I’m not usually one to do anything in the spur of the moment. In fact, I was recently described as being “someone who needs to make plans to be spontaneous.” (I wear that as a badge of honor, by the way).
Sometimes, however, something occurs that is so big… so unbelievable… that it calls for throwing caution to the wind.
This was one of those times.
This summer St. Giles’ annual high school mission trip took us to Washington, DC, for a week of urban service with The Pilgrimage ministry at The Church of the Pilgrims. This was my first mission trip with St. Giles, and I was serving as the trip leader. Because I knew folks were still getting to know me, I spent significant time planning every detail imaginable – maybe even more time than I ordinarily would have, which is really saying something – in hopes that nothing would take me by surprise.
I could not have known when planning the trip, however, that our experience in the nation’s capital would be the same week that the United States Supreme Court announced its ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges, which made marriage equality the law of the land.
It was Friday, June 26 – our last morning in the city. Our group was busily packing luggage and sweeping floors. Our charter bus was stuck in traffic – the city always seems to have traffic, doesn’t it? – but the driver assured me that he was en route to pick us up.
When the Supreme Court ruling was announced, my first clue was from Megan, who immediately texted me. Shortly after, I heard elated screams from somewhere outside the building. And then, a notification on my phone: “BREAKING: Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Marriage Equality.”
I remember stopping in my tracks, barely able to believe what I was seeing. Around me, high schoolers were folding laundry and taking bags of garbage out to the dumpster – seemingly unaware of the monumental decision just announced a few miles away. I could only imagine what the scene must be like outside the court. I texted Megan, jokingly suggesting that I should somehow find a way to get there myself.
Except… I wasn’t convinced I was actually joking. For the briefest of moments, I was able to remain on task: redirecting distracted youth, delegating various cleaning tasks to the other chaperones, and methodically checking off our punch list items. But I just couldn’t shake the heavy feeling deep in my gut: a sense that I was missing out on something that really mattered… a sense that being in the city on this day – of all days – was providential… a sense that I might never forgive myself for not at least trying to witness the celebration with my own eyes.
And so, with no time to plan my spontaneity in advance, I asked another chaperone to take the lead in the rest of our cleanup duties, and took off running for the Dupont Circle Metro station. I don’t remember how I even knew where I was going, but upon reaching the station closest to the Supreme Court, I glanced at my watch and started sprinting (fun fact: it’s a full half mile from Union Station to the Supreme Court. Thanks be to God that I ran on my high school track team!).
The decision had already been known for a couple of hours by the time I made it to the Supreme Court steps. Yet, everywhere I looked, I saw a celebration so jubilant it was as if it had been announced just seconds before. Reporters were conducting interviews for news broadcasts. Pride flags and the ubiquitous HRC red equality flags were flying in abundance. Couples were sharing joyful kisses. I lost track of the number of hugs I received – all from complete strangers who I discovered seemed more like family to me.
I knew I didn’t have much time – did I mention the charter bus was on its way?! – so I took one last glimpse at the celebration, hoping to capture the scene in my memory forever. As I started moving through the crowd toward the Metro, though, I came across some folks from Believe Out Loud and other local LGBTQ faith-based organizations that I hadn’t noticed when I first arrived. They were standing quietly off to the side, ready to welcome anyone and everyone to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. I walked over to join them.
“This is the bread of life – for you,” they said, looking me in the eye as they handed me a piece of bread. “This is the cup of salvation – for you.”
I was awestruck by the invitation to gather at Christ’s Table in this most unexpected of places. I was humbled to take my place at a Table where every single person finds a place to belong. I was surprised to discover that my own sense of belonging was somehow finding new meaning that day.
In that moment, I realized that I stood on sacred ground. Tears streamed from my face.
After a few more hugs, I sprinted back to the Metro and returned to Dupont Circle. The bus had just arrived to pick us up, and thankfully our group hadn’t needed to wait around for their newly-spontaneous pastor to rejoin them. As we began our journey back to Greenville, I sat quietly on the bus and reflected upon an experience that I would surely remember for the rest of my life.
I’m glad I threw caution to the wind.
I'm a husband, father, news junkie, theatre lover, enneagram enthusiast, bi advocate, amateur foodie, wannabe barista, and an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
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