This is a fund-raising letter for the missional faith community of Spring Forest. Also, just so you’ll know, inside the conventional stewardship framework, I’m going to do everything wrong in this letter. I know. It’s shocking to say that out of the gate, but if you choose to continue reading, I hope you will find it to be a different kind of ask.
So, I want to tell you about my friend, Gary Wayne Locklear, my Lumbee brother who sang so many songs of hope and liberation into my life. We journeyed together in deep friendship for more than twenty years.
I encouraged Gary to join me in becoming a Church and Community Worker. Gary encouraged me to join him in the covenantal community of Deaconesses and Home Missioners. We traveled together, worked together, taught together, worshipped together, and often struggled together in the work of love, service, and justice.
Gary always found space for the other, which of course, is truly about making space for the “Sacred Other.” One might find Gary in South America, building schools, churches, and homes for Indigenous people in that land.
Perhaps you would come across him on the southern U.S. border, advocating for refugee rights and proclaiming hope for violated humanity.
One might meet Gary in a Palestinian refugee camp, sharing life with and learning truths from vulnerable people – poor and occupied people who are hated by many and feared by more.
Yet, I suspect you would be most apt to meet Gary turning over the rich dirt of his acre garden, engaging in a beautiful seasonal dance with Holy Creator to provide healthy food that Gary would freely give to hungry folks in his own Lumbee community.
This gentle giant who the Indigenous children in Bolivia called, “the tallest Indian in the world,” shared his life and so many stories of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina. Of course, he would always proudly name them as “my people.”
It was with Gary that I first floated the sacred waters of the Lumbee River. I encountered the beauty of its slow-moving water, the dense primal forest of cedar, water oak, and black gum, its abundant wildlife, and the deep current of the Creator’s Spirit that forever connects river, place, and people in an intertwined life and story.
It was with Gary that I first met Great Blue Heron, standing before us majestically as we eased around a river bend. Gary explained that in the encounter, that God was blessing me and promising me the Spirit’s wisdom, patience, and perseverance.
I love Gary Wayne Locklear. Gary, tallest Indian in the world, like a disproportionate number of BIPOC folk in the U.S., died from Covid-19 on September 10, 2020.
Words fail to describe how deeply Gary’s loss affected so many of us. I felt lost.
In early 2022, I journeyed to Spring Forest and met with our Abbess, Rev. Dr. Elaine Heath. Like she has with so many others, Elaine invited me to sit with her and drink tea on the back deck. We sat and we shared, and we told sacred stories about nothing in particular and about everything that matters.
In the gentle conversation, and in this holy space of hospitality that lovingly embraces people of deep faith or people of no faith, a healing began.
Initially, it was no more than a sip of tea and a kind word, yet, at the edge of the forest and in the gentle breeze that carried the earthen breath of Holy Creator -- poplar, oak, hickory and pine -- I breathed in a Spirit of Hope, and once again began to sing a song of life.
As we dwell in the rich and beautiful missional community that is Spring Forest, I see so much of Gary’s spirit lived out in this place. It is not coincidental, for it is the One Spirit that is God’s Spirit.
Another way to say this is “The Body of Christ.” embracing and communing, welcoming, and collaborating with folks from other religions and no religion, people of deep faith, or of no faith.
We seek to live and be the Hospitality of Christ, because we ourselves have been embraced by the same hospitable Spirit.
Like me, many of you came to Spring Forest from a place of pain and frustration. We came to Spring Forest and found healing, experienced new life, and were swept up in Spirit-filled love graciously poured out.
We found the reality that the holy bard of First John sings:
“My much-loved friends, love each other, for love comes from the Great Spirit. All who love have been born of her and know her. Those who do not love do not know her, for the Great Spirit is love. Creator showed his love for us by sending the only Son who fully represents him into this world, so that we could live through him. This is love, not that we loved Creator, but that they loved us and proved their love by sending their Son to take on himself the burden of our broken ways. My much-loved friends, if Creator loved us like that, then we should also love each other.”
John 4:7-11 – First Nations Version(ish) of the NT
It is love that we live in this place, but not as empty sentimentality. It is love wrapped in the concern for the most vulnerable among us -- refugees who have fled violence and nightmare and horror – yet now are embraced and offered the gift of hospitality and literacy and hope.
It is love spilled out upon prancing sheep and bleating goats and bawking chickens.
It is love harvested in growing seed and blooming fruit. It is love cast widely like meadow wild flowers and love planted deeply like ancient oaks and swaying pines. It is love that journeys to borders and welcomes a stranger and explodes in the laughter of children doing art.
It is love that forever connects place, and stream, and a community gathered around God in an intertwined life and story. It is love practiced in the space of prayer, work, table, and neighbor.
It is holy. It is sacred. It is in Christ and of Christ. Spring Forest -- broken, beautiful, empty, full, living in our human frailties yet seeking always to be a missional faith community of resurrection hope.
I love Spring Forest. My brother Gary would love it, too. Here, I have indeed been blessed and have found the Spirit’s promise of wisdom, patience, and perseverance. Here, I have found community and depth and a care for those who are so seldom cared for. Here, I have found you, our sisters, and brothers, and family.
Because I deeply love all that we are, I have committed to our order of life. In this covenant, Sheryl and I commit to give of our fiscal resource as well. It is our joy to do this. It is a gift of God to us, to offer our funds that the ministry might expand in both the holy imagination of God and in the lives of those who desperately need the loving touch of the Spring Forest community.
I invite you to join us in this practice of God’s grace -- consistent monetary giving to the Spring Forest Missional Community. We have chosen to give monthly. I encourage you to ask God’s guidance in this. Give what you feel God is calling you to give.
And know this, if you can give much or if you can give little, you are indeed God’s beloved, now and forever.
Steve Taylor, Home Missioner