Jun 19, 2009

For the Hopwood Memorial

The first time we went to Hopwood together, we walked through a field, following a little path from her apartment and cutting through the tall grass. The grass was completely wet with dew. With each step we shook the overgrown weeds, knocking down every drop until our pant legs were soaked when we got to the church.

Standing at the stairs, outside the church that morning, I didn’t want to go in. Dew-wet pants seemed like a good enough reason. Surely the people of Hopwood wouldn’t welcome some stranger with wet legs dripping on their floors. Of course it wasn’t the pants, really; that was an excuse. Truth was, I was afraid. I was, emotionally, lost in the tall grass.

We were just starting to date then. We were starting to see if our two worlds could come together. Both of us were pretty nervous, that first time, afraid of rejection and judgment, of finding ourselves pushed apart, isolated, unwelcomed. She was worried he would hate the Christian Church, and the people she loved, and would hold some social blunder or stylistic statement against them, and against her. I was afraid that the church wouldn’t welcome me, with my questions, doubts and distrusts, that I wouldn’t be the kind of Christian they wanted, or that she wanted either. So we stood there, at the door, totally terrified. And then we heard the people singing.

That might have been the Sunday when Tim Ross talked about “thin places,” places where heaven is close to earth, where not much separates the one realm from the other. He said the church is a thin places, where worlds can be joined. It might have actually been another Sunday when he said that, but we remember it as that first one where we came together, because even with the opening hymn, heaven broke through.

When we came out of the weeds and opened the doors that morning we found a people singing, a warm people, a welcoming people. We found a people who, instead of pushing people apart, pull them in, saying “come, be a part of us.” We found a people who aren’t naturally united coming together as one people in this very thin place: professors and students; intellectuals and laborers; innovators and traditionalists; those who love simplicity and those who love liturgy; natives and transplants and foreigners. Hopwood became a thin place for our two worlds. Divisions that had existed ceased to be real, when we went to Hopwood. Differences disappeared, grace reigned, love dwelled, and we both opened up, like the big doors at the front of the church on Sunday morning.

This is just our story, another anecdote in a long history, but we can’t help thinking it gets to the truth about Hopwood. Every memory we have serves the same point: Hopwood brings worlds together. It is a place where we are close to God because we are close to each other. We remember Tim was surprised to find he’d quoted Wendell Berry four times in one sermon, remember Jana singing, remember Cheryl crying when she talked about the students of Spain. We remember Robert Sheilds’ communion meditations, and of course James’ prayers. We remember these things and all of them repeat the point. Hopwood is a place where love is lived, where the Kingdom comes as we welcome each other. Hopwood is a place where you can come out of the tall grass and open up and hear the singing.