Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: FAMILY (01/21/16)
TITLE: The Real Thing
By Kate Oliver Webb
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ADD TO MY FAVORITES
They did, however, stand out even among the congregation with whom I worshiped each Sunday. And that congregation, believe me, set the bar high.
My good friend Cara had invited me to visit her church (where her father was, incidentally, the pastor). Brother Simms (no titles like “Pastor” or “Reverend” for him, no first names used then, back in the 60s) was an older and very distinguished-looking gentleman; his wife was a loving, sunshiny-faced, grandmotherly figure. There was absolutely, positively no pretense about them. They were who they were.
That was, from what I could gather, the reason the Mortons were faithful members there, along with others of like mind.
I connected with that group from the first moment. Not to be too sappy about it, but it felt like sinking into a wonderfully warm bath. Never had I been so welcomed, so unconditionally loved.
I must stop and explain something here, before I say more about the Mortons.
This was a diverse group, a “church of many colors.”
Surprisingly, this wasn’t an immediate, conscious recognition. I just slowly became aware that there were black people, white people, Asians, Hispanic…and a couple of families who spoke a Scandinavian language when at home. This multi-cultural aspect wasn’t spoken of; it didn’t need to be. It just, well, was.
I was welcomed warmly and honestly.
I met Josh Morton who was my age, and we clicked immediately. It wasn’t long before I was invited to Sunday dinner at the Mortons’ and became better acquainted with the rest of the family. When I wasn’t at their home having dinner on Sundays, we all (usually a group from the church) went to a local diner and continued the fellowship from the morning service.
The youth group was just as blended as the whole. I’ve never known, before or since, the total inclusion of all the kids—individual personalities were celebrated, not treated with suspicion, and each became part of the whole.
Which brings me to what has stayed with me all these years: a kid named Lester Bay.
He was a unique kid, around the same age as the rest of us. He seemed to hang around the Morton boys, who included him even in activities outside of church. In fact, when I first met them, I sort of assumed Les was part of the Morton family. I found out later that he attached himself to the Mortons because his own family didn’t attend church. They were, in fact, non-religious Jews, and tolerated Les’s attendance at church because he was loved and accepted there.
Les wasn’t very attractive, really: teenage pimples, a goofy grin, clothes that were a generation or two outdated, and a ceaseless nervous rocking from one foot to the other or forward and back, and continual plucking at his clothes. His conversational input was frequent, but not always on-point; it was, however, always accepted graciously. In today’s culture, perhaps Les would have been “labeled” as we like to do, “high-functioning autistic”(1) or whatever.
All this didn’t matter to the Mortons, who were closest to him. Or to anyone else in the congregation.
You see, one didn’t need to be perfect to fit in there. Money or culture, or lack thereof, didn’t matter. Background wasn’t considered, except as beautifully colored atmosphere in which loving actions were the norm. One’s physical, mental or emotional differences simply became part of the artistic pattern which made up the whole.
This was God’s family.
Oh, I know that doesn’t happen very often. We learned it as modeled by Brother and Sister Simms, and the Mortons.
While that atmosphere was available to me, I reveled in it, and grew in my understanding of love and acceptance.
I have carried that concept with me. It has been my fervent prayer that I have somehow passed that culture along to other congregations. I’ve failed at times; “self” is pretty strong now and then. When that happens, I remember the Mortons. I see in my mind that colorful tapestry of Christians.
I remember that love and unconditional acceptance are not mine to generate. My responsibility is to allow the Holy Spirit to work His spiritual gifts through me, which binds us together in what the Bible calls “one family.”(2)
(2) Be devoted to one another with [authentic] brotherly affection [as members of one family], give preference to one another in honor…; Romans 12:10 (AMP)
This is a true story; names have been changed.
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