advent journal: incidental contact


    The first Sunday of the month means we celebrate Communion at our church, as in many Protestant congregations. Of all the things we do together in worship, Communion lands at the top of the list for me: we remember the story that binds us together in word and in action, we feed one another, and we do some thing that every Christian who came before us has done all the way back to that First Supper in the Upper Room.

    I come away from the meal each month feeling filled and connected.

    This afternoon, Ginger and I went to an assembly of Durham CAN (Durham Congregations, Associations, and Neighborhoods) which is a community organizing group made up of a wide cross-section of people from across the city who connect to bring about change in our city. They organized neighborhood audits a couple of months back where people walked the streets of various neighborhoods – particularly some of the poorer ones – and made note of all the things that needed to be fixed. They gave that information to the city. Today, the City Manager stood before the assembly and one of the Durham CAN leaders asked him if he would be accountable to come back in ninety days and report on how the needs on the list were being addressed. He said he would.

    Durham CAN doesn’t raise money or hire lobbyists. They connect people in the community and bank on the relationships to call people to accountability. The trust of the organization is in the power of relationships. After the meeting ended, Ginger introduced me to Mauricio, whom she had met at an earlier meeting.

    “I want you to tell Milton your story,” she said to him.

    Mauricio is from El Salvador and came to the U. S. in early 1980 at the encouragement of his mentor, Bishop Oscar Romero, who helped him and several other your Salvadorian men get out of the country to tell El Salvador’s story and to escape being killed by the death squads. Romero himself was assassinated in March of the same year. I was speechless. I was standing next to someone in Durham, North Carolina who was standing next to me because of the actions of one of the heroes of my faith. For a moment, I stood in a small church connected across miles and years to someone who had helped to shape my faith, connected hand to hand, person to person.

    When we left the meeting, Ginger and went home, fed the pups, picked up the pot of chili I made this afternoon, and headed for Fullsteam to break bread or at least eat chili and drink beer some folks who had been at the assembly and a few others who were just coming for the food and fellowship. The chili was hot, the beer was cold, and the conversations were rich and flavorful. I met some wonderful people. As we were getting ready to leave, one of the folks with us pointed out a large table of Duke Divinity School students and mentioned several of them had gone to Wheaton College in Illinois, where our nephews went to school. Ginger and I walked over to the table, introduced ourselves, and then asked if they knew Ben and Scott and several faces at the table lit up. For a moment, I stood in a pub connected across miles and years to two guys I love deeply through people I can’t even call by name but who share the affection for Ben and Scott.

    The incidental contact of an introduction, a conversation, or passing the Bread and the Cup is the stuff of glory, or community, of incarnation. We make our way across oceans and opinions, across aisles and attitudes in small steps and gentle gestures much more than huge leaps and grand actions. We serve one another, hand to hand, all the way back to the Upper Room.


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