BROTHERS AND SISTERS FROM OTHER MOTHERS AND MISTERS
One day at Synod Convention, just after my graduation from Seminary, I had a chance encounter with a friend affectionately know as Doctor Abe. As we talked I asked him what was happening down at his church, Divine Word-Pentecost. With a smile on his face, he told me, “We’re hanging in there.” I asked if they had a pastor and he said, “Not right now.” I asked if they ever needed someone to help out with pastoral "stuff", like preaching. He said, “Can you preach tomorrow?” I said, “I can preach this afternoon.” I showed up the next morning and preached my first sermon at the church that later would become Spirit of Peace. Doctor Abe is a great example of how the Holy Spirit gathers. He is always inviting people to make the circle bigger. He calls everyone brother or sister followed by their first name. He called me, “brother pastor Tim.” I came to realize that brother and sister were not just titles of affection but his understanding of the church. We are all brothers and sisters in the same family.
I came to realize that Doctor Abe embodied the radical welcome that he had infused in the church. He taught piano lessons to children from the local school which couldn’t afford a music program. More than teaching them an instrument, he taught them that they had gifts to offer and that they were important to the community. He organized open "mic"nights where the community came to celebrate, not only music and corny jokes from the joke jar, but belonging.
He also played the piano to entertain those who came to the food pantry. His humor and music lifted the spirits of all those who came to participate and he treated them all like guests. He learned the names of those who came often and invited them into community. He led by example in treating everyone as friends.
On my first Sunday we sang a song he had written called “All Are Welcome in This Place”. It is one of those songs that clings to the synapses in your brain and won’t let go. I found myself singing it all week long. He made church music accessible in a way that got you singing. What I came to realize was that welcoming people to church is not just helping them to feel comfortable, but getting to know them, and also having them get to know you, so that they are no longer visitors.
Doctor Abe runs a music publishing house called, “World House Music.” He writes and publishes music from all over the globe. We sang songs in many languages and styles. Learning a new song in Swahili or Spanish took us out of our comfort zone and expanded our world view. This experience helped us all to see our selves as just one small part of the much larger World Church. When he retired and moved away to be near his new grand baby, he left behind a passion for good music, connecting people, and a realization that chance encounters are just how the Holy Spirit moves.