We receive your thankfulness, offer forgiveness, and accept that you now leave to minister elsewhere. We express gratitude for your time among us. We ask your forgiveness for our mistakes. Your influence on our faith and discipleship will not leave us at your departure.Read More
Note: This is the second post in a 2-part post on a UCC clergy gathering on the sacraments. Part 1 on communion is here.
In September I went to Cleveland, the city that rocks, for a UCC clergy conversation on the sacraments. I was invited by my beloved liturgical co-conspirator, Sue Blain, who I met while I was at Union and worked at The Riverside Church. Sue had just left Union as the Director of Worship to head-up worship at Riverside and working with Sue was part of my work-study job. One of my tasks–organize Sue’s paper files!
Sue is now the Minister for Worship and Formation for the UCC, working in Cleveland at the UCC’s Church House.
Sue and Ivy Beckwith, Faith Formation Team Leader, gathered about 10 UCC clergy for a 2-day conversation on the sacraments.
We noticed in our conversations in Cleveland that talking about communion came first and foremost. Baptism seemed secondary.
Clarification moment: We do communion more than baptism at Pilgrims so of course it’s on my mind more.
Follow-up clarification: We need more baptism.
Not just the baptism of human beings…the renewal of baptism, water in the font, the touching of the water, singing about the waters of baptism, the story of baptism, telling our own stories of baptism.
This is how we added baptism into 3 of our liturgies at Pilgrims this fall.
All Saints: We pulled our font, which lives right at the entrance of the sanctuary, right up against the communion table.
We gathered around the table to share the bread and cup (next time–cup and bread) and to share the memories of those who had died. What we added this year was marking ourselves with water from the font after the sharing of a name/memory.
As the person marked themselves, we all said, “remember your baptism.” The ethic behind this action is that the baptism of the person died hasn’t ended (contrary to what we say in the funeral liturgy “their baptism has been made complete in death.”
Not quite. That’s a really linear way of seeing baptism and death. Start. Finish. Done.
As we marked ourselves with water, we were saying that we now take that person’s baptism and live with the sacramental waters. We carry that person’s baptism forward. Their baptism is now part of us in a physical, kinetic way with the marking. Friends: There is no beginning or end with baptism.
Stewardship Sunday: Our Stewardship Sunday was the Sunday before Advent. For the past several years, we’ve had an at-table service on this Sunday. We drag a bunch of tables and chairs into the sanctuary, have a simple meal, share in the bread and the cup.
This year we added a renewal of baptism into the service as a way of re-committing ourselves to the life of Pilgrims for another year. We modified our baptismal liturgy including the sharing of hopes and dreams. During baptisms, people are able to share a hope and dream for the human being baptized. After a hope/dream is shared, the sharer pours a bit of water into the font. The human is baptized by those waters of hopes and dreams.
On Stewardship Sunday we asked folks to share their hopes and dreams for Pilgrims for the upcoming year.
As people shared, two people stood around the font and poured the water. Then we took lavender and rosemary, dipped the branches in the font and flung the baptism water over Pilgrims. Remember your baptism!
Advent Prayer Station: We have prayer stations as a part of our prayers of the people for Advent. Each station is based on our Advent candles: groundedness, healing, becoming, and new beginnings.
One of our stations is at the font and uses four big pieces of slate that were back in the trash area of Pilgrims. The font is full of water and folks are invited to dip a paintbrush in the font and paint on the slate, responding to a prompt at the station that asks you to ponder becoming.
As you paint, the water almost instantly starts to evaporate into the air. Your becoming comes and goes, you can paint over it, others can paint on the same piece of slate. The prayers seem to ebb and flow on top of each other with the slate, water, and brush as you paint with the waters of the font.
Church of the Pilgrims incorporated safety pins into our worship on November 13th.
The safety pin as a symbol of disruption and inclusion took off after the presidential election.
There were lots of opinions and thoughts on wearing a safety pin.
We went with this:
- Symbols matter. As Jesus people we are a people of symbols--bread, cup, water, cross, rainbow, ashes. At Pilgrims, we organize our community life around symbols. Symbols shape identity, connection, and mostly importantly....
- Action. Wearing a safety pin means you act upon what the pin symbolizes. As Jesus people we are to disrupt injustice, take risks for the sake of creating safe, brave space. We are people of the bread and cup. We people of the font. These sacramental symbols demand action in the public square. In living a sacramental life, we are to embrace ancient and current symbols and create an ethic (choices, action) of justice and love. A Christian ethic without actions is nothing. Period. End of scene. So...if one is taking communion and then keeps silent about the possibility of 3 million people getting deported well....then...you might want to also re-think wearing a safety pin. You might want to re-think a lot of things.
We used safety pins during our prayers of the people which happens near the end of our liturgy.
We did this:
We had six little glass candle holders filled with safety pins on our communion table. During prayers of the people we are all gathered around the table in a circle.
I said something about the safety pins--meaning, purpose.
I invited people to share safety pins with one another. I modeled the way we did this after the way we shared communion in September.
Six people (six candle holders) needed to come forward and take a jar. I didn't ask anyone to do this beforehand--folks needed to initiate this moment themselves. Those who took a safety pin candle holder walked to someone in the circle and asked, "do you know anyone who would like a safety pin?"
I modeled this language of asking after the question our Pilgrim families ask when they take bag lunches up to Dupont Circle to share food with hungry folks-- "do you know anyone who needs a bag lunch?" Our Pilgrimage groups do the same when they take out bag lunches to parks throughout D.C.
This language gives choice. If claiming to be a people of safe ways, the last thing we want to do is slap a safety pin on someone without consent. In our ask, people were invited to take a pin and put it on themselves, giving space for their own agency to be part of the prayer time. The person who received the pin would then walk to someone else in the circle.
As music played, people moved through the circle, sharing safety pins.
After we were all pinned up, I framed our sharing of prayers around disruption.
How can we disrupt moments of white supremacy, misogyny, Islamophobia?
What if you hear a co-worker make a racist joke? How do you respond in the moment?
Folks were invited to picture a place in their life where they had witnessed supremacy in action. Folks shared that place/experience with the person standing next to them. I reminded them we are still in prayer, still praying as we shared with each other.
After sharing, I invited folks to share their out-loud prayers as our not yet disruptive actions breaking into the here and now.
"I told my co-worker to knock it off with the racist joke."
"I stood next to my female co-worker when a male colleague tried to physically intimidate her."
I invited folks to pray AS IF their actions had already taken place. As if their prayer for justice had been manifested. As if they had already acted in a disruptive, prayerful way. As if we DO have the power to knock racism and sexism off its pedestal and place our bodies in the space where justice is needed.
This is another improv tool---you claim how you acted before a scene takes place. "I was super confident in that improv scene."
Speaking actions into existence was hard for folks. It showed me we have work to do.
A handful of folks used the prompt:
"I hosted people during inauguration weekend to protest."
"I spoke up against bullying in my office."
I also trust that people were imaging situations in their heads. It took a lot of risk and vulnerability to share in this way inside your head and outloud.
After the calling out of prayers, we went right into the Lord's Prayer, skipping over our usual part where folks ask for prayers of healing.
During the last hymn, a church member came up to me and asked if I was doing the benediction. Nope--Jeff is. This church member had a prayer request for another member. She shared with Jeff.
Jeff shared the prayer request after the hymn. Then other people started popcorning their prayer requests. I loved how people created this moment--we aren't quite done yet! They went "off script" and shared their prayers--not letting liturgy end without getting in their prayer requests. That itself was an act of disruption.
Church of the Pilgrims has been having conversations the past two months focused on race, racial identity, and anti-racism work.
By anti-racism I mean work that moves us in and out and through the lethal knot of white supremacy--the belief that white people are superior to all other races.
Our worship services have also been part of our anti-racism work. As we planned our Homecoming Service, the service that is our liturgical marking spot for the beginning of fall, we looked at how we were going to serve communion in a way that modeled the creation of more just and loving social structures.
This is what we did.
We followed our usual pattern of singing ourselves to the communion table after our choir sang the anthem.
Folks gathered in a circle around the table and usually the folks who are leading the Prayer of Great Thanksgiving stand behind the table.
