The Landscape of Liturgy: All Saints' Day 2017

Note: This is my first blog post in quite awhile. The past year has been rough. My first blog post is about All Saints' Day, one of my favorite liturgies of the year. 

All Saints' is one of my favorite liturgies of the year.

I was ordained in 2000 around All Saints Day so I could intentionally invoke the saints past and present into my ordination liturgy. I value remembering the dead and their role in our lives. I love weaving baptism and communion around the Saints, pulling their names into the present and invoking our God of past, present, and future. 

It's been a hard year at Pilgrims with the death and dying of our former pastor, Jeff Krehbiel. This seemed like an important liturgy for us to be close together, like a communal, liturgical hug.

To create a liturgical hug, we did some re-arranging of our space and wove in both baptism and communion to the liturgy. 

Space:  

Pilgrims sanctuary was re-designed in the early 2000's to be more flexible and to fit our size (read: we don't have 500 people in worship like in the 1950's). We have capability to improvise with our space, making it fit not only the liturgical story we are sharing but also Pilgrims story of who we are today. 

You can see below our usual set-up. Our side pews usually have few people (who wants to sit up front?!) and most people sit in the main two sections of pews in the middle of the sanctuary (where you see the pews with "people").  This works for us and yet we can still be spread out. 

 

All saints space.JPG

Several months ago we moved the piano which was way in the back up to where it is now in the "typical set-up." In moving the piano, we wanted Billy Kluttz, our music director, closer to us to strengthen and support our singing (sometimes it's hard to sing out when one is sad and grieving).  

On All Saints, we used those red rope things that churches use to block off pews to move everyone forward.

You can in the design below that we had people sitting in only the first two set of pews in the main, middle section. We moved a few chairs in front of the right side pews to help give some shape to that open space. 

 

all saints space 2.JPG

People sait in the front pews that face towards each other. We moved the communion table back and placed the font (usually the entrance of the sanctuary) on the table. Our font has a large, glass removable bowl that allows us this flexibility. 

In the All Saints' set-up, we could:

  • hear each other singing. We built off each other's voices to sing with more strength and energy.  
  • we could hear each other when we invited people to come forward, light a candle, and share the name of someone who died; 
  • people had a less of a walk to the table when sharing the name (felt more do-able); 
  • the space felt more incarnational, as if we were the Word made flesh because we were closer to each other.  

Baptism

I've got a bee in my bonnet these days about baptism, death, and resurrection. In the services of life and resurrection, the language goes that in death one's baptism has been complete. 

I don't buy that. 

In our tradition, baptism, the sacrament of belonging, is experienced in community. As part of the baptism liturgy, those gathered re-affirm their own baptisms. Around the font, the Spirit gathers up and connects all of our baptisms. At the font, baptism becomes incarnational and we proclaim in the waters of baptism we die to the ways of empire and evil and live into the ways of Christ. We enter into the mystery of death and new life and that mystery is always available. 

In death the physical body dies. Yet we trust that there will be resurrection and that resurrection includes the vows of baptism. Those vows come back to us in our lives, in our community. Those vows come back to us as we continue to gather around the font and break bread around the table. When we walk away from the waters of the font, we are empowered, as people of life and death, to do the Jesus work of feeding, healing, and raising the dead and raising-up the baptism of the dead. 

For me, to say that baptism is complete in physical death is a Western, individualized way of seeing baptism. As if all along we've been living our baptisms individually and baptism doesn't have the power to transcend physical death. 

So....with that bee in my bonnet.....I wrote baptism into our litany of saints. Several us read this litany and one of our 4-year old Pilgrims helped me pour water into the font at the appropriate time. Our giant glass font was on the communion table throughout the service (see space layout above). 

This was the first part of our litany: 

Throughout this litany of Pilgrim Saints, Billy will lead us in an alleluia.

We sing an alleluia to remember that the women at Jesus’ tomb taught us that even at the grave we sing God’s alleluia.

Water will also be poured into the font during the alleluias, reminding us of the baptisms of our saints, that even in death, the spirit of their baptisms is never ending, for their baptismal vows made in Christian community live on in us.

By faith, let us remember our own Great Cloud of Witnesses, as their spirits and work continue to be a source of life for us today. 

Let us pray.

Eternal God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, we praise you for the saints of all times and places who have walked the road of faith before us and beside us. 

God of ages past, we remember our our ministers and clergy who worked off each other legacies, who shared their lifeblood with this Pilgrim community and are now bound together in Your Great Cloud of Witnesses.

By faith, we remember Pilgrims Ministers of Music: Warren Johnson, Dexter Davidson and James Boeringer. We remember their gift of creating prophetic community through music that we build upon today.

