I had just finished a morning run. Dripping with sweat and in desperate need of a shower, I noticed my phone ringing. Ivy Beckwith, my friend and colleague on the Faith Formation Team at the national UCC was calling. I was intrigued, but let the call go to voicemail in lieu of that much-needed shower. (This is the kind of thing that happens when you work mostly from home.) After the shower and getting ready for the day, I curiously called her back.
The team was recruiting writers for the UCC’s 3 Great Loves campaign worship services. They needed someone to write the first of three liturgies — this one themed around Love of Neighbor. And they needed it pretty quickly. She asked if I would write it.
That prickly feeling rose up in my belly — intrigued, frightened and overwhelmed. Writing a worship service that will be used (and potentially criticized) by a bunch of other pastors is intimidating enough. But, a white woman writing liturgy themed around Love of Neighbor during one of the most divisive times in recent cultural and political memory was even more daunting.
Ivy and I began to brainstorm a little about what the service would look like. She said that she’d like it to be intergenerational, perhaps even encourage churches to use technology as part of worship. All things that I love to do with worship.
Still uneasy, I agreed to take on the project.
I first immersed myself in Love of Neighbor scriptures. (There are A LOT of these, by the way.) Although the obvious choice, The Good Samaritan stuck out to me. (Luke 10: 25-37). This passage, even if well-known, did not discuss ideas, but rather the tangible ways that we actually LIVE ways to love our neighbor. I was getting hooked on this project.
Then Charlottesville happened.
The project, and much of my other work, got derailed. I immersed myself in watching and reading about the white supremacist rallies that overtook Charlottesville for 24 hours, leaving three dead and many more injured. Clergy and other people of faith, including some from my own United Church of Christ, were surrounded by torch-carrying white supremacists spewing racial slurs and anti-Semitic Nazi slogans while in a local church to pray before their planned counter protest.
The most shocking image to me was how these mostly young white men did not even feel compelled to hide their identities like the sheet-covered Ku Klux Klan members of the past. Even more disturbing, most of these hate-filled white men would probably call themselves Christian.
Then I saw the reminders from my friends and colleagues who are people of color — we are sad and upset, but this is not surprising. THIS is what we deal with every day. My white privilege showed itself again — I have the luxury of forgetting that this kind of hate and racism exists. All the time. In Charlottesville on Aug. 14 and the immediate days that followed, I could not ignore it.
I went back to those Love of Neighbor themed scriptures and saw that they give us tangible, practical ways to live. The Samaritan, part of a despised class of people, was the one to nurse a stranger back to health after he was beaten, robbed and left for dead. He paid for the man’s lodging and care in recovery. He returned to check on the man and continued paying his bills.
In the face of these happenings, I realized this worship service needed to show people HOW to Love their Neighbor. It needed to show communities around the country that churches were places of welcome, hospitality and sacrificial love.
In the end, the service encourages churches to reach out beyond its comfort zone — Put worship in a new location, livestream it to people who wouldn’t normally darken the door of a church or take it to the streets during a protest. Most importantly, invite people from ALL walks of life to come together.
In the face of intense racial and political division and violence, Jesus guided me to the answer: Resist by inviting people to the table. Time and again, Jesus sits down to eat with people who he should not have — women, Samaritans, tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, fisherman. So can we.
Worship together. Serve together. Share a meal together.
We may not be able to control all the cultural and political forces espousing hate, but we can form community that is more beautiful, more loving, more welcoming, more understanding of difference. Singing, praying and eating together helps us to form bonds that help us lean into the discomfort of human difference simply by knowing each other, listening to each other’s stories, knowing the beauty in each other’s heart.
So let’s do it: Worship together. Serve together. Share a meal together.
Download the Love of Neighbor worship service and other resources for the UCC’s 3 Great Loves campaign in the Toolkit.