Meeting, Together, Under Trees

Date posted: Thursday 21 February 2019

Men and women, Americans and Germans and Tanzanians, in groups of three and four, sitting together under the trees of Huruma Center... This, for me, is the lasting image that I'll carry with me from the inaugural Pamoja Leadership Summit that took place earlier this month.


For four days we gathered together as pastors and congregational leaders from three continents and two dozen different contexts. We each took turns as teacher and learner in large group gatherings, making presentations and offering response. We also divided into smaller groups. In these, we shared from our own experiences, listening to those of others, and simply being present with one another. In those actions there was mutuality, there was reciprocity, and there was hospitality.


A couple weeks before the summit began, one of the assigned texts for Sunday in the ELCT's lectionary was Genesis 18 and the story of God's appearance to Abraham in the guise of three men under the Oaks of Mamre. As depicted in an icon by Andrei Rublev (The Hospitality of Abraham, 1411), the scene becomes an image of the Trinity and a hospitable welcome to consider the love of God. Reflecting on the story and Rublev's icon, Henri Nouwen writes:


The more we look at this holy image with the eyes of faith, the more we come to realize that it is painted not as a lovely decoration for a convent church, nor as a helpful explanation of a difficult doctrine, but as a holy place to enter and stay within.


As we place ourselves in front of the icon in prayer, we come to experience a gentle invitation to participate in the intimate conversation that is taking place among the three divine angels and to join them around the table. The movement from the Father toward the Son and the movement of both Son and Spirit toward the Father become a movement in which the one who prays is lifted up and held secure...


We come to see with our inner eyes that all engagements in this world can bear fruit only when they take place within this divine circle... the house of perfect love. (Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying with Icons, p. 20-22)


Observing these intimate clusters of conversation unfolding at Huruma Center, I was struck by the movement of the Spirit and the sense that these, too, were holy places to enter and stay within. While saints and sinners, one and all, there was also the entertaining of angels unawares. Gathered together in Christ's name, Christ was there, we proclaim, and it was remarkable.


To mark the completion of the Summit and commemorate all that we had shared, we concluded our time together by planting three trees - one for the Americans, one for the Germans, and one for the Tanzanians. As avocado seedlings, not oaks, we trust that in time they will bear fruit for the children of Huruma Center just as we trust that the conversations we had will bear fruit in their own way as we each return home. We hope, too, that one day we may meet together again under their shade as well.


With joy and gratitude,



The Rev. Peter Harrits

Director of Bega Kwa Bega and Assistant to the Bishop