While finding my way in this Andover Newton community, I have had the privilege and joy to listen to stories from many of my new friends and classmates. These stories have been shared both in informal conversations and by listening to each other’s sermons or class discussions. I love hearing the various and unique stories of others. What a special experience, to be invited into each other’s holy histories and lives and, through the act of listening, to become part of those stories.
Most recently, I listened to a friend preach about her theology regarding sacrificial atonement. She told us that sacrificial atonement (the idea that only through Jesus’s blood and sacrificial death on the cross can one find salvation) was never part of her understanding of the Christian story, and explained what that means for her relationship with Christ and with her faith community. I heard pieces from another friend’s journey to this place and how she first unexpectedly heard her call to ministry in a Unitarian Universalist congregation. I listened as another friend shared parts of her story and her past that are challenging, and I was inspired to hear her clearly articulate what she continues to learn about herself and the Divine as a result. What all of these stories have in common is that they represent the diversity of experiences and theologies that exist both on our campus and in the wider world.
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as God chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensible, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it, if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. 1 Corinthians 12:12-26
These verses have been on my mind lately. Living and studying in a new community as diverse as the one here at ANTS, the image of one body with many parts is appropriate and beautiful. At this seminary, we represent a wide range of backgrounds and beliefs that each contributes a piece to the mosaic of life in community. Some us of grew up in New England; others hail from West Virginia, or Oklahoma, or Texas, or Pennsylvania. Some come from Congregational churches; others are Roman Catholic, or Pentecostal, or Anabaptists. Some of us aren’t Christian, and represent Judaism or Unitarian Universalism. Some are pacifists; others serve in the military or as military chaplains. Some identify as male or female; others identify as neither. Some come from churches or communities that affirm our call to ministry regardless of our sexual orientation; others arrived here answering a call despite facing resistance and discrimination based on who they love. Some resonate with the Christian Trinity: God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Spirit as Holy Presence; others aren’t so sure, or don’t use that language, or don’t resonate with that understanding of the Divine at all. Some of us worship through partaking in Eucharist; others find the Holy Presence through music and song.
But despite these differences, do you know what we have in common? As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, we have the same love for each other. If one member of our community rejoices, we rejoice with them. If one member is struggling, we struggle together. The body was not made to be just one part, and we were not made to have the same experiences, theologies, opinions, and callings. Each person, on this campus but also in your congregation, at your workplace, and in your neighborhood, is a different member of the body, and each member is important and valuable as we work for the oneness of the body and the world. Unity and diversity are not opposites. Affirming our commonalities and celebrating our differences: this is one way of how, together, we create the beloved community and work for the kingdom of God.