By Rev. Joe Walker, Minister of Congregational Care
Can you imagine having 200 guests in our sanctuary in sub-freezing weather and us not having heat in our building?
Can you imagine 200 guests staying for two hours with coats, hats, and gloves on?
That was the scene one evening during the first week of Advent when I visited St. Mark’s Lutheran Church (ELCA). St. Mark’s is a grand, old, cathedral style church – bigger than our sanctuary. In its day it boasted a large, active congregation from the surrounding neighborhood. But St. Mark’s sits on the corner of Troost and Manheim and we all know that prejudice and policies dragged that neighborhood down. The church faithfully struggles forward even though its congregation is fewer in number. The night I visited I wasn’t clear whether the boiler was not working or they just couldn’t afford to run it for an evening event.
The cold did not faze the congregation who had gathered to talk about ways to heal racism, end poverty, and unite our community. Community groups had brought together people of all ages and ethnic groups from across our larger city. If anything, the temperature and the setting contributed to the Advent experience of the evening. Like our ancestors, we were huddled against the cold and the injustices in the world and speaking words of hope and encouragement to one another. We were listening for a Word and looking for a Sign from God that peace and justice are not only possible but gradually being revealed in our lives and world. We were committing to continue to pray and hope and work for a time when the homes, schools, and stores in that neighborhood would be treated with the same dignity and have the same opportunities as other parts of our city. We were hoping for that day when St. Mark’s neighborhood and church would bloom again.
In our Christian tradition “Hope” is a recurring theme in Advent. Sometimes when we see memes and posters about “Hope” the word is written in a pretty script with warm, fuzzy images behind it. In my experience, hope against desperate odds, hope despite centuries of injustice – that kind of hope braves the elements and is strong as steel. It is that hope that comes down from the ancient prophets and calls us all to wait and work and hope with and for our neighbors for the fullness of God’s peace and justice.