Building a Church through Pilgrimage and Prayer

Part of the tent city where people are living in Matamoros. In between the tents is where the food is served on the days there are volunteers to provide it.

Over the first weekend in November, several members of the Incarnation community went on a pilgrimage with a couple of other Austin-area Episcopal churches to the US-Mexico border. It was a powerful and rich weekend of encounter, reflection, and transformation. Our primary job was to prepare food to serve to folks living in the new tent-city in Matamoros, just over the border from Brownsville, TX, which has grown from around 100 to upwards of 1000 asylum-seekers just in the last couple of months.

On Saturday, after learning about the Good Neighbor Settlement House and Team Brownsville–the two primary organizations who are serving the needs of the growing group in Matamoros and Brownsville–we got to work preparing a healthy and hot meal of black bean and chicken casserole for 600 people. A volunteer team from Trinity Methodist Church, here in Austin, made a similar casserole to get to the 1000 meals that, together, we served for dinner on Saturday. It being Dia de los Muertos while we were there, we also gave out a fair amount of candy to the kids who were joyfully running around the camp the whole time we were there. The children and their boundless and undeterred enthusiasm stood out amidst the otherwise dire situation that is happening because of changes in US migration policy in the last few months.

On Sunday morning we returned to Matamoros for the last time to celebrate Holy Eucharist with the folks living in the tent-camp, which was an especially moving experience of being united with each other in faith regardless of differences in language and country of origin. Many in our group were fluent Spanish speakers, but I am not, which made leading our worship service a clumsy and humbling experience, but one of grace and gratitude, nonetheless. I believe all of us would do it again in a heartbeat, and we spent the drive home talking about the next opportunity we might have to serve in Matamoros.

Joyful and boisterous children couldn’t help but bump into our makeshift altar, spilling Communion wine over everything. But we were undeterred and all we still fed, but we said a special prayer asking for the Altar Guild’s forgiveness for staining the linens!

One of the practices the Incarnation Community Builders have been exploring is a Rule of Life, which is an 8-part pattern of living that helps us not just profess but live our faith. The practices of our Rule are:

    • daily prayer
    • daily scripture reading
    • daily confession of sin
    • regular study
    • weekly worship
    • regular service to the world
    • regular service to the church
    • keeping the sabbath

Over the weekend the Incarnation community formed itself around these anchor points, both among the group who remained and worshiped with our House Church and those who were on a pilgrimage of service and prayer. People ask me all the time, “How do you start a church?” This weekend illustrates the answer better than I could put into words. Simply put, we are building a church one person at a time by practicing now, on the small scale, what we aspire to offer for all of South Austin.

On Saturday we handed out balloons with one of the Team Brownsville to kids who were eager and excited to add them to their play.

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