We work hard at having three people at the communion table for the Prayer of Great Thanksgiving--usually me, Jeff, and a non-ordained person. Sometimes it can be me and two other people. Sometimes Jeff and two other people. At times two or three people whose names aren't Ashley or Jeff.
This time no one was at the table.
We did this to deconstruct the center.
In anti-racism work we are disrupting the center, breaking through that lethal knot which binds us to a horrific and violent racial structure.
Our work as Followers of the Way is to create a moral imagination where we can begin to see our trust, our actions, our voices flowing out of the ways of Jesus rather than the ways of white supremacy.
Our Prayer of Great Thanksgiving was done with multiple voices, voices coming from various parts of the circle.
Empire/Imperial Ways/Supremacy wants us to listen to one voice, the loudest voice, the what appears to be the most powerful voice. With multiples voices, we had to look, listen, and find the voice of the prayer. We had to turn our bodies to locate the voice.
Before the service I asked two people to hold the bread and the cup anywhere in the circle. The bread and the cup that we were going to break and pour was somewhere in the circle rather than sitting on the table.
When we got to the breaking of bread and pouring of the cup, I called out "who as the bread!?" Cody, our new Young Adult Volunteer, called out "I do!" Jeff walked over to Cody and together they broke the bread.
I called out "who as the cup?!" Kathleen McBride and her kids yelled out "We do!" I walked across the circle and poured the cup with Kathleen and her kids.
For serving the bread and the cup, we usually pass baskets of bread and cup around the circle. One person after another the bread and cup get passed. It's predictable. You can anticipate when the bread/cup are coming to you. You know who is going to serve it to you.
This time we crisscrossed across the open space of the circle. People were given the invitation to walk across the circle to share the bread and cup. Once shared, that person would take the bread and cup and walk to another part of the circle.
In this way, people had to pay attention to each other. They had to ask "have you been served?" If someone said yes, the person with the bread and the cup moved on to someone else, still asking the question "have you been served?"
Imagine....if we did this out in public. Excuse me, are you hungry? Do you know someone who is hungry? Do you need some food? We have some food to share.
I had some fear and anxiety in thinking this through. What if we left someone out? What if someone got ignored?
Then I got over myself. My fears. My anxiety. Trust Pilgrims. Trust the Spirit. Trust this body of Jesus people.
In sharing the bread and the cup in this way, we had to take some risks. Asking "have you been served" has a level of vulnerability to it--you don't know. You had to ask. A connection was created. Empathy was present. The Spirit in her improvisational ways moved through us.
We made eye contact. We paid attention to each other in a new way. We had to look around. We moved in unpredictable, non-linear, multi-directional ways. This counters the linear, one directional way that supremacy seems to work--listen to the white voice, the white body, the white power structure.
Instead, we listened to the voice of the Spirit, the body of God's people, the structure of sharing in order to shape and interact with each other.
Liturgy is the work of the people. Liturgy is NOT the work of a status quo people.
Liturgy invites us into a new kind of work, a new way of imagining, a powerful way of disrupting and dismantling the center.
May 24th is National Tiara Day. Andy Thomas, Pilgrims PCUSA Young Adult Volunteer at the time, came into my office late in the day on May 24th, a bit peeved that he just found out it was National Tiara Day.
Andy quickly put this day in his 2017 calendar. He sent me a Snapchat to me later on in the evening showing he had properly celebrated National Tiara Day.
I mentioned this to Pilgrim Leisha Reynolds who immediately started strategizing---on Andy's last Sunday at Pilgrims we will wear tiaras in his honor, keeping the tiaras a secret from Andy.
And so we did.
Leisha fired-up Amazon Prime and ordered 50 or so tiaras.
July 31st became "Tiara Sunday" at Pilgrims. During our final hymn we were still gathered around the communion table for our prayers of the people and two of our Pilgrim kids handed out the tiaras.
While one Pilgrim kid was handing out the tiaras, he turned to another Pilgrim and said, "don't ask any questions, I don't know what's happening, just put on the tiara." Then Pilgrim kid looked at Andy and said, "you had something to do with this, didn't you."
By the time the hymn ended, we were all wearing tiaras. We gathered around Andy, and Rachel Ford, our summer intern, who was also having her last Sunday, laid hands on them and prayed them off into the world.
Rachel, a now last year student at Vanderbilt Divinity, wrote several "case studies" during her internship. Rachel's last case study focused on "Tiara Sunday" at Pilgrims.
Here is what Rachel wrote:
Looking around the sanctuary, it was impossible to miss all the men in tiaras. Women were wearing tiaras but it was the men in pink and purple tiaras that prompted this reflection. What a bold subversion of traditional understandings of masculinity!
Men wearing tiaras and being vulnerable in a community, all while crowded around a young, sobbing, openly gay religious leader. There were older men in the congregation who had been members for 30+ years who weren’t afraid to show solidarity with Andy, even if it meant donning a tiara for a prayer. There was no hesitation; they didn’t even think twice.
It has caused me to pause and reflect on how those men got to this point. Where did they learn about masculinity, and how did they come to move beyond societal expectations? Who were the role models that paved the way for them? I was also touched by the Pilgrim kids statements (just put on the tiara!) and the presence of all the children in the service.
The older members of the congregation are creating a safe space for those kids to learn and grow. They are the role models, and those kids will grow up better for knowing them. Although not always the easier path, those kids will grow up more open and socially conscious than many of their peers because of their involvement at Pilgrims. The passing down of love and awareness from one generation to the next gives me hope for the world.
May liturgy be an experience of the passing down of love and awareness from one generation to the next.
On July 5th, Alton Sterling was killed by Baton Rouge police while selling CD's outside a convenience store. That same week, Philando Castile was killed by Minneapolis police after being pulled over for a broken taillight. Castile's girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and her young daughter, were in the car at the same time.
On July 10th at Church of the Pilgrims, our liturgy proclaimed #blacklivesmatter.
Our liturgy at Pilgrims has as solid structure--prelude, call to worship, sharing of thanksgivings, sharing the peace....
Yet we are a nimble bunch. When something horrific happens during the week, we are able to tell the horrific story by making last minute changes to the liturgy. While the structure might stay the same, the content or actions or songs might shift to reflect what's happened to the planet.
This is what we did on July 10th.
We scrambled around that morning, placing 12 candles on the table, filling the font with floating candles, making two #blacklivesmatter banners. One banner went around our communion table. The second one hung from our choir loft.
We had 12 candles on the table to name 11 African-Americans who were killed by police. While the list of African-Americans killed by police is longer than 11, I picked 11 names that were listed in a Washington Post article in early July. We added a 12th candle to represent the many others who have been killed.
During our prayer for illumination, two of our youth, Sam and Emma, helped to light the candles while I read the names. We read a few names, sang a song, read a few more names, sang the same song again, read a few more names, closed with the song. This moment was slow and contemplative.
Rachel Ford, our summer intern, was set to preach on excerpts from the Book of Job. Rachel kept the Job texts, pulling in more of her own story of naming, claiming, and resisting the social construction of whiteness.
During prayers of the people, we read the names again. Eleven people in the congregation took turns calling out a name and this time we added the object that was connected to their death.
Alton Sterling, CD
Philando Castile, broken taillight
Eric Garner, cigarettes
The list continued....
We also read the names of the five police officers killed in Dallas during a peaceful #blacklivesmatter march.
I asked two of our elementary aged kids to read two names of African-Americans killed by police during prayers of the people.
This is what happened with one of our kids.
I asked Pilgrim kid to read a name during prayers of the people. Pilgrim kid said yes. Pilgrim kid then went to the bathroom and
turned his shirt inside out. His shirt had a Super Dino cartoon on it and Super Dino was holding a gun.
Pilgrim kid thought it would be inappropriate for him to read a name while wearing the t-shirt. He turned the shirt inside out.
When we include kids in liturgy, when we ask kids to participate in meaningful ways in liturgy they have something to react/respond to. Inviting creates a structured moment, giving kids the experience of making a choice and a decision about how they will respond to the invitation to participate.
In Pilgrims nimble state, we were able to organize our religious life around the killings of Sterling and Castile.
In inviting people to read names, especially two of our Pilgrim kids, folks were able to interpret their individual lives and Pilgrims around #blacklivesmatter.
