This Beautifully Messy Church

Margaret Kelly, Pastor Developer, Shobi’s Table, St Paul, MN


Margaret KellyIt took me a minute to realize what had happened in New York. It took me a minute to fully realize what I had been invited into. It took me a minute to see what the church is up to.

Our church, our sometimes not-so-with-it mainline, protestant denomination sends young women and men to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women as leadership development. Our church sends leaders to be built up on an international stage. Our church sends leaders who aren’t necessarily called to rostered ministry to be built up in their vocations for the sake of the world. And, I got to be one of those leaders.

This is the church that gives me optimism. I get to be a part of a church that sees value in connecting faith to the larger story of the world. I got to meet incredible people who feel called to do justice in the world. It was humbling. And then, I had another moment, a more personal moment. A realization of my own leadership development. A realization at the work that has gone into developing me. Another realization of how much the church has done to support the work I am called to do.

I was asked to present on a panel hosted by the Lutheran World Federation. I tried to be all cool about it. It was just a panel at an official side event at the UN, no a big deal at all. Except, it is! It was incredible and humbling. I was the American woman on a panel with women from three other continents, women who work towards justice in their own lands. I felt a bit like I was out of my league. I was asked to speak on the topic of the relationship of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to the eradication of Gender Based Violence (GBV). I wasn’t entirely certain that I would have useful information.

My work with Shobi’s Table is not necessarily a direct response to GBV. As I sat with the topic, I realized that the SDGs are related to broken relationships. Our broken relationship with the Creator and our broken relationships with one another. I believe that only through the restoration to community, do we see the creation as God intended. This is how the SDGs relate to gender based violence. Relationship work is liberating work.

My favorite theologian, Gustavo Gutierrez, describes the work of liberation as the “conversion to the neighbor.” We only experience God’s love and community as we remember how to love our neighbors. He does not say this work is easy or without conflict. He does not say that we are called to stay in abusive relationships. We are called to remember that we belong to God and that we are beloved of God. We are called to remember that the person next to us also belongs to God and is beloved of God.

PanelIn the midst of the strife in the world, in the midst of the hurtful rhetoric, in the midst of suffering, a few women from around the world gathered in a room to speak of their faithful work to build up the least among us. I sat in awe as I heard the stories of powerful work in Malawi, Indonesia, Brazil, and Denmark. I sat in awe as I contemplated the invitation into relationship with them. I was even more awestruck in the moments after the panel. We gathered as a group of women who had done something incredible and were now relieved of the stress.

We giggled and hugged. We rejoiced in one another’s work. We rejoiced in the presence of God in our midst and the work of the spirit bringing us together. I was humbled to be between a pastor from Indonesia and a pastor from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I was humbled to be a pastor in a room of Lutheran women from around the world. And I thought, what a beautiful creation God has made. What beauty there is in this messy church.

Dearly beloved, you too, are called into this messy work of liberation and relationship. You too are called into the joy of being beloved in community. Keep hope alive, for that is where the joy of community is.



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