AdventWord 2019: 14. Gather
When I first moved to Liverpool, I had met only one person, through Skype, who picked me up at the airport. I was nervous; I had never lived so far away from my family before, moved to a place I had never been before, to meet and work and worship with people I had never met before. There were many firsts.
One was seeing the massive Liverpool Cathedral for the first time. Standing at the top of a mount, with an impressive central tower pointing one hundred meters into the air, my first thought was, I can’t possibly be working here for the next year? My cathedral back home in Portland, Maine was certainly humble compared to this one.
The Cathedral is not just grand in its appearance, it also has impressive programs; it is used as a venue for concerts, glamorous banquets, as a place for exploring and touring, as a popular school field trip destination, and most importantly, as a place where people gather to worship.
What do you think of when you hear the word gather? What comes to my mind first is something along the lines of gathering objects, collections, or even gathering one’s thoughts. But water can gather in droplets on a windowsill, people can gather around a performance, and feelings of sadness or joy can gather in our chest. Gathering is as much of an intention as it is an action, it requires a purpose or a reason. We gather together because we share something in common.
When I moved to Liverpool, I was not sure that I had many things in common with those around me in my new environment. I knew we spoke the same language, but at times I was not even sure that that was absolutely true. I did know, however, that we all were Christian, and we all worshipped the same God. So, when I went to my first Sunday service, still jetlagged and probably a little shell-shocked, I felt a sense of relief listening to familiar hymns, hearing familiar readings, and taking a moment to gather with fellow Christians to worship. It did not matter that I still only technically knew one person; I was in a community that welcomed me, and so I gathered with them.
Gathering requires a little more intention than just being in the same place at the same time, however. About a month and a half into my year, I was approached by a friend who was putting together a new young adult service at the cathedral. Our group grew from five to ten and then to about fifteen people after each of us had been tasked to bring a friend along with us. Never had I met a group of young people who were so willing to welcome anyone into their gathering, and it is only because of how hard we all worked that it became that way.
I left Liverpool with lifelong friendships because I was welcomed so warmly into the cathedral community. I would not have been able to gather with my new friends had I not felt so welcomed first. In order to gather, we must be open and willing to share our experiences and lives with anyone who wants to join us. Reflecting on last week’s reading, we must “welcome one another … just as Christ has welcomed you” (Rom 15:7). There is no gathering without first having a heart that is open to all.