The Talk of the Tavern
By Karen Moreland of Independence, MO, USA
So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God. —Ephesians 2:17–19 NRSV
My husband Dean offered ministry with prisoners in Vancouver, Washington. One day he asked me to go with him on a priesthood visit. I was not a priesthood member at the time, but Dean said he needed me to be with him. Only I could give that special touch by being present, he said.
I only knew that we were going to visit a woman. Dean pulled up in front of a tavern and said to me, “She works here.” He explained that he had been trying to contact her and found out she worked full time at a tavern. Her son was in jail, soon to be sent off to prison for a long time. He had asked Dean, a jail chaplain, to check up on his mom and to let her know he loved her. Dean explained that the only place he knew to visit with her was where she worked.
“No way!” I argued. No way was I going into a tavern! I was afraid of what others might say or think if they saw us. Dean said, “Is there any place that Jesus would not go to reach out to his own?” I thought for a moment, and then said, “Well, no! But they’ll probably throw us out.”
Dean gave the name of the woman to the bartender. He told us she was “back there,” pointing to the back of the long, narrow room. We walked back with the bartender following.
“Are you gonna order something? Or just take up space?” he barked. We ordered a soda, sat down, and began to chat with the inmate’s mother. There were loud, vile comments coming from some of the patrons. “Who are you talking to?” they asked.
“Friends,” the mother answered.
“You don’t have any (expletive) friends.” The venomous slurs flung back and forth.
“This is my minister,” she answered back. The vile language stopped. It got very quiet. We visited a few more minutes, telling her that her son loved her. I remember telling her about God’s loving kindness. When we rose to leave, she came out from behind the counter, hugged me, and said, “God bless you.” A few months later her son told us she had passed away.
Sometime after that Dean and I were in a store, and a couple walked up to us. “Do you remember us?” We did not. They told us they were in the tavern when we had come to visit the mother. “You will never know how much it meant to her to know that someone cared enough about her to come visit her. You two were the talk of the tavern for weeks…”
Prayer for Peace
God of the prisoner, God of the priest, serving the pious, serving the least, we would reach out to those who are far off and out of sight. But we also remember those at the corner bar—no longer strangers, but members of your household. To them, we will proclaim peace.
Spiritual Practice: Welcoming Unity in Diversity
Meditate on Unity in Diversity. Create a large circle with your arms. See and feel the diverse people God invites inside the sanctuary of Christ’s peace represented by this circle.
Who is easiest to welcome? Whom do you struggle to include? Confess the dividing walls between you and people too different or “challenging” to invite into your spiritual home. Ask God to forgive and heal barriers that keep us from loving one another.
Today, God, I will surprise someone with a visit to an unexpected place.