We're baptized in these waters (baptized in these waters) And in each other's blood (and in each other's blood)
-from American Skin (41 Shots), Bruce Springsteen.
Our Pilgrim kid was given the experience to interpret his clothing and actions in relationship to #blacklivesmatter. This is how our liturgy constructs identity and worldview, and how liturgy can give us the choice to enact those identities and worldviews in order to create a world made new.
In early June, I was the preacher for weeks 1 & 2 of Montreat High School Youth Conferences.
Six hundred kids attended the first week and 1200 kids the second week.
The theme was “Be the Difference” with a sub-theme each day. The theme for Friday was “Be the Difference In the World.” This sermon is from evening worship on Friday, the fifth and final day of the conference.
My first sermon on the Call of Paul can be found here.
My second sermon on the Young Man Born Blind can be found here.
My third sermon on Pentecost can be found here.
My fourth sermon on Breakfast at the Beach can be found here.
Liturgy for this service can be found here (scroll down for Friday).
Our stories this week have us beginning and ending with water.
Water is Creation’s bookend to stories that showed us how our Biblical ancestor’s lives were disrupted, turned upside down by God.
In our stories, each person took risks to create a thread of collective voices that gives us a picture of the life of faith.
This is how we want to look at our stories from the week—as a collection of voices and lives that were disrupted, turned upside down, people who were stopped in their tracks, sought a place of belonging, longed for a new type of family, a radical type of love that would accept and nourish them.
What these voices from the week give us is a way to live out our faith.
Paul was blind, couldn’t see or care about how he destroyed lives and relationships.
The young man born blind was healed and could see.
The Pentecost church showed us that in relationship we are called to look, listen, and feel.
Jesus and his disciples showed us that we need to die to certain ways of life in order for new life, the resurrection to take hold of us.
God wants nothing more than for us to be included in God’s story of dying and rising, death and resurrection.
Today our subversive, radical, freedom-bound women in Exodus call us to act.
Pharaoh is trying to prevent the growth of the Hebrew people who are slaves, he’s trying to prevent revolution. If there are more slaves that oppressors, Pharaoh knows the Hebrew slaves will rise up and demand freedom.
Enter the young people. Enter our subversive women, our women who end up disrupting
Pharaoh’s plan and set in motion the liberation of the Hebrew people.
In a prophetic act designed to save Moses’ life, or at least let him live a few more days, Moses’ mom sent him down the river. Miriam, Moses’ sister, takes over once mom places Moses in the Nile River, watching over him, witnessing him float down the river, acting as Moses’ guardian angel as was said this morning. Enter Pharaoh’s daughter, an Egyptian princess. We know what the princess’ dad would have done—Pharaoh would have tipped over the basket.
That was the law.
By law, the princess should have at least just pushed the basket down the river and let someone else deal with the baby.
As Rodger mentioned this morning, the Nile River was a place of death, with thousands of male babies dying in its waters.
The princess, for a moment, subverted the River, turned it upside down as a place of life and new beginnings.
The princess acted, she took a huge risk, broke the law, her father’s law, for the sake of saving baby Moses’ life.
Blindness with Paul and the young man.
Seeing. Looking. Listening with Pentecost.
Feeling. Dying and Rising on the beach.
Now we act.
Those are crucial elements to the life of faith. When we are blind, not paying attention, asleep, numb to the world and those around us….we are called to see, to look, to listen, to feel, to die and rise in order that we can act and be a difference in the world.
On our last night together, I wanted to leave you with some thoughts on how you might transform your Montreat experience once you get back home.
How you might see, look, listen, feel, die, rise, act once you get home.
First: what is critical to be the difference is this--
You are stronger together. You are stronger as a community.
The one voice, the hero voice, the individual has some power.
When you act as a youth group, as a church you increase your power, your ability to make change.
Picture one person from your youth group goes to Session or committee with an idea about something that needs to die in order for new life to begin again at your church.
That’s just one voice. One person. Honestly one voice can be dismissed when you stand in front of those in the room with power.
Now picture your youth group going to Session or committee all of you packed into one room. It will be hard for that group of people to ignore your voice.
One thing I always tell my co-workers, I tell myself this all the time too---you need to come to power with a proposal. Don’t go to your committee with words like “we just wanted to get your feedback on something” or “what do you think of this idea.”
No. Go to Session or your governing body with a proposal.
We want to do this. This new idea needs to happen. This is the plan.This is our hope, our dream for our Church in order that our church can create space for the resurrection.
With a proposal, a plan, your Session, those in charge, those with power have to react to you.
You are showing them while they have power as far it goes with the structure of your church, you have power with your hopes, dreams and the size of your group.
Always go to power with a proposal. Be organized.
Know that when you go to power with a proposal, you are going to bump up against risk and vulnerability.
You need to take risks to create change. You need to put yourself out there. And that can feel really vulnerable.
People can disagree with you. That disagreement might rattle you. It might rattle a relationship. And we are called to take risks for the sake of new beginnings.
Remember—all you need to do is tell your own truth, like our young man born at birth. Don’t feel like you need to have all the answers. Be passionate. Use the religious language you’ve experienced this week. Disrupt ideas. Call for death and dying in order that God can shape new life. Nourish relationships.
Create a place of belonging and welcome. Love difference.
Another way to create change:
Invest in your worship.
Eric, Amanda, Nathan and I have been planning worship for this week since January.
We’ve had numerous conference calls to bring an intention and focus to our worship services.
I learned this in seminary: if you want the world to change, you need to experience change in worship. If your worship stays the same week after week, then really what you are saying is that you don’t want the world to change. How we worship reflects how we see and dream for a world made new.
You’ve experienced new music this week, probably experienced new ways of doing a benediction, new ways of praying like we did last night with silence. These experiences were intentional so you could experience what change feels like.
If your worship is the same week after week—you need to tell your worship folks that when God says to sing a new song, God actually meant a new song.
Another thought on creating change….
Dinner as a family.
Meals with family are crucial. We have a busy schedule in our house and we try to sit down together as much as we can, even if one night we are all eating cereal.
We start off with highs and lows—our kids, Sam, Maddie (12) and Ryan (9) usually groan….why do we always do this….
Maddie and Ryan always offer a high and low to the day. Sam usually passes and listens.
One night we sat down and Ryan asked his dad for a high and a low.
Bob works with homeless folks, and there have been times when Bob has known someone who has died because they frozen to death on the streets or overdosed on drugs.
One night Ryan asked his dad for a high and low.
Ryan said, “what’s up, did someone die?”
Yes, Bob said. Someone did die today. Tears started to come down Bob’s cheeks.
Maddie kicked into blunt caregiver mode and said, “alright dad, let’s get right to it. Do you need to talk or not talk about. Do you need to be alone or around us.”
Meals are crucial to our sense of belonging as a family, as a community.
We see each other. We can look, listen and feel. This is why Jesus shared breakfast on the beach.
One way of being a difference is sharing meals, even if you are eating together at 9pm and dinner is ice cream.
Creating change idea #3:
Come to The Pilgrimage.
Come to Washington, D.C. to look, listen, and feel the stories of the homeless and poor.
Come to reflect, take risks, step out of your comfort zone, have your lives intersect with the most vulnerable in the nation’s capital.
We have $500 grants our Pilgrimage groups can apply for—we call these grants SEED grants and they are given to Pilgrimage groups who want to start something new, be part of change in the community.
We’ve given out grants to help start community gardens, build picnic tables for a senior citizen center, create blankets to hand out to those on city streets.
Come to The Pilgrimage to be the difference.
Change idea # 4
Take bag lunches out to homeless folks in your city and neighborhood. Our youth and kids at Pilgrims do this—kids like 4 year old kids do this.Our Pilgrimage groups do this, too.
It sounds like no big deal.
We pack up some bag lunches with a sandwich, granola bar, fruit and walk around together, sharing a lunch with those who need one.
But when you share a bag lunch with someone, you share your name, a conversation starts, stories are shared…even for a few minutes….our kids are impacted and remember the experience.
Our confirmation group last year did this, Sam was part of the group.
As we walked along and handed out some lunches, Sam could barely stop asking me questions and Sam is a kid of few words.
Where do people go to the bathroom around here?
Is there a place for them to shower?
Do the police bother them?
How many homeless people have a job?
