Parker Palmer writing in his recent book, On the Brink of Everything reminds us, “We all live at the intersection of our small worlds and the big one around us. If we want to serve others, we must attend to both.”
Yes, empire looks big and overwhelming – that is what empire does to control and contain. Empire wants acquiescence. But what Parker Palmer tells me is that I am to do what I can do. I am to get out of my bubble, and speak up, stand up like I did in sixth grade – it’s the old phrase, “be the change you want to see.” Yeah, you are rolling your eyes about now.
But you know I think we have in this church the living example of the intersection of our small world and the big empire around us – of being the change we wanted to see. Back in the day we as a church could not stop the Downtown Expressway development from destroying the historically African –American neighborhoods of Richmond, but we could offer one displaced community of black Episcopalians a new church home. We did this – welcoming the members of Osgood Memorial Church to join us when their church was plowed over. In doing this we were the first Episcopal Church in the city to integrate. Was it easy, was it universally popular – no – it was 1967 in the capital of the Old South. There are stories of the rector and curate welcoming people in one door as white members were walking out the other. But we did it, we survived it and more, we thrived. There was a time when the diagnosis of AIDS literally put men on the streets, their families ashamed or afraid to touch them. There was from the empire a chorus of voices giving the pronouncement of a “gay plague,” the punishment for love viewed as wrong, as other. St. Mark’s didn’t accept the verdict of empire. Instead we responded with compassion, with helping hands and healing touch - working with other churches and the then Fan Free Clinic to establish the Richmond AIDS Ministry that for years provided these desperately ill men with a safe and caring place to live, and to die. And according to the Fan Free Clinic, St. Mark’s offered burial and memorial services to more who died from AIDS than any other faith community in the commonwealth. Could we cure HIV-AIDS, no. But we could reach out in love and faith to those many shunned. And when it came to gender and marriage equality St. Mark’s stood for the equitable treatment of all by the church, bearing witness to the belief that all are created in God’s image, all are worthy of love and to love. St. Mark’s was one of the first in our diocese to offer the sacrament of marriage to same gender couples – with and without permission. Could we change the laws of the land to be more equitable and just – well maybe on this one, we did – or at least one of our members did by risking her privacy and that of her family to be the change she and we wanted to see.
These I believe are the intersections of our small and big worlds, the space between individual action and imperial status quo. And we inhabit it. As we have looked to our future through the long-range planning process much of what has come out of the discussions is the desire to be engaged in our community, to be doing the work God calls us to as individuals and as a faith community – to be present and willing to answer when called. This does not surprise me. It may not at first look like the big world changes that are so desperately needed, but all that we do to change the life of even one person is answering the call of God – and that changes the world. Maybe this place is the armor store – where I get fitted for my breastplate of righteousness, my shield of faith, and the shoes that are the gospel of peace. And with these go out to do the work God has given me as one person to do, knowing that I have the courage, strength, and faith of this community with me.