For the last few days, I have been processing the news of the shooting at St. Peter’s, Ellicott City, a church I have visited and preached at on more than one occasion. The shooting resulted in the death of Mary-Marguerite Kohn, a priest I remember well. The church’s administrative assistant Brenda Brewington was also killed.
I was invited to St. Peter’s because the congregation has long supported African Medical Mission, the organization I worked for when I lived in South Africa. In fact, AMM’s Jenny McConnachie was at St. Peter’s just a few weeks back. As the stories about the shooting have made clear, St. Peter’s is a congregation that was committed to ministry with all kinds of people from all walks of life. (It seems the shooter was a homeless man who had been served by the St. Peter’s food pantry.) It’s in the nature of a church that was founded to minister to mill workers in Ellicott City.
Over the weekend, I had a look back at one of the sermons I’ve preached at St. Peter’s. The text was the rich man and the eye of the needle. I noted this paragraph:
We’ve seen how wealth can help us build walls around ourselves. We’ve seen that Jesus is calling us to make ourselves a little more open and a little more vulnerable to the world around us. The phrase I want to use to describe this is the same phrase that we use to describe what Jesus did – incarnation. Reconciliation begins when we choose to go to a new place in the world and simply exist. God used God’s immense power to choose to exist in an entirely new way, among humans. We have wealth and power and we must use it to exist in a new space. Sometimes that new space means getting up and moving from North America to a shantytown in South Africa. But sometimes going to that new space means simply exploring a different part of the town you’ve lived in your entire life. Sometimes going to that new space simply means going down to the end of the pew after the service and talking to the person you’ve never met before. God’s mission of reconciliation requires of us an incarnational ministry. That means we have to simply be in a new and different way and in a new and different place. It is both a reassuringly simple and monumentally difficult task but it is at the centre of our Christian calling.
In reading about the shooting, I’ve been struck by just how much emphasis Mary-Marguerite put on exactly this kind of incarnational ministry. St. Peter’s didn’t need me to tell them about this; they just needed to look at their co-rector.
I’ve written and preached about vulnerability frequently. (The Incarnation is the central idea in my new book.) But I never had anything like this in mind, perhaps one reason I’ve found these deaths so shocking. In my Good Friday sermon this year, I preached about daily crucifixions that are all around us. These three deaths are one example of exactly that.
St. Peter’s other co-rector, Kirk Kubicek, preached a beautiful sermon last Sunday that just about sums it up:
It is their commitment to serving their brothers and sisters whoever they might be, and believe me if you spend any time in our office you eventually see every kind of brother and sister there is, that sent them home to the heart of Love. We will never know why, but we do know they and the man they were serving are with the God who says, You are my Beloved – with you I am well pleased….And I still see two women who were and continue to be exemplars to us of what it means to abide with Christ – what it means to be known by Christ.In truth, right now they are where they have always been – in the heart of God’s everlasting love.