Does dad know any of these people?
Sam was seeing Pilgrims neighborhood in a new way and the walk was getting him to ask really important questions about what it means to be homeless in D.C. You want to see your neighborhood through the eyes of those who are hungry, homeless, seeking shelter and clothes. You don’t want to assume what’s going on with the least of these. You and your youth group, your church need to see the streets of your city/town through the eyes of the least of these.
Last thought on how to create change: if you see guacamole in your church refrigerator with an expiration date of 2007, toss it out. Don’t hold on to it. Don’t wonder if someone else will take care of it. The guacamole isn’t serving you anymore.
Everyone in our stories this week took some incredible risks for the sake of a world made new.
And in every story a community, an individual died to ways that weren’t serving them anymore. They participated in God’s invitation to dying and rising in order to create a world made new.
In that dying and rising with Paul, young man born blind, Pentecost community, breakfast at the beach, women in Moses’ life, they were part of a ripple effect, a movement forward, they embodied the Spirit, they lived out a holy welcome and belonging for everyone.
Keep looking, listening, feeling, seeing; let yourself be disrupted, let yourself be healed; let yourself be loved so you can be more loving.
Die to those ways that aren’t serving you, in order that you can be part of God’s story of dying and rising. God wants nothing more for us than to be made new, than to be resurrected for the sake of the planet, God’s home, which is deeply broken and in need of healing.
Montreat: you have been changed. So as you go . . .back to your homes, back to your churches, back to your schools, back to your families and friends,
May you be led into this new truth, this new understanding, this new way of believing, this new way of loving, so things will change, so lives will be different, so you will not return to where you once were.
Because God’s Word is within you.
In early June, I was the preacher for weeks 1 & 2 of Montreat High School Youth Conferences. Six hundred kids attended the first week and 1200 kids the second week. The theme was “Be the Difference” with a sub-theme each day. The theme for Wednesday was “Be the Difference in Your Church.” This sermon is from evening worship on Wednesday, the third day of the conference.
Liturgy for this service can be found here (scroll down for Wednesday).
Today is Pentecost for us Montreat the day we name dreams and see visions and this Holy Spirit of ours is no tame spirit.
Our Holy Spirit is less than predictable in order for God’s dreams can be released through us.
Here is my Pentecost story: I celebrated Easter while I was in Atlanta with the Open Door Community, the community I worshipped with while I lived in Atlanta during my JVC year.
Open Door is an intentional Christian community that shares meals and clothes with the homeless of Atlanta, makes visits to those in the Atlanta jail and on Georgia’s death row.
When I worshiped at Open Door, I worshiped with middle class folks, people whose stomachs rumbled with hunger, people who used to be in jail and prison, family members of those on death row in Georgia, and those who were homeless on Atlanta streets.
That Easter morning, while I was in Atlanta, the Open Door had a breakfast for close to 500 homeless folks in downtown Atlanta—that was Open Door’s Easter worship…living out the resurrection by sharing food with the most hungry.
There I was at 5am with volunteers and homeless folks. I was given the job of boiled eggs. I would hand out one boiled egg to each person to go along with their coffee, sausage, and grits full of butter and cream.
As the Easter sun was coming up, hundreds of homeless folks were gathered for breakfast. Those who had made the food for hoping for enough eggs and sausage and grits.
The energy was palpable as people who came to eat were hungry, volunteers were rushing around non-stop, trying to keep on top of tasks and stay organized.
It was chaotic and lovely all at once.
I was busy at my boiled egg station—very determined to be the best boiled egg hander outer of all time. Place egg on top of grits in Styrofoam bowl. Egg on top of grits.
I placed eggs on top of grits for 2 hours. As things were winding down, as the late comers came to the line for the last of the food, as my body and brain started to slow down, a guy came to my boiled egg spot, asked for an egg,
I placed it on the bowl of grits. I looked up. We made eye contact.
The man said, “Happy Easter.”
And I just froze in place. Stopped in my boiled egg tracks.
Happy Easter I said back, almost stunned.
Right. It’s Easter.
For 2 hours I had been super focused on my job as the boiled egg woman in the chaotic scene of sharing breakfast with hundreds of hungry folks.
My homeless friend stopped me in my tracks, like Paul with that light from the heavens, and my friends 2 words scorched my heart.
Yes. It’s Easter.
The day when love and connection and community and the radical act of sharing things like boiled eggs show that Jesus has been raised from the dead.
My homeless friends two words created a connection—I was so busy handing out eggs I forgot about the people in front of me.
I remember leaving that Easter breakfast realizing I had just felt (not just thought about), felt the resurrection.
Just as the parents in our story from yesterday missed the moment to say “We love you” to their son, I was missing the moment with the other 499 homeless folks who came for a boiled egg.
I wonder……when you’ve been in a place, where chaos and noise and confusion were everywhere and all of a sudden you got a crystal clear message.
Something just stopped you in your tracks.
When you realized that you weren’t paying attention to the loudest message, you were hit in the face with the clearest message.
The Apostle Paul was stopped in his tracks, blind, couldn’t see until the scales fell off his eyes and he was able to see Jesus’ message of love, sharing and non-violence.
The parents and crowd of our friend the young blind man were stopped in their tracks, confused, agitated over the healing sight received.
Now we are at Pentecost, the day we not only see, we see and we hear and feel the Spirit.
When my homeless friend said “Happy Easter” those words went through me. I felt them. We made eye contact. We heard each other. And I felt his words in me, my heart, my brain, my spirit.
And I just went that Easter morning to serve some boiled eggs.
What I got, again, through the words of my homeless friend, was God turning me upside down, dumping me on my head, and saying pay attention—share that boiled egg with some love, some compassion.
Not just plunk goes the egg on the grits.
In our Acts story, people had gathered together for a spring grain harvest, a Jewish celebration called Shavout.
These friends of Jesus were still heartbroken over his death.
Yes he had been resurrected yet Jesus physically wasn’t there anymore. And that must have been really sad.
For those of us who have gone through loss and grief, community gatherings and predictability after a death can be important.
This would have been their first Shavout without Jesus.
Shavout was going to be a predictable experience—something the people had done over and over again, something they could count on.
Jesus’s friends weren’t gathering because they knew God was going to blow the doors open and this incredible Pentecost Day was going to happen.
A simple, planned feast of grains turned into an experience of confused, chaotic, multi-lingual, Spirit-driven outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Where have you been and the unexpected happens?
Have you been somewhere, expecting and needing things to go “as planned” and everything was disrupted?
Where all of a sudden you realized you had no idea what was going on?
When you thought you were in charge, or you were the one in control or you knew what to expect?
Do you see and hear the patterns in our stories this week?
When did you think you had it all figured out, when did you think you knew where life was headed, when the notion of family was disrupted to mean the body of Christ?
The Holy Spirit was let loose on Pentecost in order to for those Pentecost folks to hear these prophetic words from Joel:
I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, your sons and daughters shall prophesy, they shall tell God’s truth, your young ones shall see vision, your older ones shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my spirit; and they shall prophesy.
Our God is a dreamer and God has been dreaming since the beginning.
From chaos to order at Creation God dreamed of beauty and community for all of life.
After the flood, God dreamed of life again. God dreamed for our Biblical ancestors who struggled to survive in the ancient middle eastern desert.
As the Israelites imagined liberation, God dreamed for their freedom.
As Mary and Joseph prepared to become parents, God dreamed for family and love.
As the baby Jesus grew, was presented at the Temple; as Jesus found his own voice, after Jesus almost got run off a cliff, God dreamed.
God dreamed for life as Jesus died on a cross, and when God did an amazing thing and made Jesus alive again, God kept on dreaming.
Paul’s life was transformed by God’s dream of a community of Jews and Gentiles.
The young man born blind had dreams as he begged on the streets, he had more dreams after he became a Follower of the Way.
I love what Rodger said this morning about who these words are directed to: the youth, sons and daughters (youth again), older folks, and slaves.
The directive to see visions, dream dreams and prophesy didn’t come to the powerful and in charge.
The task of dreaming, visioning, prophesying wasn’t given to royalty, the military, or those we typically think of being in-charge and being the experts on visions.
