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The Rev. Anne Clarke

The Rev. Anne Clarke

Life in a church community brings many opportunities to think about, to encounter, to dwell with loss. If we’re living well as a community, the church can be a safe place for folks to bring loss and pain, in a world that often doesn’t have a place for those things.

The past few weeks of life at Grace Episcopal Church have brought some of those opportunities to face loss, or the risk of loss. A couple of weeks ago, we held a service and a community fair focusing on disaster preparedness. Disasters aren’t an abstract idea, of course, in a place where fires are a recent memory and an ongoing threat. Events like this bring up, concretely, our fear of loss. And this past week, our community has also been grieving the sudden loss of a man who grew up at Grace, someone whose family is known and loved deeply here.

I think sometimes the fear of these kinds of losses can lead to paralyzing anxiety, to avoidance of painful things that need to be faced, to cynicism, or even to despair. In the face of the scariest, most dangerous, most difficult things that can happen in this world — the disasters, the big losses that knock us over — it’s easy to feel helpless. And in many ways, we are helpless: there is nothing we can do to avoid some kinds of loss, or the pain they cause. This is a distressing reality, especially to we who are Americans, who are professionals, who are used to solving big problems and thinking about big innovations that can fix everything.

One of the main reasons that I love the work of building up and leading a Christian community, though, is that I believe that community with purpose is the antidote to that kind of despair. As I’ve journeyed through the experience of loss — loss remembered, loss anticipated, loss that comes unexpectedly — alongside my community these weeks, I have been reminded again of the grace and abundance that often springs up when we come together and turn toward brokenness, instead of away from it. I can’t deny that I have felt great sadness, I have felt fear, I have listened to and grieved alongside those who have shared stories of their pain, and it has reminded me of my own. That’s hard work.

But I have also witnessed great resilience, great courage, love, beauty, even healing. On our disaster preparedness Sunday, over 200 people gathered to make connections, to share their resources and expertise with each other, to learn, to think about the help that vulnerable neighbors might need, to offer care to each other. It was a beautiful thing to behold, and it was a gathering that made the world a more connected, resilient, and loving place.

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This week, as our community has gathered several times to pray and mourn the beloved person we lost, we witnessed relationships being renewed and strengthened. We heard words of love and comfort and wisdom from hard-earned experiences, offered as gifts. None of this would have happened if we had given in to the temptation to avoid or lock up any pain associated with these losses.

It is a strange reality that when we let our hearts break, in the cracks, grace and beauty can find places to spring up, to grow, to take root. And when we let those broken and scary and overwhelming places come into the light, when we join together to face them, and to name the gifts that we have to share with each other in the midst of that broken and scary and sad reality, we have the capacity to come away with gifts that we didn’t have before.

In our Christian tradition, we call that God’s grace, and we practice following the example of the grace-filled way that Jesus taught us. Other faith traditions have other words and other examples, though I think where loss is involved, we often have much more in common than we realize.

Jesus did not shy away from what was painful or scary in this world; in fact, he usually walked toward those who were sick or suffering, toward people or places that were considered dangerous. And where Jesus was present, in those broken places, healing always seemed to spring up: new relationships, new ways of understanding, new gifts realized and ready to be shared, new leaders formed to bring life and liberation and healing to those who needed it. It’s a gift to me to be a part of a community that seeks to follow that difficult but life-giving way. If it’s something you seek too, you are always very welcome to journey with us.

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The Rev. Anne Clarke is associate pastor at St. Helena’s Grace Episcopal Church, 1314 Spring St. She may be reached by calling 963-4157. Through Aug. 11, church services are at 9 a.m. Sundays. For more details visit grace-episcopal.org.

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