by Rev. David Rommereim
Deep in the bowels of a dusty old church household are two essential ingredients, they apply to each one of us, at any age.
The first is faith; a simple, pure, trust in God. Faith by itself is all we need from day to day - from the youngest individual to the oldest. I remember that simple faith as a child, when I would go to bed and my mom and dad would recite a prayer to calm my fear. It went like this: "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take."
Such a prayer eventually taught me not to be afraid of death. Faith that acknowledges the reality of death is an earned faith. However, at that young age, that prayer calmed me from the darkness of the night. Mom and Dad's prayer kept me from the fear of all those bugs and vicious animals waiting to pounce on me from under my bed immediately when I fell asleep. It is encouraging to see the power and resilience of faith through our beloved nonagenarians, Katherine McBride and Eleanor Dwyer, who turned 93 on October 1. When you stop and smell the roses, crocuses, or autumnal leaves, you become mindful that God is present and will never leave us orphan, even if you feel alone in your majestic struggles.
The other ingredient deep in the bowels of a dusty old church is authenticity. What gives us the assurance that our faith is alive, maturing our bodies, minds, and souls? It is when our faith takes on the size, shape, and shade of authenticity. Such a faith is seen as alive when couched by an abiding love. To be authentic keeps us intentionally different from the mainstream. To that end, I find it truly curious that in Bay Ridge, traditionally, a very conservative part of New York City, our Good Shepherd household has participated in an authentic faith from the norm, from media labels such as "Conservative," or "Liberal," or "Progressive," or "Democratic," or "Republican," or, even "Roman Catholic," or "Protestant." The Good Shepherd community has become odd and contrarian because we are disciplined with a deep, abiding faith, an inspired justice, and love. Yes, it gets us into trouble most of the time because of the in-authenticity contained in the above mentioned narrow-minded political hegemonies. Nevertheless, authenticity provides a discipline toward an abiding faith.
How do I see such authenticity at the old dusty church household of Good Shepherd? I see it through our partnership with the ministry of sanctuary. Since 2006, we have been partners with the New York Sanctuary Coalition. We have sought to accompany and offer sanctuary to those on the margins of our dysfunctional immigration system. We have also sought to be a sanctuary as individuals and households. To provide a safe place and to be a presence of sanctuary refers to an authentic faith rooted deep in the tradition of the synagogue and church. House holding the stranger, caring for the sojourner, and providing hospitality in the wilderness are mandates of our Jewish and Christian Faith.
When I noticed a 4 year old child praying with a group of colleagues in front of the Federal Plaza, where every not-properly-documented- migrant must "check in," I saw she was wearing a bracelet on her ankle which connected her to the ICE monitoring. They knew her every move. She wore it because she was a threat to our government. The insult is that I am an American standing, praying with her foster mother, and I felt so ashamed... so disempowered.
How are we authentic when the Obama administration has deported record numbers of persons, separated families, and pandered to a recalcitrant Congress? Joining in prayer remains my authentic faith as I seek to express the dangerous value of hospitality, and the meaningful relationship of sanctuary to all who cross our path. Hospitality is dangerous because, well ... 'you never know who God will be sending us next." It is meaningful, because, well ... 'in sanctuary, God abides.'
As you watch the news of the hundreds of churches across our beloved United States of America that are now offering sanctuary through the ministry of accompaniment, legal support, prayer, or actual sanctuary in the place of worship, know that we do nothing without the simple trust of faith and the effort to be authentic with what Jesus has taught.
I am proud of Pastor Knutson from Augustana Lutheran Church of Portland, Oregon who, together with an entire community says, "No" to the splitting up of families so that our tax-funded private prisons are filled and the ICE monthly deportation quota secure. Jesus, after all, was quoted as saying, "Come to me all who are heavy laden and forbid them not, for to such is the Kingdom of Heaven." That quote in itself is a sanctuary for many of us. Sanctuary is providing and being the church in an authentic expression of Jesus' love.
So, thank you Good Shepherd who, since 2006, through the authentic faith lens of Saint Walter Jensen, provided the ministry of accompaniment to our members and partners in building this authentic community of faith. The first of those whom we have sanctaried are; Joe, Mei, Jeffery, Crystal, & Francesca... and since, then many, many more.
God is good and authentically alive.
Rev. David H. Rommereim