If you were to come to the church I serve, you would find that it is not a quiet place. There are several reasons for this.
Two years ago, this congregation made the brave decision to sell our large and gorgeous building in downtown Albany, New York. This sale fulfilled our hope that our former space could be used as site of community service. So it is now the Cultural Empowerment and Community Engagement Center, serving the region’s Hispanic and Latino population. We celebrated their opening with them in June.
So where did we go? Well, we have a small chapel in a modest-sized cemetery. The chapel itself is also modest, to say the least. But the very intimacy of the place encourages the cross-pollination of members, visitors and our professional choir. While it is possible to sit and meditate quietly, there is also a lot of talking. And dancing. Because did I mention that we have a decent-sized bunch of kids nine year’s old and under?
While our music director ends our service with some blaring Buxtehude, mind-bending Bach or twirl-worthy Purcell, our kids get up and dance. It’s kind of like a rave for under-agers, sound-tracked by the brilliance of master composers masterfully played. So no matter your gender identity or sexual orientation, everybody is free to wear a twirly skirt to St. John’s.
Why am I telling you this? Is this a church-recruitment pitch? No—although there aren’t a whole lot of theologically progressive communities of faith around and if that’s what you want, that’s who we are. I tell you all this because we had to move out of our building and we didn’t want to. It was sad to move. We didn’t know what would happen or how it would play out. But we knew we couldn’t stay there, however much we loved the memories it enclosed.
I believe that relocation never, ever comes without soul-searching. It never comes without risk. People leave home as a last resort, not on a whim. And since all of us, except First Nations peoples, were one-time immigrants, the stories and the struggles of deciding to leave home should never be lost on us.
The Christmas story--a pregnant mom on a donkey led by man returning to the place of his birth to be counted in a census imposed by the Roman occupiers who had conquered his country—is a story of displacement. It is a disorderly story. There is no place for them to stay in this place that is not home.
And once there, the baby born in a barn full of creatures, but no creature comforts, they knew they couldn’t stay. The baby’s life was in danger. Relocation was the only option.
And so they fled. They fled to Egypt, where centuries ago their ancestors had been enslaved.
Moving from downtown Albany to our small chapel was not, in the end, a significant dislocation. It was nothing compared to the dislocation of the founding members of this congregation who fled Germany to seek a new home here. And of course, it is nothing compared to those who are fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries—even though most must know by now that there are a whole lot of people in our government and in our citizenry who will not welcome them here.
Compassionate and sensible border control is not the same as nationalism and xenophobia. People of the faith that so recently celebrated the refugee family of which Jesus was the central part, do well to remember the writing that tells them not to neglect hospitality to strangers—for some have thereby entertained angels, unaware of them.