Again, as Jesus can flip our lives upside down, Jesus and the prophets flip upside down our understanding of power, our understanding of who is powerful in the name of Jesus, how we see communities organized—
Dreaming for the sake of God starts with those we most often overlook.
And these dreams, God’s dreams….. aren’t just happy go lucky dreams.
These aren’t magical, far off and away dreams like a Disney movie.
God’s dreams are for a world made new. Our planet is broken—fractured, polluted, impoverished, starving….
God dreams for a world made new where there is healing and wholeness, love and sharing, where Creation can breathe without filling out lungs with pollution.
The Holy Spirit scorched those Pentecost folk, tossed out the original plan for their festival, tossed it all into the air, pushed everyone out of their comfort zone in order to tell the truth about God’s dream and vision for the planet, in order to get folks dreaming about a world made new.
And that truth is this: the seeing, the knowing, the hearing, the feeling that comes to us from the Holy Spirit as we live as followers of the Way are not for ourselves alone.
What does a world made new look like? It means that my homeless friend in Atlanta wouldn’t have to go to a parking lot on Easter morning to get a boiled egg.
God’s dream for my friend would be he’d have his own home where he could cook his own egg, possibly with his family; my homeless friend would have a job that paid well and an apartment that he could afford.
Everything got tossed up in the air on that Pentecost Day, got set on fire because God’s dreams;
God knows we need to be turned upside down, our doors need to be blown open and our hair needs to be set on fire to get our attention, pull us out of our routines, out of our places of privilege and power in order that we can dream in the ways of God.
The Pilgrimage is set-up like a hostel inside Pilgrims building and we welcome youth and college groups all year round to do service learning and reflection around urban poverty and homelessness.
8,000 folks are homeless in DC on any given night. Almost 500 of those folks are homeless youth—young people your age living on the streets or in someone else’s home.
So take all 500 or so of you and put you on the streets of DC for the night and that’s our homeless youth.
When groups come to The Pilgrimage we tell them right away to listen, look, and feel.
Listen to the stories of the poor and homeless. Look for the ways the Spirit is at work on the streets of D.C. caring for those who are neglected and rejected.
Our Pilgrimage groups open their eyes, their ears so they can hear and feel stories of folks they might otherwise walk past on a daily basis.
We want our Pilgrimage groups see how the Spirit comes along and breaks things wide open, our wild, fierce Holy Spirit that comes to places of brokenness and seeking and longing and incredible emptiness and that Spirit rushes in like a mighty wind in the shape of a bagged lunch, a hot meal, a warm, dry blanket, a meaningful conversation.
Our Pilgrimage groups listen to the stories of the poor and homeless while they are with us.
Listening to stories is crucial to disrupting myths and stereotypes about homeless folks—the myth that homeless folks are lazy, uneducated, don’t want to work, are choosing to be homeless.
Our Pilgrimage groups hear stories like these:
They hear from David, the Pilgrimage’s own Poet-in-Residence, and his work of tending to his depression and caring for his heart disease.
David lived on a bus stop for several years while homeless in D.C., living with depression and health concerns. David now has his own apartment and a team of doctors at Georgetown Hospital who care for him.
Pilgrimage groups hear the story of John who lost his job at the same time his home burned down.
He lived in his car in a shopping mall parking lot for a while before he started living on the streets. For John, homelessness was an exhausting experience. “it was hard to look beyond whatever day it was.”
They hear the story of Steve who was involved with drugs and alcohol at a young age. His mom was incredibly abusive. In 2005 Steve became homeless. Steve says, “As I walked down the streets of DC, I saw people on every single park bench, and it hit me: They’re homeless, and I am too.”
Steve found a bench and stayed there for 18 months. He met a volunteer from a homeless care and outreach van who asked Steve, “Would you allow me to help you?” Steve said yes.
As our Pilgrimage groups hear and feel these stories of homelessness, you can see the scales falling from their eyes. You can see the mud getting washed away and clarity coming—our Pilgrimage groups start to see Steve, David, T, John are people with faces, names, families, people with hopes and dreams for their lives.
It’s a Pentecost moment when our Pilgrimage groups ideas, myths, stereotypes, assumptions get tossed into the air like the chaos of the original Pentecost day.
I was driving to a soccer tournament with my 14-year-old son, Sam a couple of weeks ago. We were at a stop light when we saw a woman holding a cardboard sign that read, “Homeless. Please help.”
Sam turned his eyes away from the woman, looked at me and said, “Mom, it makes it easier if I don’t look, if I turn away.”
Yep. Sam’s right. It does make it easier.
When we turn away, don’t see or look for the hungry and homeless, it does make it easier to ignore homeless folks.
When have you looked away?
When have you looked away because you didn’t want to hear or feel the story of someone who was hurting?
When have you looked away because someone who was homeless, hungry, sick made you feel anxious or uncomfortable.
When has your church looked away to the homeless and hungry—those living on your streets, those hungry in your city and living on someone else’s couch?
When has your church said “it’s easier if we don’t look, if we turn away.”
Our Pilgrimage groups hear and feel the dreams of David, T, Steve, and John.
Dreams of a job. Dreams of a healthy body. Dreams of medication for depression. Dreams of a home. Dreams of a world made new where folks aren’t living on the streets, kids aren’t living on someone else’s couch, dreams where families love rather than hurt, dreams of living a sober life.
God dreams for a world where all have homes, all have food, all have enough.
Groups come to The Pilgrimage to practice dreaming—we can get out of practice in dreaming with God.
We plod along in our routines, conforming to the ways around us.
We can be the difference in our churches when we dream.
Montreat: This is the difference you can make in your back home church.
Let’s picture this:
Your youth group goes back to your church, you all go to a committee meeting and an adult will probably have a nice, typed out agenda of the meeting, everything will be in order and then your youth group blurts out
“God has dreams for hungry folks to have food. God has a dream for everyone to have a home. God has a dream for everyone to be cared for when they are sick. What First Presbyterian Church of “our city” are we going to do about those dreams?”
If those committee folks stumble with their words, say that’s not on our agenda, and act like the parents of the blind young man and say, “Um. No idea, go ask that other committee. They meet tomorrow night” you keep telling God’s truth about God’s dreams.
Your youth group can be the difference, make a difference when you disrupt how your Church conforms to the ways we ignore the poor by telling them:
We dream of a church where everyone is welcome.
We dream of a place we all can call home. We dream of a world where justice is flowing, with hope and peace growing, God's will is done. Make it so, make it so Church.
We bring our dreams for a world made new to the communion table tonight.
Our table where we will share in the meal of bread and the cup is a place for us to dream.
It’s free drink for the thirsty. It’s free food for the hungry, healing for the broken and hurt, love for the outcast, a gentle touch for those we’d rather not touch.
The meal of bread and cup is rest for the weary. Like we’ve been saying all week, everyone born belongs at the table.
When we gather in Jesus name we gather as companions which in Latin means “with bread” or “friendship with bread.” The table lets us embody that companionship and belovedness.
This is Jesus’ meal where we proclaim like a scorching fire, like a powerful wind blowing doors and windows open, that we all have dreams for a world made new, that a new world is possible.
Every time we come to the table, we are made new and we proclaim it all in the name, the death and the resurrection of Jesus.
Paul was made new. The young man was made new. I was made new and will continue to be made new.
You have been made new and will continue to be made new. Your families have been and will be made new with a Pentecost Spirit.
New life, fresh life, full life is always God’s story for the Church and each of us.
And for that we give God thanks.
We are re-forming and re-shaping at Pilgrims again. This time--coffee hour! Here's the context:
From this past fall until the end of February, our Pilgrim young adults have been part of a discernment process made possible financially from the Forum for Theological Exploration (FTE). We received a $10,000 grant from FTE to do discernment work with our young adults who make up 40% of our congregation.
We did some pretty amazing things that focused on Belovedness.
- Discernment through the natural voice: We worked on freeing our natural voices by working with Andy Wassenich, a member at Pilgrims and an actor/producer/director of stage in D.C. Andy used voice building techniques from Kristin Linklater that focuses on finding your authentic voice and finding your authentic self. We've heard "no" in many ways when it comes to expressing power. That "no" along with trauma and emotional scars get trapped in our bodies, causing our voice to get stuck and silenced. Andy worked with us to free our natural voices. Think yoga, relaxation, weird noise making, therapy.
