As I spent time Sunday afternoon with 11 men living with mental illness and intellectual disabilities, I listened with joy and excitement. They were expressing their gratitude and excitement for feeling loved, welcomed and accepted by Williamsburg Christian Church. I knew this time of sharing was important for them because they’ve been asked to leave a couple of other Churches before. They were considered, well, too difficult. Then as I listened to the dear woman who cares for them tell me how excited they are each week to gather with us, experience shared meals with us, and sit with us each week at the Lord’s Table, my heart became full. We are becoming their family.
I’ve been thinking about how this is what we call gracious hospitality, where we make room in our lives for the other, especially “the stranger,” and we choose to welcome all with radical embrace. This, I think, is central to the Gospel.
There is no doubt that we, Williamsburg Christian Church, have a long way to go in becoming who God longs for us to become. We are not perfect. We won’t be. There will continue to be times where we fail to live graciously as a people called to self-giving love. There will be times where, no matter how hard we try, we will fail to please every person or love them according to their standards and expectations (I confess to you that this troubles me and makes my heart ache, yearning for grace and greater faithfulness).
Taking Jesus seriously and pursuing hospitality is hard. There will be times when we allow our fears to turn our hearts back to living in accordance with the Old Age that is passing way–a world bent on nurturing fear through violence and self-assertion. But we will repent. We will reconcile and forgive. Then we can set our hearts toward re-orienting our lives toward the New Age that has come through Jesus as Lord, and we do so together. By God’s grace and the power of His Spirit working within us, we begin to look a little more like His beloved community; we begin to look like the people of the Cross who live in light of the Resurrected Lord.
So how do I describe Williamsburg Christian Church to those who ask as we live in a society fragmented, and driven by consumerism and self-interest? I have found myself saying something like this:
We are the mentally ill, the intellectually disabled, the homeless, the formerly homeless, the addicted, the recovering, the wealthy, the poor, the widows, the married, the never-been-married and the divorced; we are the working, the unemployed, the young and the old; we are private citizens, public servants, the “from-here’s” and the “come-here’s”; we are the wandering, the confused, the certain, the abused, the abandoned, and the hopeful; we are the struggling, the privileged, the prideful, the humble, the entitled, and the forgotten. But above all we are learning how to be loved by the God of heaven and earth and are discovering that our identity is in something greater than these categories most often ascribed to us. We know that we have been broken and bruised by sin, but we also know that in Jesus we have been given new life by the holy Breathe of God. So we’ve decided to live as a committed family of witnesses to God’s grace and love, and together we proclaim with our lips and lives that Jesus is Lord and that we are citizens of a kingdom that will never be in trouble. This is what we call “Williamsburg Christian Church.”
WCC, I am grateful beyond words to know that whether we say it like this or not, this is who we are. May God give us humility and courage to live as people of gracious hospitality and witnesses of His in-breaking kingdom of grace, and may we, with our lips and lives, proclaim that Jesus is Lord.