As of early yesterday morning my colleague Matthew is shepherding a large group (48) of youngsters and adult mentors on an Appalachian Service Project mission trip. I’ve been on a dozen similar trips and remember telling Matthew some time ago that the most rewarding part of working with young people in the church is hearing from them, sometimes many years later, and celebrating who they’ve become.
Three students from the Campus Ministry I served in Kentucky are now ordained as priests in the Episcopal Church. I’ll never forget getting an e-mail from Ben, who was moving into my old office at Christ Church in Bowling Green. He wrote to say that the office was familiar but the view different from the other side of the desk. Recently I met Courtney and her family on the grounds of the National Cathedral. Courtney just graduated from The Virginia Theological Seminary and will be ordained to the priesthood in the coming months. I remember her in braces and J2A.
Today I got an e-mail from a Lee, a former parishioner at St. George’s in New Orleans. Lee and I did some work together on racial reconciliation in New Orleans and he wrote to share a prayer that was read at the end of services at St. George’s yesterday. The prayer was a heart-felt response to the tragic events in Charleston, S.C. and was written (and read) by Lindsey Ardrey. I met Lindsey when she was in high school and after leaving Bowling Green to attend an out-of-state college she transferred back to KY to attend Western Kentucky University and became an active and faithful member of our campus ministry there. Lindsey is African American and always provided a helpful perspective to our conversations about faith in a group that was (without her) all white. Lindsey is now the youth minister at St. George’s Episcopal Church in New Orleans where I was rector from 2007-2012! You gotta love apostolic succession… it’s a small world and an even smaller church, in the best possible way.
Here’s Lindsey’s Prayer:
“Lord, we know that we cannot love without forgiveness. The world seems astonished that the beautiful souls in the Mother Emmanuel Bible study group and their families so openly received and have so swiftly forgiven the young man who took their lives. But as Christians, that’s what we are called to do. Forgive. Love our neighbors as ourselves. In this moment of tragedy, God, I ask that you create in us new hearts. Let us fill our hearts with the abundance of your love and unselfishly share it. Give us courage to be the reconcilers of all hate and division. Help us to not overlook or take for granted the differences that make our brothers and sisters so unique in God’s eyes. In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he talks about the testimony of conscience. He says he’s able to boast of the testimony of conscience not by earthly wisdom, but by the grace of God. Lord, I ask that you help us to understand the meaning of those words. Let us strive every day to walk the path Jesus has laid for us, displaying the testimony of our conscience. When people hear the testimonies of our hearts, what will they hear? Help us to weave a story that’s worthy of your praise. Because we know that only through serving you, do we find perfect freedom. And we cannot be free until the least of us is free. In your name, we pray. Amen.”
Thanks, Lindsey. Thanks Matthew and the youth and mentors on pilgrimage in Appalachia. Thanks Hilary, Ben, Kendall, Courtney. Thanks to so many others not named here. And thanks be to God. Pass it on. The faith. The hope. The love.
Forgiveness isn’t weakness; forgiveness is strength. Nor is it condoning what the perpetrators did. i still think the act in Charleston calls for an investigation into not only American but the world’s conscience. It would be wrong not to begin to re-educate people and to indoctrinate them more perfectly in love. I remember in Italy where I lived for twenty years the plight of the refugees from Africa. Well, when the boats came, more like trains in the Holocaust, the Carabinieri (State police) went out to meet them and got on board and started throwing people into the water to drown. Now it is all very well to forgive but when is it going to stop? Racial violence is a world wide phenomenon and passively accepting it is not so great. So if you forgive, teach when you forgive. A black person who has suffered this kind of thing for years, all that suffering should not be just swept aside for the comfort and convenience of the white hate. Re-education is forgiveness too.
I like it best when I have to forgive God. I realize this is a huge TABOO in Christianity, but I have looked our Lord in the Eye and said: You know, Jesus, I forgive the thirty five years of suffering but I really can’t understand why you are against my joy and happiness?
Wow, Jim. You are way ahead of me. I really admire your cup. So genuine. So real. Thank you.
I’m standing by your side, Christian. And not one step ahead.
Thanks, Jim, for praying for my Karate. It really helped. Will you pray for my happiness and for my Chinese?
Thank you, Jim, for sharing these stories and Lindsey’s prayer. They help keep hope alive.