- Discernment through formal art: We worked with the Phillips Collection in Dupont to use formal art as a means of discernment. We visited the Phillips twice. Once we engaged in a personal response tour where we were given a prompt (example: what painting depicts risk for you? why?) and to find a painting that connected to the prompt. We then went on a tour of the Phillips based on the paintings we picked. The second visit was engaging in their contemplative tour. This tour had us sitting and listening to a guided meditation based on the Luncheon of the Boating Party.
Skipping ahead a few weeks....
Our young adults came to the next Session meeting to share their stories of this entire process.
At the end of our sharing, I asked the entire group the same question: What do you need to die to in order to resurrect a more authentic self and story?"
Then I asked, "what needs to die at Pilgrims in order for us to resurrect a more authentic self and story?"
Pause. Silence. Stillness.
Our elder for congregational care raised his hand (love that!) and said, "I'm wondering if we need to move coffee hour into the sanctuary? I notice that a lot of us are hanging around in the sanctuary for a while after worship, talking to each other, and not doing down the hallway to coffee hour."
Here comes my jumpy heart.
Just days prior at a worship meeting, Jeff brought up the same observation. I wonder....
Then people started cooking with the thought. Yes! And...I wonder if we could have a prayer corner for those who need to keep praying....I wonder if we could have a meditation circle over in that corner....I wonder....
That's when I tossed my planner pad into the air.
Well, hello Holy Spirit. We see You. We hear You. We are awake and paying attention.
Two weeks ago we brought coffee hour into the sanctuary.
I love all of this. I love all of this because it's about vulnerability, community, and spatial analysis.
When we stay in the sanctuary after worship, we stay in the space where vulnerability and community and relationality came alive. Conversations were coming out of that experience.
When we'd go down the hallway to the coffee hour room, all that died, and we'd go back to our normal scripts of "hey, how was your week. What's up."
It's as if we still needed the structure of liturgy for those intimate conversations to continue even after the formal structure of liturgy has ended. It's as if we were saying, "keep this liturgy thing going, only in the shape of coffee hour." It's as if we need some support and help in still being in the experience of kindness and compassion which liturgy creates.
It's as if we need the support to stay in this way before we go back to our regular selves--we want this kindness and love to last a little bit longer. We need support to do that.
Now our coffee hour treats get rolled down the hallway, placed on a table in the back of the sanctuary during the final hymn and coffee hour happens.
One of the questions in the mid-year report for the grant was "how do you plan on sustaining the grant?"
For me, this is how we sustain and transform the grant experience. We take the theology, the ethic, the liturgical experience of the grant and infuse those elements into our congregational life. We gave ourselves permission to let something die (coffee hour in another room) in order for more life to be experienced (sanctuary coffee hour).
Now our FTE grant looks like goldfish crackers and cheese slices on a table in the sanctuary with community gathered around, embracing the experience of each other, our Biblical stories, and liturgy.
This is discernment.
I'm taking a foundations of improv class through the Washington Improv Theater. It's a 8-week or so class that meets every Monday for 2.5 hours. It's pretty sweet and our teacher, Lisa Kays, is great. Check her out here. Also taking this class with my beloved Casey Wait Fitzgerald. One of classes focused on emotional commitment. Emotional commitment is when you start an improv scene by leading with an emotion. Game on with this class. I'm full of emotions!
In this class, we created scenes leading out of an emotion.
Now....let me say something about starting a scene. To me, it's like Harold in the books Harold and the Purple Crayon. That little, white, Pillsbury-like- dough-boy takes his purple crayon and creates a scene out of nothing.
The first mark that Harold makes in the book starts on a blank slate. Eventually, Harold builds off each line and circle to create something out of nothing.
That's an improv scene. You create something out of nothing. It's very Paul-in-the-Book-of Romans-like: God creates something out of nothing.
In this class, we created something out of our emotions.
Here's an exercise we did:
Lisa created 4 squares on the floor. One for anger. One for happy. One for sad. One for fear.
In pairs, we would step into a square to start a scene (again, blank slate). I'd step into one square and my partner in another square.
I stepped into a square and started a scene linking the emotion of the square with emptying the dishwasher (a favorite improv go-to for me....it's never about just emptying the dishwasher). Lisa could prompt us to step into another square and instantly my emotion to the scene would reflect the emotion of that square. At the same time, my partner is stepping into another emotion square and his yes....anding...would reflect that emotion.
Picture that game Simon Says.
In the fear square, my partner eventually revealed that he didn't want me to leave him over emptying the dishwasher. That changed the entire scene....because it wasn't about the dishwasher....the scene became about confessing a real fear in a relationship.
Lisa commented at the end of class that when in doubt in a scene make a confession....unload deepest of fear, sadness, love, anger because it shows something at stake. I'm really fearful right now.....really fearful....because I'm afraid you are going to leave me.
Lisa said when in doubt in a scene, make a confession. That's where the juice is.
Confessions....juice....Casey and I just looked at each other.
This past Epiphany, at Church of the Pilgrims, our young adults have preached, told the Biblical stories by heart, and told their own personal stories based on the theme of "Being Beloved." This liturgical work comes out of a grant we received from The Forum for Theological Exploration to do discernment work with our young adults.
This past Epiphany has been a season of beloved confessions.
Each week our young adults shared their fears, their deepest vulnerabilities. They shared heartache and shame. And they did this not in the abstract but through their own stories as linked to the lectionary, Gospel stories of Epiphany.
They all, indeed, brought the juice. The juice-- the Spirit, the life-blood, the community....it all happens in many ways in liturgy.
This past Epiphany our young adults preached, told the Biblical stories by heart, and were our personal storytellers during liturgy. Their work and the focus on Epiphany comes out of a grant we received from the Forum for Theological Exploration to do discernment work with our young adults.
Throughout Epiphany, our young adults, through sermons and storytelling, shared their fullest selves. They shared their loves, their joys. They shared their heartache and shame. They shared their deep self-doubts. They shared their belovedness.
It was incredible. It was the juice.
That story you are holding on to because you wonder if anyone will love you, think you are beloved after sharing? Even as you tell that story is your body shaking? Our young adults released those stories to Pilgrims this past Epiphany.
Our young adults embodied church and what church is for: a place to bring the ugly, the feared, the what-feels-shameful. Church is the place to bring those stories you wonder if you can tell anyone else.
Pilgrims, in return, became a vessel, a cup to hold, share, embrace those confessional stories. Pilgrims received those stories and said, "we love you. Period."
Confession and juice.
In Epiphany, Pilgrims became an embodied communion cup, holding and carrying those beloved confessions.
Last spring, we killed of Sunday school at Church of the Pilgrims. That means we are being more intentional about how to form our kids around the faith within already existing structures at Pilgrims.
Pilgrims already has stations set-up throughout our sanctuary for kids. These stations are based on our liturgical principles that in worship we tell stories, we see things in new ways, and we make connections. At each station are age appropriate books and quiet toys (even though kids can make anything loud) for kids to engage with during liturgy.
The idea is that when kids need to move, because that what kids do....they move around, they can go to a station, and engage in what's happening in liturgy on their level.
Some might think the kids aren't paying attention. But they are.
And they are engaged in play which is a research driven vehicle for promoting self-regulation, language, social competence, and cognitive learning. Meaning--play is essential for kids to learn about religious language, how to be in community, and how to learn and be formed around the faith.
Pilgrims used to have a children's sermon--when we'd ask the kids to come forward and listen to one of us deconstruct the sermon. It worked. It was fine. Adults giggled when the kids were being themselves. Eventually the children's sermon faded out of our liturgy.
Now that we don't have Sunday school, parents are having conversations about how to be intentional about experiences for our kids. One comment was "how can we have more structure?" Structure is important for kids and what does intentional structure look like without Sunday school?
Maybe we should pull the children's sermon back into the liturgy?
After reading some stuff on children's sermon (like this) I had one of those A-ha moments--- there is no data that says children's sermons are an essential way to engage kids, teach them the faith, etc. Children's sermon definitely hit the nostalgia button and since bunches of churches do children's sermons that means they must be effective. Right?
