Over the last five years, whenever I visit churches or ministries in the Presbytery of Philadelphia, I either drive around nearby neighborhoods or walk city blocks. En route, I often pray for the local residents and disciples of Jesus conspiring for goodness in these places. Every now and then something catches my eye that uniquely tells the story of a particular block or congregational context. These stories give a glimpse into the creative work churches either have nurtured or are imagining as they extend welcome, belonging, and embodiments of God’s love and generosity alongside their immediate neighbors. In Philadelphia, many of these sacred pauses happen by way of brilliant and beautiful murals like this one, which I walked past yesterday after a quick stop at a local coffee shop. The rainbow colors affirm the many who call this section of the city home and identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community. So I prayed for the residents and the way many of our churches, both in this part of Center City and beyond, elevate dignity and extend belonging to fellow bearers of God’s image.
Advent is as good a time as any to pray for all who search for belonging in light of far too many encounters with exclusion and erasure based on their person. The story of the incarnation hinges on God coming into our midst and affirming flesh and blood and our beautiful bodies. What might this look like where you are? Dare to pray for opportunities to extend belonging to those isolated by ignorance, prejudice, and hatred. And if you find yourself as one frequently othered, I pray you find validation as a beloved child of God who is with you in your search for belonging.