I can remember loving the hymn “Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life” when I was young, and I still count it among my favorites. It describes what the urban church should be: a place where all sorts and conditions of people encounter each other in and through worship, education, outreach, service, advocacy, the arts, and more.
I enjoy thinking about Grace Church in the 19th century, when lower Georgetown was a rough-and-tumble working class neighborhood. Lower Georgetown has changed a lot, of course, but Grace still brings together people whose paths might not otherwise cross. Wealthy and homeless, artists and musicians and those with more pedestrian gifts, conservatives and liberals, people of different races and ethnicities, all look to Grace as their parish. To me, this represents the highest vocation of the urban church, and the urban church represents the fullness of God’s kingdom in a special way. “Oh holy city, seen of John, where Christ the Lamb doth reign”: one of our great hymns evokes the new Jerusalem of Revelation with these words, pointing the way for a church like Grace and for any priest privileged to serve here.
I take special pleasure from reading difficult books and listening to difficult music. My wife tells me that if a book appears anywhere on anyone’s bestseller list, or if someone recommends it as a quick or easy read, it disappears from my personal reading list immediately. She’s (mostly) right, and I’m a little bit of a snob about these things. But I also think of myself as a popularizer and see this as a worthy calling. I take great satisfaction in finding ways to transmit the insights of opaque philosophical and theological writings or obscure historical movements in ways that can shed light on, and even inspire, church members and friends in their daily undertakings. I have much less opportunity to convey what grabs me in the music of my favorite artists-Duke Ellington, Lester Young, Thelonious Monk, Mary Lou Williams, Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, the Art Ensemble of Chicago. But I find a special source of inspiration in the way their most demanding articulations touch the rawest, most genuine and most nearly universal aspects of human experience.
In some ways I’m a better Episcopalian than I am a Christian. I write this with some shame, but not too much, because we all have to take our journeys toward Jesus on some particular path, and the ones laid out by the Episcopal Church have proven themselves pretty trustworthy in my life.
I love baseball, especially the Chicago White Sox, a team that won my heart when I moved to Chicago in 1976 and holds it still despite my departure for DC in 2004. It’s the second team in the second city, the charmless rust belt franchise that represented the “stormy, husky, brawling hog butcher to the world” South Side of Chicago for 80 years in a stadium where 35% of the views were obstructed by rusting steel columns, The South Side doesn’t do much hog butchering any more, of course (the meat processing plants are a historic district now), the stadium with the obstructed views came down in 1990, and the Sox pristine record of postseason futility came to a glorious end in 2005. I wondered if I’d be able to love a winner like I’d loved the losers. The answer was a resounding “yes!” No further world championships, so far, but hope springs eternal.
I’ve been married to Sakena McWright for 25 years. We’re the very best of friends. We decided to come to Grace in September of 2004 in part so we could be closer. I served two churches simultaneously in Chicago, one English-speaking and the other Spanish-speaking, from June of 1984 until we moved to Washington. This ministry was both immensely satisfying and immensely demanding, and it was time for Sakena and me to do more things together. Grace, like all churches worth their salt, takes plenty of time and energy, but it’s just one church, and Sakena and I have more time to pursue our many common interests.