Casey Wait Fitzgerald is a master biblical storyteller plus a beloved friend. Casey and I were chatting about storytelling one day, pondering the role of a sermon in light of biblical storytelling and Casey said something like, "I think telling the story by heart is enough."
Pilgrims does Biblical storytelling. So.....
What if our kids were invited forward for the telling of the Biblical story? What if they had this moment in the liturgy where they were together as a small community? What if they were invited up because a story is about to be told that is so important we want to make sure they are part of that telling?
For the past few Sundays, the kids have been invited up practically sit at the feet of the storyteller.
Story is told. Kids eyeballs are locked in on the storyteller. They listen. Some squirm. One little 2 year old eye spies the candles on the table and starts to chat about the idea of blowing out the candles. The storyteller keeps telling the story.
At the end of the story they head back to the pews with their parents or go back to a station.
After we did this the first time, a child-free, kid-loving adult commented, "why haven't we thought of that before?" Jeff said, "I wonder what other parts of the service the kids can own....coming up and listening to the choir during the anthem?"
Here is what the kids experience with Biblical storytelling:
- Scripture in the ancient church was an oral tradition. As the kids participate in this storytelling moment, they are re-connecting to that oral tradition. As they sit at the feet of the storyteller, they are part of the tradition and how stories were passed down through the generations.
- Storytelling builds relationships. As the story is told, those listening are connected to the storyteller. The storyteller is connected to those listening. Storytelling inherently involves intimacy, vulnerability, and connection. These are essential elements of faith formation and liturgy. The kids are part of these elements in the telling of the story.
- Ownership. The kids have a moment to own in worship. This is one reason why we have stations---so the kids consistently experience ownership of the liturgical space. This space is for them just as much as the adults.
- Creating storytellers.We can use the kids proximity and experience with the storyteller as a starting point to teach the kids how to tell stories.
- Biblical storytelling is anti-gimmicky-crap. Lord have mercy there is so much awful shit out there that is supposed to make our kids become perfect Christians. The tradition, in it's imperfect ways, has given us a the gift of something like Biblical storytelling. When we engage kids in these ancient invitations of faith formation , we invite them into a sacred, communal experience that is thousands of years old. It is in the depth of the tradition, in the ancientness of the practices, that kids will be drawn into the radical nature of the Holy One and Her followers.
This past weekend I was part of a discernment retreat in Peachtree City, GA organized by the Forum for Theological Exploration (FTE). FTE gathered forty or so young adults for a weekend of pondering life and leadership, as a young adult, within the Church. The retreat offered small groups, a keynote, discernment cafe based on elements from the Art of Hosting, workshops, and worship. I led a workshop called Liturgy and Improv: The Practice of Freedom. FTE pulls together an incredible group of people across the theological and denominational spectrum: including Baptist, Pentecostal, Roman Catholic, Church of God, Non-denominational, Methodist, and PCUSA. There are a lot of folks from the "I used to be "this" denomination and now I'm "this" denomination.
Worship is held twice a day, 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening.
The focus of our Saturday evening service was handwashing.
We had some opening words, the story in John of Jesus washing his disciples feet was shared, I offered a brief reflection about handwashing, and we had a prayer. Then the invitation to wash each other's hands was given.
The gentle, intimate act of handwashing started....and so did the singing.
Folks. Here's the scoop. Church of the Pilgrims has LOTS of improv in worship. We have stations set-up for kids around the sanctuary which means kids are cruising around all the time. We have time for testimony. We improv the Prayer of Great Thanksgiving. We move around during worship.
But....we sit in our pews. We still sing when the order of worship says to sing. We don't call and respond to the preacher or liturgist.
During handwashing on Saturday night, one person stood up and started singing. She gently stopped. Then someone else started singing. Some started to sing along. That song came to a close and another person started singing.
My PCUSA/UCC self was up in the front thinking to that same self, "um. now what."
The key element of improv is the "yes....and..." I could hear my internal voice saying "yes. yes. yes. yes." "Yes. This is what's happening. Singing is what's happening."
Then one person became deeply, deeply moved by the Spirit. Wailing soon followed. A group of people gathered as a prayer group. And from that group came speaking in tongues.
I started to wonder about the rest of the order of worship. Do I ditch what we had to planned to do? How do I weave all this together? The ritual of drinking milk and honey was to follow the handwashing---the first meal in the early Church after baptism was a cup of milk and honey. After we washed our hands in the water of new beginnings, each of us had a glass of milk and honey. Would that just be stupid considering how the space was being transformed?
I was conscious of my body in the space. This isn't the kind of experiences we have at Pilgrims. Was my body, facial expression revealing a level of "shit, not sure what to do here?"
I also knew as the human leader of worship in that moment that considering the range of liturgical experiences in the room, all of this spontaneity could be causing anxiety to creep into the bodies of some folks. While the tearing and tongues was happening, we were still in community together. How do we/I continue to make this a space of welcome and openness and love?
I kept going with the liturgy. We kept going. I said something about gratitude and being fully human. We sang our final hymn over the sound of wailing and tongues (I could still hear the murmur of those speaking in tongues....what an amazing, Spirit-driven, fertile like soil sound to hear).
The next day someone from my workshop asked me what this weekend was like for me.
I shared how that worship service stretched by leadership, revealed that skills of improv are in me, and challenged my experience of a worship leader.
These are my realizations:
1) Pushing Boundaries Shows How Disruption is Socially Constructed: If a kid walks around during worship someone might say, "that is so distracting." Someone from a more traditional liturgical space could walk into Pilgrims and think "Jesus, this is awful chaos." How does liturgical space, even without words, define what is OK to do in worship? Who decides what is respectable to do in worship? How does liturgical space reveal these expectations in just how we carry our bodies, how we keep silent, how we dress, how and when we respond in worship? How do we as humans control the space, possibly snuffing out the movement of the Spirit?
2) Decolonizing Liturgical Space is Sacred, Badassery Work: One of the participants in my workshop said later that part of his call is to "decolonize liturgical space." YES! Who is in charge of liturgical space? Can we claim that what we (those in the dominant power structures of society) experience as distracting in worship comes from our social context? That it comes from our experience of liturgy growing up? That what's distracting in worship is informed by the binary, by patriarchy, by whiteness?
Liturgy, in its white, North American context, was used/has been/is used to control. Liturgy is still used to structure, systematize, and build-up dominating ways of life. How is worship used to expose and detangle us from the lingering history of domination and the current systems of domination? How does liturgy create space for imagination, new ways of being together, intimacy, and community? How does liturgy let us experience the mess of being human together rather than the need to control each other?
3) Improv at Pilgrims Prepared Me: While we don't have falling out, falling down, tearing of the spirit or speaking in tongues at Pilgrims (why not?! because it's not part of our tradition? what does that mean?!), the improvisation that goes on at Pilgrims prepared me for this moment at FTE. At one point I didn't have a clue of what to do next. And I kept telling myself "yes." Improv rooted me in the reality of what was going on. Improv let me see the beauty of the singing. It let me hear the murmur of the speaking in tongues. It pushed me to wonder "what's next?" And what does next look like? And how will what's next be loving and welcoming and continue to keep this open, fluid, Spirit filled space?
In essence, improv pushes me to decolonize my own body and mind in order that I don't control the shit out of liturgical space to benefit my own desire to control.
Church of the Pilgrims has a book that keeps the names of those who have become members of the church. The book looks something like this:
I wrote a blog post about Pilgrims most recent confirmation service where we welcome Sam and Emma into the Church. You can find that blog post here.
In the post I wrote about how we took our big, leather bound membership book and used it in the liturgy. Since then, we've been incorporating "the book" into particular liturgies.
First, the background on how the book became part of our liturgical life at Pilgrims.
In May, our family went to a bar mitzvah for our dear friend Eli. Eli had his bar mitzvah at this fabulous, rainbow flag waving Temple Rodef Shalom. (Patrick, one of Eli's dads, blogs here).
During Eli's bar mitzvah, the Torah was brought out from the Torah ark in this gorgeous moment that involved Eli, the cantor, the Rabbi and Eli's other bar mitzvah companion. I was so taken by this moment---the doors open to this colorful, beautiful, gently glowing "home" to the Torah, this sacred, holy book that holds the stories of life and death of the Jewish people. A few moments after Eli's reading of the Hebrew, Eli, like his dad when he was bar mitzvah'd a few years ago, was welcomed into the faith through the Torah.
