God in the Neighborhood
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It’s been a good, long while since I have worn a clergy collar regularly. During my time at the hospital, we were actively discouraged from wearing them for fear of being too sectarian, or arising people’s deep seated fears of the chaplains who always bring bad news. I’ve always been a bit skeptical of people’s allergy and fear of the collar. It’s pretty uncomfortable to wear, but it also somehow identifies the wearer as representative of God’s presence in their midst. In the past, I have often taken to trying to adopt it to normal clothing patterns: wearing my clergy collars with blue jeans and a backwards hat, sometimes with a hooded sweatshirt, and sometimes I even wear it as it’s supposed to be worn, in business attire!
If I could tell you one thing about that little stripe of white across the neck, it’s that it never ceases to amaze me what kind of stories and conversations that it brings out in people. Once and a while I will fly with it on, and people will tell me stories of faith, of grief, and sometimes, weird dreams. Recently, I was sitting at the local Starbucks on Mass Ave and a local resident came up and sat down to talk with me for forty minutes, speaking of his life, his faith, his struggles. Again, last week, I was visiting one of our shut-ins, and the nurses aid said to me: “You guys (meaning me, and Ross, and the previous vicars) are one of the few clergy that come visit. You are Christ’s presence here for them, and me!” I tell these stories to say that our public ministry, and not just that of the pastors, is vitally important. It’s the ministry of being a signpost to God.
Surveys show that faith and religion are waning amongst younger generations, mine included (millennial). While that might be true, I think that what people are yearning for is something that matters, something that is transformative, something that is a signpost for God’s presence, and work of restoration and reconciliation in the world. This pointing belongs not with clergy or big acts of faith, but on our own front porches, at the playground, and in the kitchen. As Shane Claiborne, one of my heroes of the faith says:
“The seeds of the gospel are really small. They’re really about meeting God at dinner tables, and in living rooms and in little towns that may not be known by the rest of the world. But it seems like that’s exactly what happens when God moves into the neighborhood in Jesus.”
When God moves into the neighborhood in Jesus. I love that line. It hits something deep in my soul every time I read it. That’s a mission that all of us can get on board with, not just those of us with white collars. Telling and showing people what it looks like when God moves into the neighborhood is the most basic and essential part of who we are as a Church.
If we look all around us at St. Paul, we are starting to see a trend: young families. And these families aren’t coming from all over, but from our own backyard. As I am getting started, it is obvious that something we are doing that is letting people hear about this God who is present in the neighborhood. And maybe that’s the calling of Jesus here, for us, is to consider how we might ground ourselves further in Arlington, in our neighborhoods and our everyday lives, as a big unmistakable signpost to the God who has moved in.
And that’s good news, because wherever and whenever God is present, radically beautiful things happen. Sometimes, we just need to point.