By Kathy Staudt
For my church’s 50th anniversary celebration we held a “homecoming” party recently, inviting back former clergy and active members who had moved away, for an evening of food, wine and mingling, a wonderful slide show of our history, a hymn-sing and some remarks from former clergy. The program for the evening was deliberately loose and simple. The point was to come together and to enjoy seeing one another again.
And the evening was full of the usual family-reunion exclamations: “How are you! Look at you! How you’ve grown! You haven’t changed! Wow! Here you are! Here we are! And, since this was across generations: “If only x (not here) could see us now! I really want you to meet x! It’s hard to believe you’ve never met, you’ve both been so important to me!” And of course, the greeting heard most commonly, that evening “It is so good to see you!”
“It is good to see you!” The experience of being together belongs to something that goes even deeper than the conversational details of questions like “How has your week been?” “What are the children up to?” “How’s work/what do you do for a living?” Even without specific personal information, there is something holy about the presence we are for each other when we gather for church. The familiar faces, and companions in worship, tell us something about who we are and what we belong to. I believe it is our way of expressing and experiencing a growing culture of ubuntu that concept that has been held up as a model in our conversations about the Anglican Communion. Ubuntu is the awareness, essential to African culture, that “I am because we are.” In his book God Has a Dream, Archbishop Tutu writes, “The first law of our being is that we are set in a delicate network of interdependence with our fellow human beings and with the rest of God’s creation. . . ubuntu is “the essence of being human. It speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and inextricably bound up in yours.” (God Has a Dream, p. 25)
“It is good to see you” It is good to be together, because each of us is shaped by what the other brings. Ubuntu, I have come to believe, is an experience, rather than a theological concept; I have learned most about it simply by worshiping with people from various parts of Africa, who make up a large proportion of our congregation now though we started life, 50 years ago, as a suburban “white-flight” congregation like many others in the suburban DC area. At our festival celebration, Bishop John Chane described our congregation today as “ the face of the Anglican Communion,” and this rings true. The welcome we gave each other at our homecoming weekend stretched across generations, cultures and races, reflecting the increasingly multicultural history of this congregation and of the larger church we belong to. It reminded me, repeatedly, about God’s dream for us and who we are called to be as church, both locally and internationally.
“It is so good to see you!” When we say the to each other on Sundays, or at a reunion, we are not just making conversation. “I see you” is in fact an African greeting. To see each other, gathered for church, is to see who we are in God’s presence. We sing together, with great enthusiasm and expressiveness; we gather at the altar, and we recognize in these experiences glimpses of who God calls us to be as a human family. Even though there is little we fully agree on, even though we have our conflicts, anxieties, financial issues and prejudices, there is at the heart of our common life an awareness that being together has shaped us, each of us and all of us, in our journey with God We are learning, slowly, that church is about welcoming one another and being transformed, sometimes radically, by each other’s experience. We are learning that what draws us together, in song and prayer, worship and common mission, is greater than the differences between us.
“This is what heaven will be like!” one old friend remarked, as more and more familiar faces appeared at the homecoming party. But even more moving for me was the simple joy of being together at this event. It offered a glimpse of how we live into the Dream of God in this life. At the hymn-sing, full of old favorites, we sang the truth about ourselves in God’s eyes: “O God, our help in ages past, Our hope for years to come,” we sang. “Come, we that love the Lord, and let our joys be known,” we sang -- “we’re marching through Emmanuel’s ground. . , to” the beautiful city of God.” We’re not there yet, but we are on the journey together, and we continue to grow from being together. It is good to celebrate that, each Sunday, as at our home-coming -- good to be together, Good to see everyone again!
Dr. Kathleen Henderson Staudt (Kathy) keeps the blog poetproph, works as a teacher, poet, spiritual director and retreat leader in the Washington DC area. She is the author of two books: At the Turn of a Civilisation: David Jones and Modern Poetics and Annunciations: Poems out of Scripture.