On November 3, I was honored to speak at the 40th anniversary banquet for Kingdom Life Ministries International, our Kimoyo partner congregation in Northwest Roanoke. Kingdom Life is a charismatic, “full Gospel,” predominantly African-American congregation. In many ways, our two churches couldn’t be more different. And yet, we share an identity in Christ. Below is the transcript of the speech I offered to our brothers and sisters at their celebration:
Do you remember the old television show “The Odd Couple”? Felix and Oscar couldn’t be more different. Each one’s approach to life is a world apart from the other’s. And yet, they connect with one another at a deep—and dare I say, spiritual—level. Their friendship is difficult to describe, but anyone who witnesses it can see how genuine and real it is.
Well, you can tell where this is going! Kingdom Life and St. John’s are a little like the odd couple. You play drums and electric guitars; we play the pipe organ and light a lot of candles. You speak in heavenly tongues; we kneel and make the sign of the cross. You preach for, well, we’ll say a bit longer than we do…but we have Communion every week.
We’re an odd couple. How did we end up together? Well, first my predecessor Fr. Tom O’Dell developed a relationship with Fr. Joe Anyindana, before Tom even moved to Roanoke. Then, St. John’s saint Vera Johnson met the Rev. Kathy O’Keefe at a Hollins seminar. The two of them had a vision—I’m convinced it must have come from God—that congregations as different as Kingdom Life and St. John’s could engage in shared ministry. They related this vision to Loraine Alston and Tom O’Dell, and the result was two Habitat for Humanity homes, built by your congregants and mine, side-by-side.
Eventually, Tom and Kathy jointly led a mission team to Fr. Joe’s village in Ghana. That, of course, birthed Kimoyo—the “language of the heart”—and that language has abided between Kingdom Life and St. John’s through the years to inspire ministries to children and youth, Shrove Tuesday pancake suppers, your choir singing at St. John’s with Kathy preaching from our pulpit, and your invitation to me to preach at Kingdom Life (which is, I must say, one of the most uplifting and inspiring experiences of my ministry). Perhaps the greatest testament to our shared lives came on July 10, 2011, when we joined together to remember and commend to God the soul of Joe Anyindana, our friend and a true servant of the Lord.
Yes, there’s no doubt. We’re an odd couple! But then, lest we forget, it’s often odd couples through whom God works. What could be odder than the coupling of God himself and the people Israel? How about the odd couple of Jesus’ mother Mary and the apostle John leaning on one another at the foot of the cross? The list goes on: Jacob and Esau, King David and his prophet Nathan. And odd is surely the word for Peter and Paul, arguing until they’re blue in the face over what to do about the Gentiles. Oddest of all is that the Lord Jesus would couple himself to the Church, the most awkward and broken collection of human beings ever assembled.
And yet that’s just what Jesus does. And that’s what Jesus has done, I firmly believe, between the congregations of Kingdom Life and St. John’s. I tell our story to anyone who will listen, and I hope you do, too. I tell it at Kiwanis Club; I tell it at clergy gatherings in other states; I tell it to my family in Arkansas. I’ve told the national Episcopal News Service they need to come down from New York and write a story about us!
We are as different as Peter was from Paul, but our Christian relationship is a witness. Just think about our current political climate. The world would claim there is no way under the sun that people as different as you and me could worship the same God, serve the same Lord, and embrace the same Gospel in such diverse ways. But we do.
The Reverend Doug Bailey came to Roanoke from Wake Forest University a few years ago to facilitate a weekend urban ministry conference. He asked all the pastors present this question: “If your church disappeared tomorrow, would it matter to anyone other than your own members?”
I hope we can say “yes” for a lot of reasons. But I know Kingdom Life and St. John’s can say “yes” with regard to our shared relationship. We are a witness to this valley. We are a witness to one another. We are a witness to the truth that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, no slave or free, no male or female, no black or white, no speakers of tongues or frozen chosen, no Kingdom Life or St. John’s…there are only Christians, servants of God and his son Jesus. There are only you and us.
I give thanks to God for you on this anniversary of your lives in community. Every blessing be upon you.