Welcomed in love
By the Rev. Meredith Dark
Editor’s note: The following is the 16th narrative accepted for publication in the Advocate’s South Carolina Stories of Racial Awakening Project. Submit your own narrative and receive $50. See guidelines, here.
When one is going through the ordination process in the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church, there are questions we answer that demonstrate the way we think about our theology in the midst of the life that we live. One of the questions we answer is, “What is your understanding of the Kingdom of God; the resurrection; eternal life?”
One of the most meaningful accounts of racial reconciliation in my life is written about in this answer, and I hope that you gain a glimpse of the Kingdom of God from my life’s story.
My understanding of the Kingdom of God is that it is exemplified in the in-breaking of love and justice in radical ways in the world, and it is the key to opening doors that have previously been closed and some that have never opened. My understanding of this concept was sharpened in the summer of 2013 while interning in the Charleston District.
The churches I interned in were predominately white. I noticed that a congregation had within its own walls an African-American family from which the church could learn many lessons; I will refer to this family as “Gladys’ family.” The beauty in this situation is that Gladys and her family are welcomed and affirmed in the church, and that is enough to produce hope for more integration in the congregation.
My relationship with Gladys was initiated through my teaching her younger family members during Sunday night youth hour. Gladys later asked me to attend a birthday celebration, which I did. The birthday party was arguably the most influential experience of the summer. In the time I was present, I experienced an exponential amount of love, love being shown through the offering of hospitality as exemplified in 1 Peter 4:8-10:8, “Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” This was such a meaningful experience for me because I have never been invited to an event of this magnitude and caliber at someone’s home not of my race.
God’s presence was in Gladys’ hospitality. Her whole family and many friends were present, giving and receiving love through the sharing of food, conversation and a spirit of welcoming. I counted more than 20 children. There was a homemade fried chicken, spare ribs, fish, potato salad and more. Friendliness was abundant. Conversation never ceased. Everyone was family. The Kingdom of God was present. I sat in the midst of it and later cried.
This example of hospitality is one that draws on what the Kingdom of God really is: radical hospitality opening the door to an understanding of what resurrection and eternal life will be like as experienced through love. In this moment there was an in-breaking of the Kingdom of God. If God had pulled Gladys’ home up from its foundation and lifted it into heaven, I would have been expecting it.
Through the lens of this scenario, resurrection is not only when Christ was visibly resurrected from the dead and brought into Heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father, but it is also the hope present in any situation where the Kingdom of God has found a home. Stated differently, resurrection is a critical, spectacular, unmatched event where the climax is one of hope and expectation for the fulfillment of God’s promise. Eternal life is where we are able to be active participants in the perpetual reverie that is established in the “new heaven and new earth” (Revelation 21:1).
Throughout our lives, we experience glimpses of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God, as these moments allow us to recognize when we are living life to its fullest potential. These moments occur when we least expect them, but if we are vigilant we will see them for what they are: These coveted experiences give us clarity that eternal life is real, and gives us a blessed assurance that the Kingdom of God will ripen and advance.
Dark, 29, is a white female who serves as chaplain for The Methodist Oaks.