By Rev. Dr. Benjamin Bohren, DSF’s Chair of the Development Committee, retired DOC pastor
It has been at least 20 years since I had even thought about Byron, a high school church camper. But, in late November, I woke up with his exact name on my lips. First name, last name, and clear image of him and a detailed memory of a story about his life.
On the first night of camp, our keynoter suggested that we begin our small group session by asking each camper to share a time in their life when they felt loved. That seemed easy, so my co-counselor and I posed that question. The first two people responded easily.
Then, it was Byron’s turn. He kept his head down and did not look up. After an awkward moment of silence, he mumbled something and then slowly raised his head and with tears rolling down his cheeks, he quietly told us that he had never felt loved – not just for who he was.
The moment was poignant as the depth of his response sunk into our soul. “Never felt love for just who he was!” Without any kind of group decision, I commented that my hope and prayer was that our group could change that for him. And we did! We did! By the end of that week, Byron thanked us for the love he felt for just who he was.
Every year, I attend worship at a wide variety of Disciples churches. Nearly 100% of the time, these words are spoken at the communion table or written in the bulletin or on the screen, “All are welcome here and ALL means ALL.” Remembering this story of Byron was a stark reminder to me that we may speak the words, but it does not mean each person sitting in the pews believes those words are meant for them – just as they are.
During this Advent and Christmas season, we will proclaim again and again that the birth of Jesus was a powerful and personal way for God to speak to each of us, “I love you–just as you are!” Jesus was the human Incarnation of God who “loves us just as we are.” That’s the story of a manger and a communion table and a God of abundance and generosity. Let us be abundantly generous with our love and our giving in these sacred days.
Blessed holydays to all… ALL means ALL… May our journeys find us inching with marvel and mystery to the cradle of Bethlehem and the One who waits for us there as God Incarnate.