I was at a meeting in Minneapolis for two days last week, and I have been processing that fact ever since. As meetings go, this one was important…pivotal even, I suspect. It was a gathering of a dozen and a half people, some of whom were emergent Christians and more than half of whom were Anglican types. I say “types” advisedly, because most of the Episcopalians were there because we are what is now being called “Anglo-mergents.” That is, we are traditional Anglicans, tied to our liturgy and our Book of Common Prayer and our strong sense of ecclesial history, but infused with the passions and post-modern theology of the Christianity emerging now in the 21st century. Heavily incarnational, heavily missional, deeply persuaded, aesthetically and relationally oriented, that fresh expression of the ancient faith is a post-denominational re-invigoration for our time in much the same way that Protestantism was itself a re-invigoration of the faith in Reformation times.
There have not yet been many meetings like the one in Minneapolis. Without a doubt, there will be many, many more, and very shortly. But I have not yet walked away from any one of the few that have been convened without a spirit full of hope and a heart full of some newly perceived or comprehended principle. Last week, that principle came by way of Sara Miles.
Sara Miles is a professional journalist as well as a writer of books. We have been friends over the last few years, no doubt in part because of our shared professions and our common Anglicanism. But Sara is more than those things. In fact, she would say, I believe, that those things are how she supports her real work. Her real work is organizing, overseeing, and administering the food bank at St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco. And if you want to know what it’s like to operate a food bank for six hundred homeless and destitute folk out of a church that has no building except its worship space, read her book, Take This Bread. It will curl your hair logistically, but it will also open up possibilities you never even knew were right there in front of you.
Anyway, Sara usually talks about her work in the same way most of us do. That is, she refers to it from time to time, but rarely more than that. Where her work really enters the conversation, however, is in the ways it has made and sculpted Sara. I have always known that, in theory anyway; but I had never so fully appreciated it in the past as I did last week. At every session, as we worked our way through what Anglicanism would look like and how it would conduct and form itself in the coming years, Sara would unfailingly turn the conversation to “the stranger among us.”
“Do not forget in all of this to remember the stranger who may come among us.”
“Hey, remember, there will be strangers in all of this who will need us.”
“But how does that scenario provide for the stranger who walks in?”
It became a kind of gentle liet motif eventually, this soft litany of Sara’s. Or it did until she said, almost as an aside, “Sure, we’ll be scammed by some of them. We’re scammed every week at St. Gregory by somebody who doesn’t really need the food, but asks for it anyway. And we give it anyway, too.
“Every day the bank is open, we pray before we open the doors that all will receive what they need and that we will deny no one who asks, even if we can not be sure of the genuineness of his or her need. It’s the only way we can do it. Christianity is the religion of the stranger. There’s no way to follow Jesus without reaching out to the stranger, no way to follow Him without exercising biblical hospitality. What we are really praying for in our opening prayer is the salvation of our own faith and souls as much as for the well-being of those waiting outside for the doors to open.”
It’s only been a week since Sara laid that one on all of us, but I am relatively sure of two things: First, that I shall never forget it; and second, that I am supposed to share it with many other Christians and in many other places, including you and here.