Today’s blog post is from Richard Graham, Bishop of the Metropolitan Washington, D.C. Synod.
The year after I graduated from college I had a Fulbright Fellowship to study in France. I was a student that year at the Faculty of Protestant Theology of the University of Strasbourg. Far away from home, I spent the year in classes with people who knew they wanted to be Lutheran pastors. Over the course of that time I realized I wanted to be one as well.
I was blessed with great worship experiences that year away. The beautiful cathedral of Strasbourg was warm and welcoming when I visited. I worshiped nearly every Sunday at St. Thomas, a medieval parish church that became Lutheran early in the Reformation and where Albert Schweitzer had played his earliest Bach-revival organ concerts. Most of my friends in Strasbourg spoke Alsatian, a German dialect I never mastered. But the public worship was in French, which I understood well enough to know I was hearing the gospel powerfully preached and prayed and sung by people who treated me with great kindness.
I also worshiped that year with the English-language community that gathered once a month. Strasbourg was the home of the Council of Europe, a big deal in those days. There were diplomats in town from Britain and Ireland, along with people there to do business, students like me and the occasional tourist. We met in the chapel of a local Roman Catholic religious order. Laypeople preached or one of my theology professors, who had studied in New York. We prayed and sang, and then chatted and drank coffee, in the language that was closest to my heart. People were very kind to me there too.
There was something powerful that year about worshiping in ways that required me to pay close attention. My French was never good enough for me to let my mind wander. And it was powerful, too, to worship in the language that let me relax. I hope this experience has made me more sensitive to the refugees and immigrants who come to this city, where so many worship in English somewhere in the morning, then gather to praise God in the afternoon in the language they brought from home.
And I hope that the welcome I received wherever I worshiped that year in Strasbourg is a welcome that everyone can feel in any of the churches for which I’m responsible. I pray that this is so.