By Amy Butler
It’s the start of the organizational year around here, so all our committees and boards are gearing up for the work of the church in 2010. I think I could write a whole column, or even a book maybe, about how it seems like it was just last week that we were gearing up for the work of the church — in 2009.
All that to say that a few weeks ago I found myself at a morning-long deacons’ retreat sitting around a table of Calvary deacons, many of whom were brand-new to the work of the diaconate. We had a long day of organizational planning ahead of us, but we began our meeting by sharing with each other why it is we find ourselves in this community of faith at this time, and why we feel called to the work of the deacon board specifically.
(This sort of exercise, for those of you who have not caught on yet, is a secret strategy often employed by pastors who are fresh out of unique and witty ice-breaker ideas for group meetings.)
As we went around the table I heard stories I’d heard before and some that were new to me, all touching stories about the life and health and hope people have found in this community of faith. I love these kinds of stories and, believe me, there are some days in this work that I have to sit and recall them just to keep going. One story I heard that day touched me in a way that still lingers, so I thought I would share.
Corina, a member of Calvary since 2000, described the heart-wrenching decision she made to leave her home country of El Salvador to immigrate to the United States, making the long and dangerous trip with only her young son. Tears came to her eyes as she described the grief of leaving and the fear that plagued her as she made her way to a brand-new place, not sure what was ahead.
She described her first week in this new country, where she did not know the language, was unaccustomed to the way things were done, and faced building a brand-new life from the ground up. “I was all alone,” she kept repeating. “I was all by myself and I never felt so alone before.”
As the tears kept coming, Corina told of visiting a local family-support center the first week she arrived. There she met a member of Calvary, who invited her to church. “I came to Calvary that week and I have been here for ten years. Since the day I stepped through these doors I have never been alone again. This is my family.”
Just this past week hundreds of thousands of people gathered a few blocks from Calvary on the National Mall to ask for fair, comprehensive immigration reform in this country.
Millions of immigrants in our communities face a tremendous struggle as they try to carve out new lives for themselves in a place where they feel, as Corina did, utterly alone.
I wondered: what is the church’s response?
Corina’s words rang in my ears as I watched the crowds waving their signs, and I wondered again about the scriptural mandates to welcome the stranger — and love our neighbors — and care for the alien. I realized: That was it. Corina’s story was the church’s response taking on real, live flesh and spilling tears all over the table at the deacons’ retreat.
We are called to be family for each other — this flawed and beautiful community where we each wander in from the far-off places from which we’ve come feeling desperately, terribly alone and hoping for a way to meet and know God.
And when all of us of us who find ourselves without faith and without family and without hope and even without homes, or jobs, or countries or any of those things that anchor our lives walk through the doors of God’s house we find, suddenly and miraculously, that we are not alone.
This — this is the church’s response. May it be so. Amen.