I have decided to put this in writing with the hope that it may help some in understanding something of what is stirring in our society these days.
The story is true.
I had this story very much in mind recently when participating in a public prayer service. The service was a response to the cries these days challenging us to deal with systemic racism. The service took place on the campus of Madonna University in Livonia, Michigan. Participating in this service were representatives of the various Felician sponsored ministries on this campus as well as St. Mary’s Hospital.
At the very onset of this time of prayer spokespersons stepped forth and declared whom they were standing with and for in this service.
My declaration stated that I was standing with and for all of those for whom the doors of our churches and even of our hearts had for too long been closed.
These were not just some nicely chosen words.
Much thought and prayer was placed into these words as I reflected on whom I wanted to publicly stand with or maybe rather on whom the Lord was calling me to stand with and for.
I know stories.
From my many years of ministry I have heard many stories, and sadly, I have heard too many stories about these closed doors.
These were the ones with whom and for whom I stood in prayer – those who experienced doors closed to them, doors that really should have been open wide.
With that background, I have decided to share one of these stories.
It is a story that goes back into the 1980’s.
That’s a long time ago but the story has stayed with me and is also one of the stories that has helped to form and shape me, I believe, for the better.
As I share this story, I also hope and pray that it may help to form, shape and enlighten you as well.
At the time that this story unfolded I was pastor of Precious Blood Parish in Detroit.
By then this was a small faith community, consisting of perhaps 250 or so households.
Everybody knew everybody.
And one fine Sunday, right there in the front pew, there was a definite newcomer.
She was an elderly Black woman, stately and noble in appearance, dressed to the nines in her finest Go-to-Church wear.
It would be impossible not to notice her presence.
I determined to find out more and to certainly welcome her to our community.
I expected that she would, after Mass, follow the crowd to the back of the building.
Because this was a significant sized building and because we did not need to fill it with pews right up to the back door, several rows of pews had been removed and a gathering space created. There, after Mass we had room to gather for coffee, cookies, donuts and all sorts of other goodies that folks would bring to share. When Sunday Mass was finished, all would march to the back and gather and socialize and live community.
But she did not join us.
This mystery lady from the front pew had gone out the side door.
But she was back again the following Sunday.
And this time I was sure she would catch on and join us in the back.
But again I was wrong.
Once again, she slipped out the side door.
A third week she returned yet again.
And this time I resolved that she was not going to get away.
As the procession began to exit down the center aisle, I slipped away and headed to that side door.
And I caught her and greeted her and welcomed her and we began a conversation, one that remains with me to this day and one that inspired my words at that prayer service.
I asked if she was new to the neighborhood.
“Oh no,” she replied, “I live right down the street, about half a block away. I’ve lived there for sixteen years.”
“But we’ve never seen you here before,” was my reply and question.
And then she explained.
Sixteen years ago she bought that house and moved into the neighborhood, locating deliberately within the shadow of the church. She loved her faith and wanted to live within walking distance of the church. She did not drive, relied on public transportation to get around. However, she would be able to walk to church whenever the Spirit moved her.
She was so happy to have found that home.
And the first Sunday after her move, she walked to the church.
She entered through the main doors, the great doors.
She was entering her church.
Only she had hardly taken two steps in when one of the ushers quickly moved toward her and stopped her.
“Excuse me,” he stated.
“Excuse me, but you are in the wrong church,” he explained to her.
“There is a separate church for your people,” he let her know.
You do not belong here.
For sixteen years she lived in the shadow of the church that she loved, the church that did not want her.
For her and for so many others whose stories are of doors closed, I stood in prayer.
Doors closed – that is what systemic racism is.
And it hurts God’s children.
Our sisters and brothers.
and stay safe.