Becoming One in the Spirit

From Nell Bolton, minister of social renewal, Trinity Church, New Orleans

At an adult forum last fall, I was presenting lessons learned from the people’s peace and democracy movement in Nepal when one audience member asked a pointed question. “Do you know any examples of a people’s movement being able to sustain itself without strong leadership?” Hmmm… That one stumped me, for in every example I could think of, strong leaders had indeed emerged to carry the movement forward.What was not evident then—when many citizens were worried about an apparent absence of leadership in our city—was that the strong leaders we were waiting for were, in fact, appearing all around us.

We in New Orleans have accomplished far more in the past year than we realize, and we should celebrate these accomplishments. We have shown up, gotten involved, and gotten organized. Locals have responded to the call to serve the needs of their community, and in so doing they have become leaders. As evidence, we can look to levee board consolidation, the incredible grassroots efforts emerging from neighborhoods all over town, and the anti-violence rally that took place earlier this year.

Emerging from this common work is a set of relationships that knit us together as neighbors and fellow citizens in new and healthy ways. I have seen this happening in Trinity’s own neighborhood: in late October, St. Charles Avenue was still perceived as a major, perhaps impenetrable, dividing link in our planning district. Today, participants in this process from across the spectrum have expressed a shared sense of belonging to one another, a sense that our fate as a district (and by extension, a city) is bound up in the wellbeing of all its residents.

In observing these developments, I have been reminded that although we may not always be able to perceive the Holy Spirit working among us, It is indeed there. When we feel abandoned, we may encounter God’s presence and guidance in the words and actions of those around us. And when needs seem overwhelming, we may find ourselves gently called to a small but meaningful response that blossoms over time. For, our responsibility as faithful disciples is not to draft the blueprint for the Kingdom—much less to build it! The same goes for our city. In the words of Archbishop Oscar Romero’s beautiful prayer, “We are workers, not master builders, ministers not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.”

It is faith in such a ‘future not our own’ that will help us to sustain our citizen leadership, keep us working across lines of difference, and allow us to continue expanding our sense of community. We will not do so alone, for we have God—and one another.