A letter from jail.

(Photo taken in Garden of Hope at Clara White Mission. Peggy, who coordinates the work, gives thanks for the guidance provided by the Extension Center of Duval County.)

(Photo taken in Garden of Hope at Clara White Mission. Peggy, who coordinates the work, gives thanks for the guidance provided by the Extension Center of Duval County.)

The name on the envelop was unfamiliar, but I recognized the return address from the local jail.

The letter was sent to the attention of “Mother Beth” of Church Without Walls and made its way to St. John’s Cathedral.

It is humbling and a little embarrassing to have someone remember my name and figure out how to reach me while I did not recognize his name on the envelop.

Then I opened the letter, which began with the writer introducing himself as “Jerry (Gerald).”

You gave me a cross necklace Easter Sunday and asked me my name, he wrote. You told me it was the same as your father’s.

Immediately, I remembered the conversation. On that glorious Easter Sunday, we had given out Ecclesia crosses and blessings for any congregant that wished to receive one. I am deeply moved that this Jerry was connected so certainly, that he became a part of our “church without walls” community through that simple act. I think we clergy sometimes wonder if what we do when we gather for worship makes a difference. Are these rituals hollow and repetitious or do they carry meaning?

Hearing Jerry’s experience encourages me to carry on. We have no idea what impact an act of simple hospitality might have. Most often we will never know. But once in a while we get lucky. Once in a while someone is moved to share their story.

Some people might roll their eyes at this one. They might say, the guy’s in jail. What good has that hospitality done?

Plenty of good, I say. Jerry knows he has a place where he will be accepted, no matter what. He is a part of a valuable expression of the Body of Christ. He reminds us that Christ calls us to reach out and connect wherever we may find ourselves on our life’s journey.

Jerry’s reaching out is changing me. It strengthens me. It tells me to not wait until I have my act together to be a part of the Church. The Church needs us right now, as we are, right where we are.

And the Church, if it have any truth in it, will welcome us.

About Mother Beth Tjoflat

Episcopal priest, urban contemplative, playwright, lover of hounds, American of Chilean-Norwegian-Moravian descent. Interests include transformational ministry with the forgotten and marginalized; church planting and congregational development; 12-step spirituality; Hispanic ministry; radical hospitality, and spending time with dear friends.
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