... the genuine quality of the love and the kindness that was exchanged pierced me to the heart, floored me, devastated me ... .
During spring break that year I took a retreat at Holy Cross Monastery, and that sounds like something a pious kid might do, but I was I wasn’t a pious kid at that point. I was a very confused kid with hostile feelings towards organized religion – anger, frustration, bewilderment. I think at bottom some of that was anger at God because I knew at some deep level I was called to ministry and I wasn’t happy about it. That wasn’t a happy thing for a twenty-year-old. It was kind of Jonah anger.
What happened was I had a dream, literally, about the monastery, which I had only visited once with my mother when I was a kid. I called my mother, asked her “What did I just dream about?” And she said, “That’s Holy Cross Monastery.” And I surprised her, deeply, by asking her to book me a room for spring break.
So I flew home from college, drove to the monastery for a four-day retreat. I brought a big stack of books thinking I’d just basically spend the time reading theology and history and things. But I ended up going to every service of the monastic day, no matter what time of day it was. But I’d sit all the way in the back and I’d be really exuding this hostile energy I had, this anger, this prickly animosity. And I’d literally sit askew in the chair, as much I as I could turn away from the monks and the service. And kind of keep up this negative commentary in my head about how stupid this all is and how annoying and how could people believe this stuff.
And then at meals I’d pick fights with the monks. I’d try to get into arguments with them about theological points – real kind of hostile stuff. I’m not proud of this. I’m not saying this like I’m proud of the 20-year-old overly intellectual, kind of hurt and wounded guy that I was. But that’s how it was.
What is meaningful to me about hospitality in this situation is the brothers just gave me my room, let me be, gave me space, absorbed my hostility, and never let it change how they were in relationship to me.
And so because of that hospitality, that generosity, I kept coming to service until it was time for communion on my last day there. And I found myself following the monks up to the altar table and surrounding the altar table with them at communion, at which point they passed the peace. And the genuine quality of the love and the kindness that was exchanged pierced me to the heart, floored me, devastated me, really destroyed me, shook me to the point that I was sobbing and just a wreck but so happy and feeling so blessed to the point and the communion made perfect sense even though I essentially sobbed through the whole thing. The brothers were moving around passing the peace giving hugs and embraces and, you know, here’s this kid who was hostile and off-putting and annoying and I’m getting embraced and I’m getting loved and I’m getting included and wow – I’ve done everything to get rejected from this place and these people are being kind to me! So here come these hugs and embraces and it was like this great experience, this fundamental experience of God’s love and God’s love as reconciliation and healing.
So, why do I care so much about welcome? Because I really believe that the church has so much to offer of God’s generosity and kindness and acceptance. And that we have everything we need to open our hearts to people who come into us, and respect where they’re coming from and respect their hostility and their anger and their frustration and their hurt, their legitimate doubts, their skepticism. We need to send strong signals that everyone is welcome here, so people can get close enough for these moments of grace to come when the time is right for that person.
So in a profound way welcoming is a practice of generosity – a generous getting out of the way, and not letting our agenda get in the way of newcomers finding a sense of comfort and a sense of welcome that helps them go to that deep place where we meet God.
8:00 a.m. Holy Eucharist
9:00 a.m. Holy Eucharist with music
10:00 a.m. Parish Forum & Kairos
10:15 a.m. worship.together
Holy Eucharist for families with young children
11:15 a.m. Choral Eucharist
Silent morning meditation is offered at 8:15 a.m. weekdays, in the Mary Chapel.
We would love to have you join us.
This Episcopal church is located in the heart of the historic neighborhood of Chestnut Hill, five blocks west of Germantown Avenue at the corner of St. Martin’s Lane and West Willow Grove Avenue.