Bayla Kallstrom- Warden
Long ago, in another lifetime, I could pretty much purchase whatever I wanted.
I distinctly remember walking into a seafood market on my way home from work one day, in my fancy duds and fur coat, and picking out the most expensive fish they had, because I was curious how it would taste, and because I could. There was a host of people standing around, visiting, examining the lower priced fare, speculating on how many whiting could be had for a dollar, and comparing recipes that had been handed down through their families for generations. They observed me without smiling. I scarcely noticed. I remember that the merchant filleted the fish to my exact specifications, and I went on my way. I can’t recall noticing how much it had cost.
Sometime later, my life and fortunes having changed, I found myself in a similar fish store in the pre-gentrified, bad old days of Jersey City. I had six dollars left to feed my family for the next couple of days, my husband being paid only in monthly intervals. This was a new skill for me. There was a host of people standing around, visiting, examining the lower priced fare, speculating on how many whiting could be had for a dollar (a lot!), and comparing recipes that had been handed down through their families for generations. It sounded mouth-watering, and I desperately wanted to join in their lively fellowship. I also really needed their help.
I stood close and watched the process while they made their selections. I listened carefully to what they said to the seller who also de-scaled and prepared each whole fish for a small tip at the end—he really wasn’t supposed to. I realized how ignorant I was. I burst into tears. At once, I was surrounded by smiling, sympathetic faces, aiming to comfort and aid me in my distress. (“Honey, did he run off and leave you with all them kids to feed? Come on Sam, you must have something you can sneak her for free!”) They really wanted to help me! Once we sorted out what my difficulty actually was, they proudly and officiously and generously dove in and guided me through the entire process of cooking for a family when you have a grand total of six dollars to spend. They even cautioned Sam that he’d better not expect a tip for his services. They need not have bothered. He kindly exceeded himself, laying on extra, to provide me with everything I needed. I left with the best recipe for hush puppies—plus many others—and a brand new group of friends. These new friends also had identities! They had stories! And they had much more than that, as I came to learn while visiting them many more times during those early years. (Granted, my family was getting pretty sick of fish, but not me.)
It occurred to me after that I maybe had lost something that day as well. I momentarily forgot my fear of being poor, because I had friends who would help me, teach me and care about me. I wish I could tell you that my fear was eradicated that day, but we all know that it takes more time than that. It’s a process. The die was cast, however, and I was changed. And when you change, everyone around you changes as well—that’s the work of the Holy Spirit.
If I had more than one page to share, I could tell you all the ways in which we applied this in the creation of our new church, and thus set it on its course. We were a poorer congregation then, and even though we sometimes had disputes and disagreements, occasionally got seriously angry or hurt with each other, and also had all of our own issues and failings, we chose to cast our cumulative lot together. We got closer. We comforted and forgave each other. We shared what we had. We came to love one another. We threw in together and vested in one another. We stayed together and worked it out together. That’s called Community. It makes you fearless, because you know you won’t be allowed to fall through the cracks during bad times.
That costs something, and maybe that’s the key to its value. It takes sacrifice, until it doesn’t anymore. Until, through practice and the community’s support, it feels like an honor and a blessing.
Over the last couple of years, I have ‘leaned in’ to that manner of pledging. Trusting God and taking that risk feels like salvation to me, and it makes me feel more truly alive and connected than ever before in my life. When we pledge sacrificially, we make a covenant with our church family to share not only our resources, but whatever comes, good or bad. Did you ever wonder why we so gloriously celebrate the image of the Holy Family? I think I finally figured it out. The Holy Family is us. And every other committed community. We welcome you to throw in with your Holy Family by pledging what it takes—you can’t imagine the rewards!