My first visit to Haywood Street Congregation was for the Wednesday worship service on the day after the election in 2016. There were three of us who were desperate to see Jesus and to be with the people whom we feared would be the most negatively impacted by the election results. We saw lots of Jesus that day in the faces of everyone we encountered.
Fast forward a year. I had not been back to Haywood and I was trying to discern my spiritual practices for 2018. As a burned out pastor, critical of how the Church (big “C”) seemed to be failing to follow Jesus, I had said “Never again!” to regular church involvement. Still, my experience from a year earlier kept surfacing, and I decided that one of my practices for the coming year would be to spend my lunch hour attending the Wednesday worship service at Haywood.
I did not anticipate falling in love. Attending Wednesday worship expanded to participating in worship… no longer a mere observer. This expanded into involvement with the I Am Home Art Project, which expanded to hanging out in the hospitality room, which expanded into sharing meals around the Welcome Table. I found myself drawn to Sunday worship and to hanging out at Respite. I was spending Wednesdays and Sundays at Haywood, and craving more.
One wouldn’t expect that an extremely introverted, comfort- and convenience-driven control freak would find anything at a place like Haywood Street Congregation. But I found healing there. I began to feel passion that had long been buried. Everyone I met and engaged took me deeper into that passion, and my heart opened up in ways I never imagined possible. My longtime friends were having difficulty recognizing me, as much difficulty as I was having recognizing myself.
In the “holy chaos” of this sacred place I have found a deep and growing peace. In the conversations and shared stories I found connection I believed was impossible for such an introvert. In the shared meals around the table I made new friends who will always have a special place in my heart. In the art room I have shared the healing power of creativity. Through the worship experiences I have witnessed an inclusivity that I longed for but didn’t think possible. I have come to see Respite as a holy pause for healing, believing that healing in community is stronger and longer lasting.
I know that I am not the only one who has been transformed by this place. I will forever be grateful for the part that everyone has had in my transformation. Haywood Street is true community, messy and chaotic as that can be. Thanks be to the Holy One who relentlessly pursues us until we say, “YES!”.