By faith, we remember our founding pastors, Benjamin Franklin Bedinger, Harrison Waddell Pratt and Andrew Reid Bird, who were led by God to build this community of faith out of nothing but faith.

By faith, we remember J. Randolph Taylor, Herb Meza, Sid Skirvin, and Jeffrey Krehbiel who as pastors led this congregation in faithful new directions with their vision for radical peace and justice. Let us give God thanks and praise for these Pilgrim saints.

Alleluia  (pouring of water in the font)

      God of all creation, we praise you for all your disciples who have witnessed to your truth, who        have shown us your love, who have inspired us to have hope.

The litany continued...

After the litany and adapted version of Hebrews 11,  we lit candles of those who have died and shared the bread and cup.  

Urban Farming: Creating An All Saints Day Memorial Garden

A pansy and a rock are now part of our garden at Pilgrims.
A pansy and a rock are now part of our garden at Pilgrims.

All Saints Day is the Sunday in the Christian calendar to remember, celebrate, and  honor those saints who have gone before us, who create the great "cloud of witnesses."

Saints are not the model of Christian and human perfection.

Saints are those flawed, broken people (everyone) who God used to do holy things (all the things).

All Saints is the liturgical reminder that nothing, neither life nor death, can separate us from each other and from God.

Church of the Pilgrims has an All Saint's Day service that includes the lighting of candles and sharing the names of those who have died, particularly in the last year.

This year at Pilgrims we set the invitation to invite folks to come forward and light a candle, possibly saying the same and something about the person they are lighting the candle for. This happens in replace of a sermon.

At the end of the service this year, we created a memorial garden in our urban garden. This was inspired by many things, including a ritual that took place outside of worship a few weeks prior for a woman whose lost a baby from a miscarriage. As part of the ritual, we planted an azalea in the garden as an act of remembrance.

Creating this memorial garden was surprising simple. I asked several folks who had experienced loss in the past year to help out----buying pansies (which thrive in the cold), rocks and helping with the liturgy. Andy, our young adult volunteer, prepped the garden by loosening up the soil.

After communion, as we were gathered around the table, these words were spoken:

We have remembered the communion of saints through song and prayer, Word and sacrament. Now we remember by creating beauty in our garden.

 

 Together, following the sound of Rachel’s drumming, we will gather up these pretty pansies, the rocks, and walk to the garden. There we will create a memorial garden for our cloud of witnesses by planting the flowers and writing on the rocks names of those who have died.

 

 In the planting and in the writing of names we will create a space where love and relationships and memories are planted. It will be a place where we can visit and remember.

 

 The plants and rocks won’t last forever. But neither do we. Hopefully those we remember with the rocks and the plants, in this creation of a memorial garden, will feel a bit closer to us.

 

 As Rachel starts to drum, follow her. Rachel’s drum will sound like heartbeat, reminding us those who have died are still close to us.

 

For those who need a shorter distance to walk with no steps to climb, follow Andy.

Help take the flowers and rocks and markers out to the garden.

 

Let us go, plant, and remember.

Then we walked back to the garden with the beat of a drum.

Once we gathered in the garden, these words were spoken:

From ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and soil to soil. As we plant our flowers and write names on the rocks, we honor the lives of the dead. We honor they are now our ancestors, our communion of saints, a community of deep time.

 

As we plant and name, their spirits become imprinted upon our garden and linked to this land and Church of the Pilgrims.

 

While the mystery of death remains hidden from us, the living, we can be aware of death in our lives and how death can drive the beauty of this garden. 

 

We can still be guided and cared for by our invisible community of the dead, made visible in these flowers and rocks.  It is they who can remind us of the sacred responsibility we have as the living to protect and care for all of Creation—the home of the living and the dead. We can remember, as we plant the flowers in the soil and place the rocks, that life doesn’t disappear; it just changes shape and form.

 

If you don’t have a plant to plant for someone or the name of anyone to write on a rock, help someone else plant their plant. Help them place the rock gently on the soil after they’ve written a name.

 

 Let us show each other we aren’t alone in our remembering.

Let us plant and name. Let us remember.  

Rocks and Pansies
Rocks and Pansies

And with those words, we planted and wrote names on rocks. It took about 10 minutes. Some were silent. Some talked. Some hugged. Some helped others plant. Some just witnessed.

You don't need an outdoor garden to create a memorial garden. You don't need an architect or a master design plan.

You could plant in pots or various containers. Plants could be for indoor or outdoors. You could just use rocks.

To create a memorial garden you will need: Your body. Your tenderness. Your intentionality. Your body as memory maker. Your love. The living. The dead.