Last week my congregation was informed by the church where we hold services that we have to leave within 60 days. No explanation. Just a curt, “get out” kind of letter.
I was stunned. The timing could not be worse, because the termination date is just two days after I will retire. Having a long-time clergy-person leave is always disruptive. Losing your home at the same time can be devastating.
I should have known better, because my congregation never ceases to amaze me. Just when I think we have been dealt a terrible blow, they rise to the occasion. Immediately on hearing the news, the members of the board called every congregant to tell them what happened.
And the congregants? They were OK.
The Torah portion for last week had a timely message for me. It is called Vayera, “and he saw/appeared.” It describes Abraham sitting in the doorway of his tent in the heat of the day, and God appeared to him.
God seems to appear in the most unlikely moments. Or maybe not. Abraham was recovering from his circumcision, and he would have had every right to be sitting inside with Sarah waiting on him. But he chose to sit in the doorway of his tent, looking out at the world, ready for whatever would come next.
What came was three “men,” who we interpret as angels, and he ran to greet them and offer them the highest level of hospitality. He literally ran back and forth to make sure they were comfortable and well fed.
Abraham’s hospitality to strangers has become a commandment of the highest order, because it teaches much more than kindness. It teaches us that kindness has nothing to do with the worthiness of the recipient. Kindness is radical and audacious.
The church leadership changed after our arrival. The original priest was a practitioner of audacious kindness. She believed that welcoming a Jewish congregation onto their Episcopalian campus was a gift from the Divine for her congregation. After her untimely death, her successor didn’t agree. She seems more interested in creating her own legacy. To do that, she had to undo her predecessor’s.
Abraham was not thinking of himself when he audaciously welcomed to his visitors. He didn’t think about how his behavior would look to others. He didn’t know that God had sent them. He didn’t brag about his kindness to the neighbors or on social media. He simply rushed to do the right thing.
Last week, in the midst of the stress about having to move, I bragged on social media about Kol HaNeshama, my congregation. Like Abraham, the people of KH rush to do the right thing whenever given the opportunity. Our members responded to a call to help veterans and spent many hundreds of dollars on basic needs that will help change veterans’ lives. They didn’t ask for recognition, just for a chance to help people they will never meet.
This audacious kindness is the core value that holds our congregation together, wherever we find ourselves gathering. It is what makes us a community, not the physical place where we pray together. It is our meeting place, the place of the heart that draws us, one to another, in service to community, in service to each other, in service to the Divine.
I will retire and KH will find another place to gather. We will survive this because we are a community in the truest sense of the word.
I am proud of my role in creating and nurturing this remarkable community and I pray that whatever changes occur in the months to come, we will remain true to our core values. We are Kol HaNeshama, which can be interpreted to mean “the voice of our souls.” May we continue to practice audacious hospitality, and to raise our voices in joyous song, and prayer, and service.