St Andrew, Glencairn

Glencairn Methodist Church

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August 2010


"Sell everything you have and give to the poor."

William Stringfellow (1928 - 1985) was a New York lawyer who worked in East Harlem among poor African-Americans and Hispanics. He was a member of The Episcopal Church and, in the 1960s, he was quite scathing of the American Protestant church seminaries in producing graduates who were better trained to preserve the institution of the church than they were to advance the Kingdom of God. In his 1962 book, A Private and Public Health, he recalls the following incident as an example of how far the churches have withdrawn from "the ministry of the body of Christ." He writes -

For example, I had one day to fly to Boston to visit the Harvard Business School to give a lecture. I was late (some friends would say, as usual) in leaving my apartment to get out to the airport. Just as I was about to go, the telephone rang. I had not the will power not to answer it, in spite of my rush. It was a clergyman who was calling. "I have a woman in my office," he told me, "who is going to be evicted in the morning. Tell ne what to do for her." I asked his a few questions and, as it turned out, the grounds for the eviction were the non-payment of the rent. The woman, apparently had no money to pay her rent. She had, or asserted that she had, certain complaints against the landlord, but the complaints that she had were not sufficient, assuming that they could be legally established, to justify non-payment of the rent. They were no defense to the eviction, and if she wished to pursue them it would have to be done in a separate action against the landlord, apart from the eviction proceedings. By this time I was even more anxious about catching the airplane and said to the minister, "Well, sell one of your tapestries and pay the rent," and hung up and caught the plane. On the plane I thought the telephone conversation over and thought that perhaps I had been rude and too abrupt in  answering the minister that way and I considered calling him back after landing to apologize. But by the time the plane had landed at Logan Airport I had rejected that idea. My answer had not been rude or irresponsible. On the contrary, exactly what he and the people of his congregation, which does have several beautiful and valuable tapestries, must be free to do is to sell their tapestries to pay the rent - to pay somebody else's rent - to pay anybody's rent who can't pay their own rent. If they have that freedom, then, and only then, does the tapestry have religious significance; only then does the tapestry enrich and contribute to and express and represent the concern and care which Christians have in the name of God for the ordinary life of the world. The tapestry hanging in a church becomes and is a wholesome and holy thing, an appropriate and decent part of the scene of worship, only if the congregation which has the tapestry is free to take it down and sell it in order to feed the hungry or care for the sick or pay the rent or in any other way to serve the world. The tapestry is an authentic Christian symbol only when it represents the freedom in Christ to give up any aspect of the inherited and present life of the institutional church, including, but not limited to, possessions, for the sake of the world.

Anyone got a tapestry for sale?


9 August 2010

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