Over the past few years, I have had the privilege of getting to know Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and his wife Caroline. As the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin is the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, which is one of the largest denominations of Christianity, with 85 million members. He is also the leader of the Church of England and pastor to the Royal family. He has been a courageous voice on so many fronts, and it is a delight to call Justin and Caroline friends.
I’ve been able to visit them and stay at Lambeth Palace in London, and we’ve been dreaming and scheming of the day that they could visit us here in Kensington, our neighborhood on Philly’s north side. This weekend it happened! Not only did they visit, but instead of staying in a hotel or rectory, they stayed in our home. We grilled out in the backyard, talked for hours and hours, and laughed really hard together. And we were able to show Justin and Caroline this little community we’ve been building for 25 years. England also has a neighborhood called “Kensington” but it’s a little different from our Kensington…
Here are a few glimpses of our time together. It was a holy few days… and we look forward to all that lies ahead!
I fetched them at the airport and we didn’t even go home… we went directly to the Catholic Worker Free Clinic, founded by our friends Mary Beth Appel and Johanna Berrigan (at the House of Grace Catholic Worker). For over three decades they’ve been providing amazing care for folks on the street and other neighbors in need of healthcare (they are both nurses) – providing free showers, bandaging wounds, giving out medication. Over the past few weeks, they have faced challenges from developers and the forces of gentrification, but the prayers and petitions of the people prevailed over the principalities and powers! The clinic won a major victory at the zoning board this past week! So this visit was divinely timed.
Next door is St. Francis Inn, providing incredible meals to hundreds of people every day, one of the bright lights here in Philadelphia. We got to hang out there with this marvelous place that undoubtedly St. Francis smiles down upon as it bears his name. That was our first stop.
Then we headed up to The Simple Way to see our gardens, hang out with neighbors, and check out the murals getting painted right now! Next week we celebrate 25 years of The Simple Way!!! So this was such a great time to have the Welby’s along with our Episcopal Bishop Daniel Gutierrez and his wife Suzanne who joined us this weekend along with a dozen or so other close friends. We got a quick tour of Esperanza Health Center, which is built in the old bank building at the corner of Kensington Avenue and Allegheny (a corner we were forbidden to share food on 20 years ago, but have been able to reclaim for love and compassion!)… and we visited the new community center that has been built on the land where we had a fire about 12 years ago. Now it’s the home of a massive space that exists for the sake of building community and healing in our neighborhood – new life rises out of the ashes! We said a prayer for Kensington from the rooftop!
We aren’t done yet. Next, we were joined by the Welby’s and other faith leaders as we dedicated two homes yesterday with Simple Homes. They are formerly abandoned houses that have now been beautifully restored! This month, two families will make these houses their homes (and we’ve been working for over a year to restore them). We celebrated the hard work that has gone into these houses, and prayed God’s blessing over them! What a day.
Then we just grilled out in the backyard and talked until we couldn’t keep our eyes open.
This morning we had a bunch of friends come by to pray and talk, and we headed over to the RAWtools shop where we chop up guns and turn them into garden tools and art. We dedicated a cross to Bishop Daniel, and we blessed two crosses made from gun barrels that Justin will deliver to the UN Secretary General… and – are you ready for this – Pope Francis. Archbishop Justin and Pope Francis have become dear friends and next month have another meet-up where Justin will deliver this cross that we made from a gun to the Pope. I think Pope Francis is really going to dig it. So it has been an incredible weekend. I am grateful for all the friends we have near and far. Katie and I are humbled to have been able to host Justin and Caroline Welby here in our home. The old saying is true – that all the ground is level at the foot of the cross (we are all family)… nevertheless it brings me great joy to get to host the Archbishop of Canterbury – or as he prefers it, “Justin”, and Caroline here in our home. As they left we prayed for wisdom, courage, and resilience with Justin and Caroline… it was a prayer for them, but also for us… and for you. May God give us all wisdom, courage, and resilience during these tumultuous times in which we live. Amen.