It is exciting to be able to oversee large-scale projects, to see worship communities grow, and to help other people develop new skills to the glory of God. Yet I have begun to see that these exciting organizational opportunities are best considered a stepping stone to something else. See, the real substance of Christian community is not work to assist the poor or needy, or educating children, or even fussing over liturgy and theology. The substance of the Church is friendship and it is by our friendship with one another that the world can begin to see and understand that they can be friends with God.
Friendship often produces the most remarkable moments and creative outputs. How many rock bands began as teenage friends playing together? How often is it that the desire to serve a friend causes us to make changes to our own lives, like stocking a brand of coffee your friend prefers, or choosing to live in proximity to the common spaces where we see the people we love?
Friendship amongst Christians will look a lot like this, but it takes a different character because we are a community whose friendship is rooted in our baptism, that we have been made part of one body in love. This will mean the decisions which friendship makes plausible to us may, from the perspective of an outsider, look absurd. We find ourselves conforming our lives to the needs of others not because we share a background, interests, or upbringing; rather because we share a love through and in Jesus Christ.
But friendship also has an invisible substance, one which is rarely shared.
Conversations in the dark.
By this I mean those moments where we are shown the wounds of another, the things of which they are ashamed or afraid, and we are asked to hold these things quietly with them.
Much of my time concerns this kind of friendship, this kind of ministry. I think I have been well prepared for it by my own Christian friendships, by seeing it modeled at Seminary or among the vocational pastors I know. But as my time here has allowed me to put down roots and life a religiously predictable life of office hours, worship services, and prayer I have noticed that many of those who I serve in forms of organized ministry or worship, desire to show me a little more of their souls. They want to share their pain. And they want to know that they will not be hurt or despised on account of it.
This intimate kind of friendship can be dreadful, because the possibility of harm is tremendous. It is also wonderful, because it gives an opportunity to give a profound and transformative witness to the love of God in Christ, who loved us when we were unlovable and was close to us when we were unworthy.
I believe this is the real work I have been called to accomplish in Annapolis at this time. Friendship in the dark. I believe others are catching on, too. There are now many people who pray with me or hang out, so many that I have no way of keeping up with them all, yet I see them exchange phone numbers and invite one-another out for coffee or meals and I feel glad. Over the summer and into the fall I see a new fruit ripening from my ministry, and that fruit is friendship–friendships which began only because I called people together to pray and now are a source of love and life for many.
I have some bold goals for next year, the chief of which being to call a handful of people to commit to weekly being present with someone who is in the process of leaving homelessness for an entire year. I have learned to be welcoming, and I have learned to listen, but I have not yet felt as though I have grasped what it means to lead. Yet it is when the community of Christians are visibly present for the good of their neighbors that others can see that there is a God who loves them, and I can’t help but wonder what kinds of new visible forms of good all emerge from all these friendships in the dark which have grown over this year.
How appropriate, in Advent we remember that a light came into a dark world. All kinds of people are becoming lights to one-another’s darkness. I wonder what that’ll do.