Rediscovering Southern hospitality

Published 6:33 pm Friday, October 8, 2021

By CHRIS ADAMS

For the Washington Daily News

The South is a beautiful place to live.  I grew up in Eastern NC but spent the last six years in New Mexico.  Moving back has been a homecoming of rediscovery.  There’s a distinct hospitality in the South that wasn’t in New Mexico.  The folks out there weren’t rude. But that same kind of open-armed, ‘let me hug your neck’ hospitality just wasn’t there. Southern cooking is, in a word, sublime.  I will say that the Green Chile and sopapillas of New Mexico are culinary marvels that I miss.  Thankfully, I discovered that you could purchase cans of Hatch Green Chile in grocery stores around here.  Do yourself a favor and buy some today.  Just leave a few cans on the shelf for me.

The South has something else in spades: religion.  More specifically, Christianity.  There are other beautiful religious traditions around, and not just of the Abrahamic variety.  I’m not erasing them, but even a distracted survey of the town reveals just how many Christian churches there are.  The Yellow Pages lists about 80 churches in our town.  That’s too manychurches for a town our size. I’m not trying to be glib, but our community is saturated with Christian churches. I can’t help but imagine what that feels like for folks who aren’tChristians, like those folks who are part of other religious traditions or none at all.  I’ve been a Christian my whole life, so I don’t know what it is like to be anything else.  I can’t imagine, though, that it always feels great to live in a culture that assumes Christianity as the default religious position.

Maybe owing to my own status as an outsider growing up, but I always find myself drawn away from the majority and towards the margins. Which then leads me to ask questions of myself.  How differently would my experience of the world be if my religion wasn’t culturally and politically dominant? What do people see when they look at a Christianity so fractured that there are 80 churches in a town of 10,000? Are my actions, and those of my church, painting a loving picture of Jesus of Nazareth? Or is our behavior giving people good reason not to think too highly of us?

Fundamentally, I think every church must grapple with the question, “Are we trustworthy?” Not in the sense that people can come here to secretly make their confessions and trust our discretion. I mean trustworthy in the sense that we are actually assets to the community, not just enclaves for the religiously initiated. Trustworthy in the sense that we are places of refuge for the outcast and the brokenhearted, rather than being communities of exclusion and judgment. Trustworthy in the sense that people know us by our love, rather than our wrath.

Although I am the pastor of a historic church in Washington, I’m compelled to say that I don’t believe the people of Washington owe churches trust. We must earn that trust.  If you are on the outside of Christianity, and you have been hurt by the Church, I want to say I’m sorry.  I’m just one person, which means I can’t speak for every Christian in town.  But at least you will have heard it from somebody. The Church is always growing and changing, and we hope it’s for the better.  But don’t hesitate to give me your opinion.  I mean that, too.  Email me at chris@saintpetersnc.org if you ever want to chat.  Or feel free to chat when we bump into each other in the grocery store competing for that last can of Hatch Green Chile. You and I both know that’s inevitable.

Chris Adams is the rector at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Washington