photo by Charles Edward Case

A couple of weeks ago, I was blessed to find myself in Boston at Trinity Church, Copley Square. And I was doubly blessed to be hearing a sermon from the Rt. Rev. Carlye Hughes. Bishop Hughes serves currently as the 11th Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark. Her words to the congregation were impassioned, and she spoke the truth to us in love as she focused on power and welcome, systemic injustice and growth.

Much of Bishop Hughes’ focus was on exhorting us to leave church—not in the definitive sense of course, but rather to set aside our limited assumptions of what church can be. And yes, literally to go outside our buildings to encounter and embrace the neighborhoods there. The Spirit must have decided we needed a basic and immediate tutorial in this, because as the Bishop approached the end of what she was saying to the large congregation, each of us listening raptly, the fire alarm in the building went off!

So we all had to get up, a bit bewildered and a bit unsettled at the disruption, leave our comfortable pews and make our way out into the evening. When all was deemed well, we were invited back in and the Eucharist continued. Still, message received. And I have carried this simple, startling moment with me as Lent has begun; a time in our year set aside for seeking God in places new to us. We give something up or add something so that we can jostle our hearts and deepen our vision. We alter how we live—even if only a little—hoping to expand on how we orient ourselves toward God’s life-giving presence.

This is a process. And not one without risk. But Lent encourages us to turn our hearts toward pilgrimage, and God promises us sustenance along the way.