Susan E. Thomas is a UCC pastor, recently returned home to Michigan.
Scripture: Deuteronomy 10:17-19 (NSRV)
For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Hebrews 13:1-2 (NLT)
Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters. Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!
Reflection: Parker or Porter?
Dorothy Parker’s biographer John Keats reports: “If the doorbell rang in her apartment, she would say, ‘What fresh hell can this be?’ - and it wasn’t funny; she meant it.”
Contrast Parker’s greeting with that of the role of the Porter according to the Rule of St. Benedict. The Porter is the face of the Benedictine monastery. For many, the first impression people have of their faith community. Their room is near the entrance so that when visitors knock on the door, they will be able to respond quickly. As soon as someone knocks, the Porter is to shout, “Thanks be to God!” or “Your blessing, please!” and to respond with the warmth of love (RB66).
Both Parker and the Porter offer a greeting before having any clue as to who is standing on the other side of the door.
How do you and how do we as faith communities respond to the one on the other side of the door- as a Parker or as a Porter?
Surely in 2020 with the daily heaping on of grim news and of adaptations to our lifestyles, the best option from behind the walled protection of your home or face mask might seem to be a hearty, full-throated, yet sardonic Parker greeting - “What fresh hell can this be?!!”
Perhaps your faith community is struggling with the “fresh hell” of being strangers in a strange land because lost overnight was the protection of its walls and now are navigating how to offer hospitality to members – let alone visitors– through virtual gatherings. Or perhaps yours is wrestling with the swirl of challenges surrounding in-person modified gatherings. Social distance seating and masks? Singing or no singing? Communion or no way? Bulletins? Share the peace of Christ, sure but no touching especially if you’re a stranger! Baptisms? Funerals? Coffee Hour or out the door with you? Stretched too thin already budgets, blown to hell for 2020. Food and clothing ministries – sorry, we’re closed for your and our safety. How can we provide hospitality to strangers when providing it to our own presents so many challenges? Yes, it’s easy to be a Parker in these challenging times.
Here’s the thing – the “what fresh hell can this be” response is not only a conversation stopper, it’s also a relationship stopper. There is no way in hell the caller is being invited into a relationship through that door or into that community. Their only option is to turn around and return to the brutal land of the abandoned and forsaken, where needs are not met with creative compassion. A land where they are isolated, unloved, vulnerable, weary, denied justice, ever the outsider – as the Deuteronomic author reminds us that the oppression of the widow, orphan, and stranger has never been relegated to a specific time, not even during pandemic time.
Instead, what if you approached your response to others – loved ones, friends, acquaintances and strangers – like that Porter in a Benedictine monastery? “Thanks be to God, you’re here! I’ve been waiting for you!” says you from behind a crack in the door or from behind your face mask.
“Receive this blessing – ‘You are a loved one of God,’” you’re on a roll now, “So I faithfully promise to get creative about welcoming you even from the walled fortresses of my home, mask, and faith community. So that I can recognize, partner with and celebrate you not as an object-other, but as the holy one ‘the God of gods and Lord of lords’ has directed to me and therefore you are sacred and precious and of infinite worth to me and to my community.”
At which point, the angel entertained might just say a hearty and full-throated blessing back to you, “Well done, good and faithful Porter.”
God of gods and Lord of lords – partner with me to love the stranger as You do. Help me to learn to receive those on the other side of my door or my face mask as the loved one created by You. Teach me how to be more Porter than Parker. Bless us with creative solutions for our time so we can respond with the warmth of love and provide much needed hospitality. Amen.
New Prayer Requests:
We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Drew Page at firstname.lastname@example.org
Prayers of Intercession:
- For those grieving for the more than 204,000 victims of the Covid-19 disease
- For those experiencing homelessness
- For the many communities experiencing drought over the past months
Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:
- For the election on Saturday of the SNEUCC's new Executive Conference Minister, the Rev. Darrell Goodwin
Please Pray for the Following SNEUCC Churches:
Fishers Island Union Chapel, Fishers Island, NY
Feeding Hills Congregational Church, UCC, Feeding Hills, MA
First Church of Christ, Congregational, 1652, Farmington, CT
First Congregational Church of Falmouth, UCC, Falmouth, MA
Falls Village Congregational Church, Falls Village, CT
First Congregational Church, Fairhaven, MA
Calvin United Church of Christ, Fairfield, CT
First Church Congregational, Fairfield, CT
Greenfield Hill Congregational Church, Fairfield, CT
Mystic Side Congregational Church, UCC, Everett, MA
First Congregational Church of Essex, Essex, CT
This Week in History:
September 30, 1962 (58 years ago) Former Air Force Serviceman, James Meredith, a Black transfer student from Jackson State College is escorted onto the University of Mississippi campus by U.S. Marshals, setting off a riot. 2 were killed before the violence was ended by 3000 federal troops.
Meredith was accepted to "Ole Miss" but his admission was later revoked when the registrar learned he was Black. Federal court ordered the school to admit him, but he was blocked from entrance by Governor Ross Barnett on Sept. 20. Barnett was found guilty of civil contempt and ordered to cease his interference on Sept.28. Meredith entered the school on Sept.30 but was turned back by the violence. He returned the next day to began classes. Meredith graduated in 1963.
“Study the past if you would define the future.”