Powerful Space by Meredith Wade

I want to take you all back to a moment. The moment is late January of last year, and I’m in the meditation room of Life Together’s headquarters at 40 Prescott Street, nearing the end of my interview with Associate Director Lindsey Hepler and LT alum Yuris Martinez. It was like no other interview I’ve ever been in - warm, conversational, and deeply thought-provoking. The tremble in my hands that I had arrived with quickly dissipated, and I found myself feeling renewed, like a spark had been lit inside me.

Then Lindsey drops this bomb: “Would you be willing to work at a church for your site placement?”

For a second, I froze. I had not set foot inside a church in over four years, save for one guilt-ridden Ash Wednesday service at my university’s chapel, which I had spent trying to be as anonymous as possible. I had sought out Life Together for its holistic approach to community organizing: after burning myself out on campaigns for fossil-fuel divestment and academic diversity, the idea of developing a sustainable activism felt like a revelation. I was not, I repeat, not, here because of God.

But my heart must have known something my mind didn’t, because before I realized what was happening the word “yes” had tumbled out of my mouth.

And that’s how I found myself not only in the pews but preaching at the first Maundy Thursday service I’d ever attended, just over a year after this fateful interview. After frantically Googling the significance of the holiday - for those who don’t know, it’s a time to remember the Last Supper before Jesus’ crucifixion, complete with foot-washing, supper, and the stripping of the altar - I delivered my sermon, then settled in to experience the rest of the service. The tender vulnerability of the foot-washing took me by complete surprise (despite having just lectured my fellow parishioners on that very idea). Layers of my usual emotional armor fell away as I knelt beside the basin, and even more so as my neighbor poured warm water onto my bare feet. After communion, we took to the pews with candles while members of the congregation began removing elements piece by piece from the altar.

Stay with me, remain here with me, watch and pray, watch and pray. Gone were the chalices and patens, the colorful banners and vestments, even the monstrously thick bible that sits beside St. James’s eagle lectern. Gradually, the lights dimmed and we were left with nothing but our voices and an icon of Christ on the cross, bathed in the light of a single red candle.

And all of a sudden I was weeping. My first thought was "Where is this coming from!?!" But just as some instinct beyond my conscious thought had agreed to a church placement, some deep part of me had been touched by this scene. The depth of Christ’s sacrifice, the excruciating anticipation of knowing his own fate and being unable to change it, that his death somehow made space for my human failures, the stakes of our work as those who pursue justice today.

Life Together is a powerful space: it can hold us in all our messiness, transformation, and ambivalence. We are encouraged to question theology and critique the church’s very real legacy of violence. And yet we are also given space to really, truly find a sense of connection to God or something like it. Whether or not you believe we are all members of the body of Christ, this body is one where all of you is welcome in your imperfect wholeness.