The Porter

In my childhood, the word porter was not in my vocabulary.  I never heard that word at church, nor did I know anyone that might know its meaning.  It was foreign to me in my world, but at the same time, it was also an essential part of my world.

I learned the word porter from reading The Rule of Saint Benedict.  It provides guidance, boundaries, and instruction for those living in community together in a monastery.  They are guidelines for a community, who makes a commitment to live and serve together.

In The Rule of Saint Benedict, there are many insightful words about faith and community, although, I read them with eyes formed by the Baptist tradition, but they still resonate with my experience of the church.  One sentence grabbed my attention because of its practical implications as well as its spiritual meaning.  It describes the character of the porter in a monastery, "Let a wise old man be placed at the door of the monastery, one who knoweth how to take and give an answer, and whose mature age doth not permit him to stray about."

The porter is the gatekeeper of the monastery.  He is the monk who lives on the edge of the community, so that when pilgrims or travelers knock on the door, he is available to greet them.  He is the doorkeeper, or the public representative of the community.  He is the one who interacts with the outside world on a regular basis.

As a child, I did not know the word porter from my life in the church, but I knew countless people who served the church in that role.  There were always people, who greeted others at the door, whether it was at the actual door of the church or out in the world, where the majority of the life of the community takes place.  They were people who knew how to take and give an answer with thoughtfulness and who in their wisdom did not stray about.  They were men and women who carried with them a sense of responsibility and who were always hospitable towards others.

In The Rule of Saint Benedict, the character of the porter is described with such practicality, but its spiritual implications can never be underestimated, for the rule calls the community to greet each and every guest as they would greet Christ.  It is the highest standard of hospitality, and the porter stands at the door, where the guests, whether they are pilgrims or beggars, are welcomed as Christ.

We learn the wisdom of the porter by standing beside the door of the church, seeing each person as Christ.  All of us are doorkeepers, whether we stand by the actual door of the church or out beyond the walls of the church, where we are the church.  We are to wisely take and give answers.  We are to show hospitality, not straying about.

Each door of the church might fit the standard dimensions, almost seven feet high and less than three feet wide, or it might be found in the flesh and blood of the people of the church.  We can extend hospitality with wisdom and kindness, remembering that as individuals, we are a part of a larger community.  There is a seamless connection between our faith and the community of faith.