I went to college in Seattle, which means that a significant portion of my education happened in coffee shops. I would find a place to post up, order a drip coffee, and let the caffeine take hold. In coffee shops across that beautiful city, I wrote papers, studied for finals, and generally avoided doing the work that I had come there to do in the first place.
I remember sitting in one such place a few months out of college. I had taken my first full-time job in social services, and I was finding it emotionally and spiritually taxing—a common occurrence among social workers, but one that I hadn’t figured out how to manage just yet. I had attended church most of my life, but, toward the end of college, I had grown disillusioned with organized religion. I knew that I needed a place to sit still and figure out what my faith meant to me, but—for the first time in my life—I didn’t know where to go with those questions in the first place.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a woman walk out of a restaurant across the street. She was wearing a clergy collar. (I didn’t grow up in a church where pastors wore clergy collars, so that caught my attention—as did the fact that a woman was wearing one, since I was raised in a Christian tradition where women couldn’t serve in pastoral leadership roles.) After I finished my coffee, I walked around the block and stumbled upon St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Seattle.
The woman I’d seen walk out of the restaurant is now a bishop in Canada, the Most Reverend Melissa Skelton. She was the first priest I ever got to know. St. Paul’s, Seattle is the first Episcopal parish I called home.
I share this story with you because I recently stumbled upon an address she delivered at the 235th Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. In it, she talks about how that congregation in Seattle prepared the way for people like me—someone who didn’t have a church home, walked in the doors with spiritual baggage, but ultimately hoped to find their faith again. I am struck by the concerted effort St. Paul’s made to welcome me: not just at the front door, but in all aspects of their way of life.
If nothing else, I’d like to point out just one thing that stood out to me from her talk: welcoming people is rarely about having a good sales pitch. Welcoming people is primarily about listening—being attentive to who people are and what brings them to your community in the first place.
It may be a while before we can return to welcoming people at the front doors of the church. But I believe that we can continue to cultivate the listening habits and curious disposition that prepare the way for those we have yet to meet. I hope that we can continue to do that with one another, too—especially in these trying times.
— Fr. Javier
Watch the Most Rev. Melissa Skelton’s keynote above. For more parish resources and updates during the global pandemic, visit St. Paul’s Connects.Tags: From the Clergy, Hope for the Journey