My first visit to St. Mark’s happened to be the 2014 de-greening of the church. An announcement was made that anyone was welcome to stay after Agape and help put the Christmas decorations away, so I stayed. Even though no one knew me, I soon found myself with armfuls of fake poinsettias and vague instructions to put them away. I figured out who to follow and soon got to see the “backstage” of the church, including the vestry and the basement – the kind of area that was off-limits to newcomers at other churches and synagogues I’d been at.
It may seem silly to cite an opportunity to help de-green a church and access to a storage basement as a clear signal that St. Mark’s was the right place for me – but it made it clear to me that not just my presence but my participation was welcome. St. Mark’s is a place where the line between “member” and “participant” is so blurred as to be non-existent. Getting involved is merely a matter of showing up. Mere weeks later, I was responding to another announcement, this time about the need for a youth minister. Now, I am halfway through my third year as St. Mark’s staff Youth Minister, and loving every minute of it.
What this says about St. Mark’s is not that its bar for contribution is set too low, but that it values inclusion above all, and wants all members to have a part in a vibrant and dynamic community in ways that work for them. St. Mark’s is a church where all voices are heard, where the table is set for all, where the Kingdom is being collaboratively brought to bear. As a favorite retreat song reminds us, each member has an active, needed place in the body of Christ.
In the Confirmation class I took and taught with the parish teens, we learned that the Episcopal worldview is likened to a three-legged stool, where tradition, reason, and Scripture are held in balance. For me, “tradition” is the leg that gave me pause when I first came to St. Mark’s. Past experiences led me to fear that adherence to “tradition” means a culture of “this is just the way we’ve always done it,” which is often another way of saying “there is no room for you here.”
Fortunately, I found out that St. Mark’s is a church where “tradition” means a tradition of love, of inclusivity, of making space for all kinds of talents to develop, from inviting parishioners to speak on Good Friday to cheering on performers trying something new at the Parish Retreat “un-talent show.” St. Mark’s is a place where a stranger who shows up and wants to be included gets handed a pile of poinsettias and a key to the basement, where a 25 year old confirmand is welcomed and celebrated alongside teenagers, and where Stewardship means recognizing the capacity of each and every person to be a steward by honoring their unique contributions in caring for what we hold sacred.