If you were to head south out of Minneapolis along Highway 169 for about an hour, you’d eventually arrive at the quaint little town of St. Peter, Minnesota. It’s not much of a tourist destination. There’s no more than a handful of stop lights before you reach the other side of town.
You can find a few antique shops along Main Street. Or visit the campus of Gustavus Adolphus College (which happens to be my alma mater). But for many people driving along this highway, St. Peter is often an inconvenient slow-down on their way to some other place.
So several years ago, in an effort to engage a few more visitors who pass through this beautiful town, the chamber of commerce came up with a plan. They constructed a cast-iron statue of sorts—bright white gates connected to two brick columns. That’s right. In the middle of southwestern Minnesota, at the corner of Front St. and Broadway Ave., you can stop to see St. Peter’s Pearly Gates.
And for a few decades now, travelers have stopped at this little park nestled beside the Minnesota River to have their picture taken… and perhaps to laugh a bit at the pun. It’s become a must-see for any St. Peter visitor. After all, for those hoping for heaven, these gates are certainly a little easier to find.
There’s just one problem with this vision of St. Peter’s pearly gates: they’re locked. They cannot be opened. For awhile, due to some ruckus from local college students, there was even a padlocked chain wrapped around the gates to prevent anyone from trying to pry them open. Not exactly the kind of scene you want to imagine as the entrance to heaven.
While we might understand that this is simply a tourist stop or a great photo opportunity, the sight of locked gates supposedly leading to heaven isn’t exactly a great image.
It makes me think of how many times my own life gives the appearance of something welcoming and inviting, only to be a bit less hospitable upon closer examination. How often I let my stereotypes or preconceived notions of others affect my words and actions toward them. It’s one thing to call myself a Christian. It’s quite another to do the challenging work Jesus asks of me: loving people, caring about individuals much different from me, forgiving others, working for more justice and peace in this world. It’s one thing for a church to say it’s committed to radical hospitality. It’s another to actually be such a place.
There are appearances. And then, sometimes, there’s reality. Unlike the locked gates of St. Peter, may your life and mine be filled with actions and words that align as closely as possible with the hospitable faith we proclaim.
– Katy Warren, associate pastor