“How did you end up becoming part of this congregation?” That was the question I asked a group of 18 elders who had gathered to take part in a board retreat. As they each offered their answers in turn, there was no mistaking that a common thread connected them to one another and to the church.
The thread had a name. 15 of those 18 elders were part of that congreation because they had been invited or welcomed or cared for by someone from the St. John family.
The St. Johns embody the hospitality of Christ in all the right ways. This is particulary true for Beverly, the family’s matriarch. When Beverly smiles at you, there’s no mistaking that she delights in your presence. When she prepares a banquet–even of the simplest things–you understand what the psalmist meant when he wrote that his cup overflows. When you hear her call you by name, you hear so many things wrapped up in it–and they are exceedingly good things. You feel called for; you sense that you belong; you are named and blessed and cared for in the sheer sound of her voice.
Of course, there is one other thing that marks Beverly’s life. In spite of some real difficulties, Beverly abounds in hope. Even more, she is always ready to account for the hope that is in her, giving thanks in simple and profound ways to the God who has marked her as Christ’s own forever.
I think that’s why so many people responded to her invitation to join her in the congregation she loved. You just got the sense that she wanted the very best for you, that she wanted to share what had brought joy to her life–the love of God and the fellowship of a particular congregation.
Believe me, it wasn’t that Beverly twisted arms or laid down a guilt trip. She knew well that those things are betrayals of the gospel. No, Beverly simply allowed God to use her to move folks closer to God and one another by living in deep awareness of and gratitude for the grace of God poured out in her life.
My prayer is that more of us who find life in the way of Jesus will open our lives as well–that we will risk the vulnerability of sharing our love of God and our communities of faith in ordinary ways, trusting that God will use our simple acts in extraordinary ways. Will you join me in that prayer?