I’ve spent the month of August getting to know the people of Ascension Lutheran Church in Towson, Maryland. I made flashcards to work on names and faces. (The stack of cards stands about 8” high!) But the main way I’ve gotten to know them is through a series of cottage meetings, 15 altogether. As of today, I have 13 down and 2 more to go. They’ve been graciously hosted by folks in their homes, where anywhere from 6 to 30 people have shown up.
As a talking point, I asked each person to bring an artifact that represents who they are. These have been fascinating little widows into their lives. They’ve brought well-worn Bibles, vacation photos, original artwork, and weird things like a turkey syringe, a saddle, and a temporary tattoo. At nearly every event someone will joke that they brought their spouse as an artifact; I’ve heard it so many times that I’ve come to expect it. Some of the best stories have been from people who forgot to bring their artifact; they haven’t spent a whole lot of time thinking about it and odd little episodes from their lives pop up. Many of the stories I've heard have been hysterical and some tearful. At each event, not only have I learned something about my new faith community, but they’ve learned about each other as well. It’s been a great way to begin my time here.
As I reflect on these gatherings, here are my take-aways:
1. Maryland is in the South. Yes, people here consider themselves Southerners. Who knew?
2. I realize that where you attended school reveals something about the way you were raised and how you experienced the world, but I’ve never been any place where people were so interested in learning where you went to high school as they are here in the Baltimore area.
3. People tend to live here forever. And if they should happen to move away, sooner or later, they return.
4. Not only do they live here forever, but their ancestors go back for generations. I don’t know what the equivalent to coming over on the Mayflower is in Baltimore, but whatever it is, the ancestors of those who got here that way are still living here.
5. At Ascension there are so many people who are related to one another that it’s an ecclesiastical version of incest. (And this is not a small congregation.)
6. People who aren't from around here are warmly welcomed. The natives will gladly tell you all you need to know so you can love Baltimore as much as they do.
7. The very young and the very old are cherished by the members of Ascension.
8. The people in my congregation are enthused about horses, the Orioles and crabs.
9. I have yet to hear one person say a negative word about any former pastor of the congregation. (As someone who will one day become a former pastor of Ascension, this brings me great comfort.)
10. Overall, the people at Ascension are more Lutheran than I am. It courses through their veins and it’s very clear that “Here I stand.” (It’s not always that clear for me, and I often find myself standing here, and there, and over yonder, too.)