The Courage to Risk, to Love, to Act: Reflections on Companion Conference 2021

by Jacqueline Schmitt, Companion, New York Chapter

The Courage to Risk, to Love, to Act:

Reflections on Companion Conference 2021

``Courage nestles in the intersection of high-minded noble purpose, feelings of fear, and volition, which is the will, the choice to act.``

“We are clouds of witnesses for one another,” I heard a Companion say at the end of the Conference.

Our Companion-in-Charge Edwina Simpson talked about how this pandemic time has been marked by isolation and violence. Even among all those stresses and strains, she noted there are moments of grace. “Who are the angels who came to us?” she asked. “What water do we have to offer?”

Companion Conference always manages to tell us what we need to hear. After this dreadful year, with deaths from the coronavirus still mounting worldwide, with much that is not settled within our body politic, with churches faced with perplexities of how to re-gather in person after communities separated and scattered, just how much more challenge could we take? How about a conference this year on the comforts of intercessory prayer?

Yet intercessory prayer always takes Companions straight into the heart of God’s deepest challenges. We might think we’re “only” praying for Susie’s Uncle Joe, but here’s the reality of our lives over the past year: Uncle Joe suffered with COVID. Nephew Sam got teargassed in a Black Lives Matter protest. Darnella Frazier, the teenage girl who lived not far away from any of us, trained her disbelieving eyes and unblinking iPhone on the crushed body of George Floyd and the whole world’s heart was broken.

That was right where Lynne Nelson, New York Chapter Companion, took us during her keynote presentation. She showed us a picture of where courage comes from. It nestles in the intersection of high-minded noble purpose, feelings of fear, and volition, which is the will, the choice to act. Lynne told a story of en-couragement from John Lewis. A tornado threatened his house as a child, and his family gathered in a circle and held hands until the storm subsided. “If we hold hands and walk together,” Lewis wrote, “we can hold down the trouble that threatens to blow us away.”

Hospitality to strangers is courage, Lynne told us. People choosing beauty in the midst of adverse circumstances is courage. Courage is support in numbers, and prayer is the well of refreshment that fills us up and sends us out again. Like the Samaritan Woman at the Well, given courage by the Living Water, our task now is to run and tell anyone who will hear us about this Good News we know is true.

“Who are the angels who came to us?” Edwina asked. “What water do we have to offer?”

Running under the Conference this year were uncertainties raised by proposed changes to the SCHC By-Laws. Carol Spencer, Mississippi Chapter Companion, gently guided us through some implications of opening our doors of invitation more broadly. Hospitality, she told us, can too often be domesticated into coziness. She reminded us that accepting the stranger can be hard work. We learn new things from them. They give us the gift of seeing the world through a new lens.

We are called to see these strangers, Carol told us, as sent from God. “Greeting a stranger with hospitality may mean dying to old ways.”

“This is the Way of the Cross,” Carol said, using words all of us Companions of the Holy Cross recognize, a Way full of challenges and reminders of brokenness. We in the SCHC commit ourselves to challenging things—to social justice and to the unity of all God’s people. We are called continually to greet new strangers.

“Prophetic spirituality makes us uncomfortable,” Carol said. She reminded us that the church preferred to minimize the difficult parts of Jesus’ teachings, and highlighted the cozy parts.

That made me think of what she said earlier about “hospitality domesticated into coziness.” I wondered about the way I offer hospitality: do I do so in a way that makes me feel good, that is so deeply colored by my personal tastes and customs that I do not pay attention to who my guest is? That I miss the lens she offers me to see the world in a new way?

Carol ended with quote from Catherine Meeks, the antiracism trainer from the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing. This encouraging word might indeed help us to face the challenges ahead of us. “Each day,” Meeks said, “all we need to be is a half-shade braver.”