Pastor Troy C. Hedrick
While sitting in my office at the Chicago inner-city congregation I was serving, I heard the front door open and someone run in.
As I walked into the narthex to see who it was, the door opened again and 4 or 5 older African American teens noisily entered. I asked them if I could help them. Without answering, they made a hasty exit.
Puzzled, I started back to my office. And then, I heard someone crying. Going into the nave of the church, I found a shaking 13 year old African American child curled up in a ball on one of the pews. Henry (not his real name) told me that the teens I had just seen were chasing him in an effort to recruit him as a member of their gang.
He had sought refuge in the church because a friend who lived in his public housing project had told him this was a safe place.
He took a chance that what his friend said was true. I assured him that it was a safe place and that he was always welcome here. A few weeks later, Henry and his friend appeared on a Sunday morning for worship. Several members of the congregation spotted him and made sure he was made to feel welcome. They also encouraged him to come back.
It wasn’t long before he became a regular at the Eucharist both on Sunday morning and at the mid-week celebration. That sense of welcome and its accompanying encouragement then led to his request to be baptized.
Soon Henry was a regular part of the life of the congregation, participating as an Altar Server, Church School student, and member of the youth group.
With the continuing encouragement of congregational members, Henry graduated from high school, and attended Augustana College where he was an outstanding athlete with an excellent academic record.
In his senior year, he was offered a chance to play baseball on a major league farm team. After prayerful consideration, he decided that his calling was to be an ordained minister, and he is now serving as a Lutheran chaplain in a large prison.
We are called to be signs of Jesus Christ by encouraging others in their faith journeys. The encouragement of his fellow church members moved Henry from being a frightened teen, hounded by gang members, to being a Pastor, serving those in need by encouraging them, even as he had been encouraged.
Both those members and Henry practiced their faith to the glory of God and for the good of their fellow human beings.