Our Journey Home

As many of you know, we started out on this journey in a Catholic desert. After finding each other in that wilderness, we began to look for a home where our Beloved community could both find our center and reach for the margins. While our journey may have started in what felt like a desert, we soon found an oasis at First Presbyterian Church in Urbana where the warm and accepting welcome we received was just what we needed to gather our community and prepare to establish a place we could call our own.

As we approached our second full year, we now had a priest of our own so the desire for more services and to no longer have to carry our church in boxes to and from our meeting space began to be heard. Eileen had just retired but still needed somewhere she could meet people for spiritual direction (without the distractions of dogs both big and little) and Beloved had a core group of people who were looking for a place we could call our own. A group of us visited several locations and the one on East Main spoke to us - we could envision the garden beds, firepit and labyrinth in the back yard, and we could see the chapel and gathering space inside, and we could see a community at the margins that we could be a part of. It was going to take some work, but the space called to us. And so, the Mary Magdalene Spiritual Center was born.

We had our friendly neighborhood landscapers come in and do the heavy lifting in the backyard. Shrubs, bushes, smaller trees, and even a mattress frame needed to be cleaned out. Beth started drawing up labyrinth plans and then enlisted the help of JP, Eileen, and Lauren to haul an entire truckload of mulch from the front to the backyard. More help was needed to move the load of rocks (at least it wasn’t a truckload but boy were they heavy) and then we came together as a community to put our personal touch on some of those rocks. Toni donated some plants to frame it all in and the labyrinth was ready to help us in our contemplative prayer. Toni also gave us two great big benches for us to sit and reflect on in the garden. Eileen and JP got a bit wet and muddy getting the pond up and working, the lovely trees (affectionately named Martha and Mary) were planted and plans for the organic garden beds are being worked on as we speak.

Inside there was more work to be done. The rug needed to go … badly… along with a part of a wall to make the chapel possible. Eileen tagged whoever was around to get feedback on the new doors, the curtains, the decorative touches (check out inside the bathroom doors). After the wall came down, Eileen and JP worked on painting and picking out pictures to hang on the walls and once the floors were done, the fun began.

This home would not be the same without the help of our community’s laborers. From our realtor, to our banker, the mortgage company and the cable guy, carpenters, electricians, landscapers and tree climbers with machetes, they cleared the brush, built the fence, planted trees, laid concrete, delivered mulch and rock, built the ramp, took down the unneeded wall, installed our door, put in our flooring, and did all the bigger home improvements that we were unable to do. Each person heard our story and our purpose. Some reflected on their own thoughts about the church in East Urbana that they were helping to build. We will always remember them as a part of our journey.

The Beloved Community has really come together to help make this feel like our home. Everywhere you look you will see something that has been donated by someone in our community. (Just ask, everything has a story) Various pictures were contributed by Bridget McGill and Mike Quinn (via Beth Rogers), the wonderful hanging of Mary carrying the Word/Eucharist behind the altar was made by Pat Mayer, the altar, which was once Fr. Tom Royer’s at the Catholic Workers House, was donated by Beth Brunk, the lounge chair in the library was donated by Cathy Rutledge, a guitar (now we need someone who can play it) and bookcase were donated by Susan Nagele as well as books from the Nageles and many others. Eileen put out a call for folding chairs for our chapel and members delivered them. Many of our Christmas decorations, including the beautiful creche by the door, were donated by Luis Cuza in loving memory of Sandy. There is even a Mr. & Mrs. Frog (Mathy) on the front steps.

Some might ask "What's up with the chicken in the kitchen?"  Yes, even the chicken has it's own story :)  

We gave Eileen Mathy a ceramic hen in celebration of Eileen’s ordination. It was a natural choice for us and, in our minds, suited the occasion perfectly.

Rachel’s cousin, Consuelo Leal Hester, loved roosters and hens. She collected rooster plates, rooster carvings, hen flower pots, and various decorative Galliformes. A cradle Roman Catholic, Consuelo often found herself at odds with the church. She fought for the full inclusion of women at every level of ministry, including their ordination to the priesthood. The bishop disagreed with this and many of her justice-minded points of view. Consuelo stood her ground, was a needle in his side, earned a spot on his naughty list, and was eventually barred from communion. 

Whatever else the rooster and hen stand for, the chicken is a symbol of our fierce, dear Cousin Consuelo. Like the rooster, she was cocky and proud, wore colorful clothes, protected the underdog, and crowed her opinion both to all who would listen and to many who attempted to close their ears. Like the hen, Consuelo was a faithful, nurturing soul. She cared for our family. She badgered us into believing in ourselves. She loved our kids. Her hugs left marks. Her laugh was indelicate and joyous. Her cooking required the loosening of belts. Her care was gregarious, boisterous, nearly boundless.

Consuelo died in 2022, and we miss her terribly. We smile when we see a rooster or hen strutting across some farmyard. When somebody laughs hard, we think of her. When we eat great Mexican food, we cannot help but to see her brown eyes. The common chicken reminds us of Consuelo’s humble beginnings. Her parents were migrant workers, and their itinerant life often required them to make a home with the chickens in the coop.

  In the Yoruba (west African) creation story, the rooster serves God by scratching out the dirt with which the creator will form the dry land. Consuelo served our creator in many ways, not the least of which was by all she did to scratch out a place of hospitality in her home and in the churches in which she held affiliation. She worshipped in Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, and Episcopalian churches in her native Mexico and Texas, and as an adult in San Francisco, Philadelphia, in the D.C. beltway, and, at the last, in Silver City, New Mexico. 

  Consuelo made a home for others with the love God gave her to give away. She shared that love widely and generously. May Eileen and the Beloved Inclusive Catholic Community find ways to use this chicken bowl as a symbol of welcome and hospitality.

God Bless you all.

 Matt & Rachel Matthews

If you are looking for a "quiet" place to put a donation, the chicken will gladly take your donation for chicken feed or whatever else might be needed.

“Then God appeared to him (Abraham) at the oak of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door during the noon hour. So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold three men stood before him, and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground, and said, “O Lord, if I have now found grace in Your sight, do not pass by Your servant. Let water be brought, and let them wash Your feet, while You cool Yourselves under the tree. And I will bring bread for You to eat. After that You may pass by, inasmuch as You have come to Your servant.” They said, “Do as you have said.” So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quickly make ready three measures of fine meal; knead it and make cakes.” Then Abraham ran to the herd, took a young calf, tender and good, gave it to his servant; and he hastened to prepare it. He also took butter and milk and the calf he prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree as they ate.” Genesis 18 (The Hospitality of Abraham and Sarah)

This reading from Genesis is the story commonly known as “The Hospitality of Abraham.” In this account, three angels appear to Abraham and Sarah. They treat their visitors with great reverence and prepare a meal for them. What Abraham and Sarah offer is, in Greek, called “philoxenia,” which means love for the stranger or “hospitality.”

We hope this center will serve the needs of all those who are wandering, looking for a place to belong, to be loved, and to be fed, for each of you are an angel in our midst.