Deja Vu of the Nicest Kind
Last Sunday I started a new assignment for the Episcopal Church, diocese of California. I’m now the parish deacon for Church of the Good Shepherd at 1823 Ninth Street in Berkeley, which is two blocks from my home. While I was walking over Friday before last to tour the physical buildings and walk through the liturgy (church service), I got this wonderful feeling that I’d done this before. Well, of course I have! I’ve been a deacon for almost ten years and nine of it was spent at my sponsoring parish, St. Mark’s Berkeley, up by the University of California. Good Shepherd is a small church, first organized in 1878 and it is on a tree-lined street in a neighborhood of West Berkeley – not the most affluent of places. It’s a neighborhood I’ve lived in since my arrival in Berkeley in 1977.
The overwhelming sense of belonging and familiarity took over as I walked over and contentment washed over me. I had to stop for a moment and then I started to cry. These were tears of happiness because, even though the one place I’ve always felt at home was in a church, I truly felt for the first time that I was home and I fit.
The congregation is small, the vicar is a lovely woman I’ve known for ten years and has a quiet spirtuality that fits Good Shepherd, too. One of my clergy colleagues told me in an e-mail that he thought Good Shepherd was a loving community. It is! It is active, vital and cares about the community around it.
Where I will fit is a work in progress. I have ministries assigned to me, but I’m taking it slow and getting to know the people I’ll be ministring with and to before I start jumping in feet first into the areas that I’ve known for – social justice and advocacy, getting people to speak up about injustice and working for food programs that feed the hungry throughout the world, including the United States.
About that last part – someone asked if it wasn’t a conflict, writing legislators about changing policy or keeping it concerning the poor of America. I do it as a concerned Christian and constituent. I’m not telling people who to vote for or giving money to get a bill passed. I’m inviting people to speak up and take a position that will benefit everyone – how they speak and to whom they speak is their choice.
Another question I get a lot is how I can be active in politics since I’m a clergywoman.
Well, the church began as a political movement. The Sermon on the Mount isn’t so much a feel-good-about-your smug-self rally cry but a political agenda – a manifesto. What Jesus of Nazareth told the crowds had never been told before and it turned the whole idea of how we are to live with one another and God a full 360 degrees. In a patriarchal society people were told that everyone counted, everyone had a place at the table and in the Kingdom of Heaven. They were told that love, not the romantic or physical love we all encounter, was the key – a mutual acceptance and respect for one another, treating one another as we would be treated. The rich man in his palace and the poor man at its gate were equal in God’s eyes.
Nothing has changed in the 2,000 years since that was preached. If anything, it is more relevant now with the constant attacks on some of us by certain people of certain beliefs.
This morning’s Gospel is Mark 3:20-35, when Jesus returns home to Nazareth and is confronted by the large crowds following him, his detractors, and his own family. The scripture passage ends with Jesus asking just who his family might be.
Here’s a hint – anyone who does God’s will, i.e., living out the New Commandment to love another and take care of one another. But that doesn’t negate the biological families we have – it asks us to expand our vision of what family should be.
So you see, I have my work cut out for me – and I believe you do, too.
Go in peace, dear ones!