the KIN-dom of God is near
Last Sunday I was at a friend’s house, watching the Super Bowl halftime show and doing my part to crash Beyonce’s website upon news of an upcoming tour, when I got the message that a beloved brother of our congregation had died. He too was watching the game with friends when he suffered a sudden heart attack. This past Sunday, we gathered together at the church for his Memorial Service.
Robert Wittliff had been a Catholic Priest in the Basilian Order, he had the sharpest wit, and he spent some of the best days of his life with his partner Danny and their dear friends. He had gone blind later in life, and so had become active in various organizations and communities to advocate and empower others without sight. But I met Robert as a vibrant part of the church (then Grace Lutheran). He had been a leader in the congregation for years and he moved mountains to get out of the hospital and speak at our final Legacy Service in January. It was there that he spoke of the meaning and memories this community held for him. He spoke of a church that challenged him to embrace expressions of church that had been foreign to him, cultivated a spirit of generosity in his soul, and embraced him fully as a beloved child of God. This is the legacy we stand on.
For the past month since that last service, the church has been transitioning to life as a Restart Congregation. The Restart Team has been meeting neighbors, studying scripture, and discerning God’s hope for this people. Now, we are +KINDRED – exploring and experimenting with what church can be. Still Lutheran, still at 2515 Waugh, still embracing people of all sexual orientations and identities, of all family structures, of all income levels and housing status. We have this beautiful legacy, but we are becoming something entirely new. How do we honor both while leaning into this new way?
Yesterday we entered the church building for the first time since that Legacy Service, for the first time as +KINDRED. The worship space will soon change, removing pews for tables and chairs, but the old pews are still there. This could have easily been a divisive experience with long-time members of the predecessor community on one side and newer faces on the other. Rather, this moment was a unifying one. Indeed, “how very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity.” (Psalm 133) In this moment I saw people coming together to lend their experience, their hospitality, and their passion to help so that all Robert’s friends might know welcome and peace on such a day. The folks that know the church kitchen backwards and forwards made room for the contributions of those who struggle to find the silverware drawer. We had a full house and many of us are still learning our way around, but we learned as we went along. Almost a third of the folks who came were blind with varying mobility, but their cabs and metro lifts were met at the curb with an eager hand to guide them as needed. Two young boys offered communion cups into their hands, and those cups were filled by a woman who had never served the sacrament before. One man who sleeps on the streets nearby was outside with a broom and dustbin, cleaning up cigarette butts before the guests came and he was still helping clear empty plates from tables at the end of the day.
I had to take a step back to witness the beauty of it all. It could have been chaos, but God was stirring up new life out of the dust. There were certainly imperfections – I plowed right through the timing for someone’s solo and a few things were clumsy, but the presence of the holy was unmistakable. During this season of lent, we pare our lives down to clear space so that we might notice what could otherwise be overlooked. We simplify so that we can recognize the richness of the ordinary. This is what the Kingdom of God looks like. It’s not all splendid temples of gold, but a community of diverse people that come together to care for one another in practical yet profound ways. It is the Spirit’s work connecting millennials, retirees, and strangers in divine relationship to one another. It’s the relationship that reveals the sacred. This is what makes up the Kingdom…the Kin-dom that is drawing near.