there.
I know how Zion has loved and challenged me in this chapter.
Now I get to find out how they have equipped me for the next.
"Does anybody at this new church give high fives on the way back from communion?"
Not yet, buddy. But maybe you can teach them when we get there.