From the Rev. Marianne Allison, chaplain at William Temple House and associate priest at St. Gabriel the Archangel, Portland.
“My colonial credentials are impeccable.”
I heard myself saying that often as I was first getting to know members of an Indigenous Theological Studies cohort I had joined at Portland Seminary. The program was run by Native Americans and First Nations Canadians. We came together to learn about decolonizing the church, and decolonizing ourselves–colonized and colonizer both. As one of a white minority in the cohort, my awkward remark telegraphed my self-consciousness about Mayflower ancestors on one side of my family, and slaveholders on the other. Not to mention, my coming from a church of empire.
My new friends passed over the remark. So what?, they were saying, implicitly. We’re here together now, and we all come from somewhere that will inform our experience. Let’s just start where we are, and walk together.
In this first act of hospitality, I was being shown the way of love, and I recognized it as the way of Jesus. And so, I stepped into this community that became for me, beloved.
It was an experience of scales falling from my eyes—a way of appreciating difference in others I had never known. I remember feeling a vague irritation in class one day that we we weren’t allowed to watch an assigned movie in our own time. Yet watching it together, I learned more from someone’s laughter, or tears, or wisecrack, or story shared that the movie brought to mind, than I possibly could have by focusing on my own reaction. And the humor! How much vulnerability, humility, and story – how much of Christ – was revealed in it.
In time too, we came to share what we were working out, each of us on our own. There was no forced march—just a quiet expectancy, a trust bestowed on each other to do it, for the sake of the community. I came to see why my proffer of ancestral baggage had been met with respectful silence. It was a disconnected fact. It had no context in the rest of my story, in who I would be to them, and who we would be to each other. I felt seen. I felt forgiven. I felt saved.
My friends love Jesus, although they’re not big fans of “Churchianity.” And they revealed Jesus to me as healer of broken Shalom, as the shepherd come to bring his lost sheep to himself. “Lostness,” to them, is purely relational. It is being lost to each other, to Jesus, to the whole community of creation. We are all lost—the colonizer and the colonized. And so we come together, each broken in our own way. We observe and absorb our differences, and we begin to make sense of them together, by practicing the way of love.
A mentor in this community once said this about the essential task of mission: “Joy comes from the community being together with Jesus. It is bringing in each lost person to share in the joy, to add their piece to the tapestry, or to bring it back.” This is beloved community, as it was shown unto me. I am humbled, and grateful for it. How can I not want it for others?