Dear Cathedral Family,
You’ve probably heard the city of Philadelphia referred to as the “City of Brotherly Love.” You might not know that its name has its roots in Greek antiquity, not as a city but as a way of being. Philadelphia meant love for one’s brothers and sisters by blood. The New Testament takes the word and turns it into a description of Christian relationship.
This was, in part, a practical matter. Many early Christians may have been rejected by their blood kin because of what was perceived as a shameful rejection of cultural norms. The “fictive kinship” practiced by Christians (and ridiculed by their neighbors) was a way of creating family and community for the outcast. Sadly, family estrangements for various reasons continue, and the Church continues to offer, at its best and healthiest, a place of loving refuge for the estranged. Of course, this practice also comes from a theological conviction that we are all children of God and therefore members of a great household united and protected by God.
Philadelphia is the “mutual love” commended in this Sunday’s reading from the Letter to the Hebrews. Mutual love is shorthand for the attitudes and practices that preserve and strengthen the community. It is the natural and vital result of continuing to meet together; by doing so, relationships are allowed to grow and deepen.
The letter’s exhortations to hospitality, compassion, and respect suggest to us that a congregation’s vitality is not measurable by its numbers, its programming, or its public reputation for one ministry or another. Rather, vitality comes from genuine welcome, care, sharing, and love.
My heart is glad every Sunday when I look out at the faces of our congregation, when I see the joy of our children, when we visit together in hospitality afterwards. As the new program year approaches, I look forward to seeing more of you, more often, as we return to our philadelphia together.