There’s nothing like a good crisis to call a community together, right? I say this slightly in jest, as no community would ever wish a crisis upon itself. However, it’s in those times that a community is forced to respond.
We wonder: Will we be brave or scared? Will we be prophetic or priestly? Will we split or strengthen? Will we hunker down or open up? Will we exclude or include?
The options are hardly ever as binary as this or as the pundits and politicians would have us to believe. The ones whose living depends on the masses, believing that what divides us is more compelling than that which unites, feed on our fear and disorientation.
You name the issue and you’ll find a lot of us picking a side, throwing up our blinders, surrounding ourselves with allies, and refusing relationships with those who disagree … until there’s a crisis.
Our church rang in the first Monday of 2016 with a bomb threat, forcing the evacuation of 150 kids in our Children’s Center and 50 church and center staff. We watched as the police surrounded the place.
The bomb squad suited up in hazmat protection and deployed robotic protection. Local news reporters lined the perimeter. Yellow tape squared our space, creating an island where no one could venture. For hours we had no way of knowing what would happen next.
But then peace began to cover us. Compassionate teachers began to call parents one by one. Church employees rocked babies, and warm renditions of “If You’re Happy and You Know It” broke out among the toddlers and preschool children. As parents arrived, the fear in their faces subsided when they spotted their children, calm and cared for. Gratefully, the threat was as empty as the “suspicious package” that started the whole mess.
In days since, I’ve realized that it may have been a hallmark moment still in its infancy, a marker for the Beloved Community of First Baptist Church of Winston-Salem. Because since then, we have had renewed, honest con-versations with a diverse group of parents about the school of learning we all love.
We’ve welcomed three law enforcement officers from the Winston-Salem Police Department and two district attorneys to address 100 parents and staff about their follow-up to the incident, knitting citizen and leader together in a season when this relationship is fraught with violence. We’ve begun thinking again about how our building can be safe but not a fortress, protective but porous.
Our church and Children’s Center staff have set aside differences to work seamlessly for the good of the whole. And best of all, it has given us space to share our church’s commitment to live as people of love who follow the light of our Prince of Peace.
It’s in the chaos of crisis that polarities fall away. In crisis, the truth that we belong together crystallizes and compels us toward one another. We remember again that we are our brother’s and sister’s keeper.
We are oriented again to the way of love that leaves no one out, regardless of color or ideology or wealth or education or sexuality or gender or voting record. Even if for just a moment, we remember that we are far more alike than we are different, far more humane than cruel, far more together than apart.
That is how a Beloved Community is cultivated by the God who gifts us to one another in relationship.
Crises pass, thankfully. But the fog of fear seeps back in and clouds us from seeing one another as God does: beloved fully, freely, equally and unconditionally. However, we must remember that the unanimity we experience in these moments is real — not an illusion.
The togetherness that swept our nation after 9/11 wasn’t just imagined. The way that millions of all types of people gave generously after Hurricane Katrina and mourned deeply after Sandy Hook wasn’t a dream. They were our “beloved communities” at their best.
I don’t wish a crisis upon anyone. But I do pray for clarity of oneness and fearlessness to invade us for the sake of the gospel and the beloved communities who embody it. NFJ
—Emily Hull McGee is pastor of First Baptist Church on Fifth in Winston-Salem, N.C.