Thursday, June 4, 2009


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"This is a sacred space, woven together with holiness and genius."

-- Participant Kathryn Rickert, 6/4/09

Hope for the Journey

A pastor in Durham has gained a reputation for sitting down with parishioners for the first time and beginning the conversation with, “So, what’s your story?” The unsuspecting churchgoer usually trips through some thoughts on how the day is going or what he hoped to talk to the pastor about. And then the pastor poses her question again. “No, no, no,” she says gently, “What’s your story?” The second approach is an invitation into honest sharing.

Stories sustain reconciliation. Moments of hope and transformation fuel the imaginations of church leaders. They also protect dialogues about reconciliation from becoming abstract. Stories keep us from the delusion that reconciliation is something out there, something that can be achieved through, perhaps, a few easy steps.

One such story helped to animate yesterday’s conversations about reconciliation. In his book The Gift of Peace, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin recalls the day in 1993 when he was falsely accused of sexually abusing a former seminary student. “The attack was directed against the most important thing I had going for me as a religious leader, my reputation,” he recalls. The charges picked up steam and made headlines around the world. Even after they were proven untrue, damage and hurt remained.

“It took one hundred days before the false charges against me were resolved,” remembers Bernardin. “They may be described as an education in law, but I prefer to think of them as a profound education of the soul.” The Cardinal prayed every day for Scott, his accuser. Though he was the victim, Bernardin sought out Scott and visited him personally. There Scott apologized, and the Cardinal responded by offering Mass to his accuser. There, over the table, the peace that was theirs in Christ was marked and celebrated. “Never in my entire priesthood have I witnessed a more profound reconciliation,” writes Bernardin.

It is only one story of reconciliation, but, as Bernardin suggests in his book, it was decades in the making. It called on all the resources of his spirituality.

There are many similar stories alive in the church, and retelling them is not tangential to the work of reconciliation. The stories of what God has done in the past strengthens God’s people for the work they will be called to tomorrow. And in the hard times, those stories provide hope for the journey ahead.