Do You Love ‘Em’?

It was either 1999 or 2000. I could go back and figure it out, but that is not so important. I was at Wesley Theological Seminary, pursuing a Masters of Divinity on my way to being ordained as a Unitarian Universalist minister.

I was studying at Wesley because I had lived in D.C. many years and wanted to stay in D.C. Wesley encouraged Unitarian Universalist students to study there and Wesley was known for its progressive political and theological orientation. I loved Wesley.

I remember one night a few friends I headed out to the Washington National Cathedral to hear Archbishop Desmond Tutu. I do not know the occasion anymore: maybe Martin Luther King’s birthday. I’m just not sure. But I was excited to hear Bishop Tutu and everyone I knew was excited to hear him.

The official name of the Washington National Cathedral? The Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the City and Diocese of Washington. So, we got there with plenty of time to spare. We were excited and we got there early to get a good seat.

My friends and I were all in Church History that semester. I remember distinctly that we all brought little index cards with definitions and dates and key figures. (About the key figures, Professor Ted Campbell used to say: Remember God works through the crazy ones).

Even with plenty of time to spare, the place was packed. After settling, I pulled out my index cards: Athanasius. The Cappadocian Fathers. The Council of Nicea.

The person next to me started to laugh, an engaging, full laugh that I could tell was not mean-spirited. I looked up from my index cards and looked at the woman next to me: middle aged, big smile, southern accent.

I smiled at her, as if to say: “Yes?”

She said: I’m an Episcopal Priest. I serve a church in Southern Virginia. I am laughing because I remember learning all that stuff in seminary. She told me that she had gone to the School of Theology at the University of the South in Sewanee.

We talked for a bit. I told her I had a test coming up the next day. “Yes. You have to take that stuff. We all had to do that, so you do too. But once you get settled in a church, I have a little secret for you. They don’t care so much about that stuff. All they really want to know is: Do you love ‘em? If you can say Yes to that, all the other stuff falls into place.”

I can’t remember one thing Desmond Tutu said (though I’m sure he was brilliant), but I’ve never forgotten that southern Episcopalian so full of laughter and wisdom.

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