I watched Eli hold the Torah. Embrace the Torah. Become part of the Torah. In his Hebrew, I heard Eli become part of Judaism and was now ascribed, at least in my mind, to the Book of Life-- an image, and for some Jewish communities an actual book, that is the muster-roll of God. Rooted in the Psalms, the book ascribes the names of those who are working for justice for God. This image of the Book of Life is liturgically part of the High Holy Days for many Jewish communities.
It was such a powerful image to witness Eli turn the pages of the Torah, witnessing his connection to the Jewish faith going back thousands of years.
Eli inspired Pilgrims confirmation liturgy in this way:
Could we have a moment like this in our confirmation liturgy where the sense of ancientness of who we are comes alive? How does Pilgrims connect Emma and Sam to a sense of ancientness? To a history? How could that connection be witnessed? How could Sam and Emma, like Eli, physically draw themselves closer to the history of a religious tradition?
Pilgrims membership book then became part of the confirmation liturgy---creating a moment when Pilgrims big, leather-bound membership book was opened up and Sam and Emma were invited to write their own names into our book. Bettina Burgett, our clerk and keeper of the book, then wrote down the date and "confirmation" as the process of membership.
Now Sam and Emma were in our book, along with those founding members of Pilgrims whose names are also in the book--their names and the date of membership at the very beginning of the book.
Leaf through the heavy, cotton, age-worn paper and you will see those who have come before Sam and Emma; those who have loved Pilgrims and brought us into this moment in time together.
In this particular moment in time at confirmation, we made the writing of the names a public, liturgical moment. Sam and Emma wrote down their own names--no one else wrote their names for them. They used their own agency.
We watched Bettina confirm their signatures with the date and means of membership. Usually Bettina writes in the names and dates after the membership moment has passed--it's a moment that was private and a task. It seems we've now raised the bar for Bettina's position within the congregation---going from "clerk" to "clerk of the book."
In a way, the Sam and Emma writing their own names created this boundary of time and space--pulling past into the present in a public, physical way. In this public action, Sam and Emma, and Pilgrims as witnesses, gave reverence to our past, pulling the names off the pages and into our liturgical space.
Since that moment worked out pretty well....
At a baptism in June we pulled out the book of baptism and weddings. It looks the same as the membership book. Our general baptism liturgy includes these actions right after the water--we put a stole over the newly baptized. We anoint the baptized with oil. They are offered milk and honey, the first meal in the ancient church to the new baptized. We light a candle. The baptized one is welcomed into the Church by a member.
All of these post-baptism moments link us back to the early Church and their ancient ways--these are rituals that transcend time and root us in the ways the early followers defined community up and against Roman Empire.
Now we have the book. It's not a telephone book. Not a pool membership book. It's not the sign in sheet at a yoga studio. It's Pilgrims book of the living and the dead.
The baptism book rested next to the font with the stole, honey/milk, and oil. As part of our sequencing of post-baptism actions, Bettina wrote the baptized one's name into the book since the little guy wasn't old enough to write his own name. Our little Pilgrim, now baptized, was in our book which holds not just the names of those before him but, in essence, their commitment/struggle/joy/heartbreak that has made Pilgrims....Pilgrims.
Confirmation at Church of the Pilgrims comes every once in awhile. This year we had two confirmands.
Emma and Sam (my 13 yo) were confirmed into the Church the last Sunday in May. Emma and Sam had spent the past 6 months in a shared confirmation process with Western Presbyterian Church down in Foggy Bottom. Western had five kids. We had two. We joined forces.
Every 4th Sunday of the month, we'd gather at either Pilgrims or Western for a dinner liturgy. We shared a meal (upgrading from spaghetti to a taco bar as the year progressed) while we shared in liturgy---prayers, candle lighting, hearing a topic of the day like OT genre, Advent birth narratives, Jesus as subversive agent against Empire. We'd chug root beer and marshmallows, made s'mores. We'd talk over each other and then we'd listen, then start talking over each other again. The youth would annoy the adults, the adults would annoy the youth, adults would have to separate people....you know...it was like a family dinner table.
When it came time to plan Pilgrims confirmation liturgy, I knew I wanted to share this At-table experience with the rest of Pilgrims. So the tables and chairs were hauled into the sanctuary for the liturgy.
A glimpse of our confirmation liturgy!
Two of the confirmation mentors started off with this welcome:
We welcome you to this at table worship, a time to share in a meal and worship together.
We gather in this particular way for a couple of reasons: this is how the early Church gathered for worship—at tables, in a home, sharing in a meal, sharing in communion, song and prayer.
Today we do the same. And we celebrate two particular people—Sam Goff Glennon and Emma Oosterveld. Today we confirm Sam and Emma, we celebrate their confirmation into the christian church. We confirm Sam and Emma together, as a community, because this is how we live out our faith. We gather at table because this is how Sam and Emma gathered with youth from Western Presbyterian the 4th Sunday evening of each month in a shared confirmation process.
Sam and Emma had their confirmation process at table. being at table today gives a glimpse of confirmation process. So welcome! We live in the ways of Jesus which means all are welcome at these tables to eat, drink, connect, and build community. Let us confirm Sam and Emma! Let us worship God.
We continued with candle lighting and singing. Then we broke the bread with 2 of the mentors and Sam and Emma. Emma said the words of institution while Sam broke the bread.
Emma: But what Jesus did most of all was share meals with everyone who wanted to eat. he liked having dinner so much that some people even called him a glutton.
Sam: Jesus would eat with people who broke the law, he would eat with people who didn’t take many baths, he would eat with people nobody else liked.
Emma: At the end of his life, Jesus had one last meal with his friends. he took the bread, gave thanks to you, and said, “take and eat. this is by body. do this. remember me."
Then one of the mentors invited people to share in the bread and the cup around the tables. Then we shared in food on the tables: s'mores, cheese, fruit and such.
Emily Wilkes, our intern, told the story of friends busting through a roof for their paralyzed friend.
Folks then wrote hopes and dreams (after a 3 minute sermon) for Sam and Emma on sticky notes, symbolizing that's what Church does---busts open anything for all of us to get as close to the Presence as possible. Our hopes and dreams take us to that Presence.
Then came the confirmation.
Bettina Burgett, our Clerk, offered these opening words. Sam, Emma, Bettina, and I were around our small communion table amidst the tables.
Sam and Emma, you have completed a 6 month process of confirmation, an experience of community, liturgy, conversation, questioning, laughing, service and learning with your companions from Western Presbyterian Church.
You went on retreat at The Pilgrimage with the Western crew, making meals for Open Table, hearing Eric from the National Coalition for the Homeless speak about his experience of homelessness.
You took bag lunches around Dupont Circle and McPherson Square. You fought of cockroaches in the Pilgrimage kitchen and Paul Reuther had to intervene on your middle school pranks.
You did improv with Andy, served at Open Table. You were cared for and loved by your mentors: Matt, Jeff, Lauren, and Carol
You went before Session, sharing your noticings and wonderings of this community.
Emma and Sam, in front of Pilgrims, with our support and love, do you wish to be confirmed into the Church?
Then people shared their hopes and dreams for Sam and Emma, people standing up one at a time where they were at their tables and reading their hopes and dreams. The 4 mentors went first. Most beautiful part---people affirming Sam and Emma as they are NOW as human beings. Total acceptance.
Then the questions were asked. Bettina started off with the question of trust. Then I asked a person at each table to stand and ask a scripted out question. As that person stood and asked the question, that person's entire table stood up, symbolizing solidarity with Sam and Emma.
People--this makes me teary just writing about it. Oh, and I had pondered over how to do this for some time. Original idea came from Margee Iddings. Then I emailed trusty Andrew Wassenich, my improv guy and member at Pilgrims, about how to pull off what I wanted to do. Andrew solved this in, say 35 seconds. People are beautiful.
- Emma and Sam, Do you trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? Sam and Emma: I do.
- Emma and Sam, will you seek to be a faithful member of this congregation, and be part of the building up of this community? Will you?
- Sam and Emma, when the world acts in violent ways, when you see the meanness of others, when you walk past a homeless and hungry person on the street corner, will you choose the way of life and live with compassion and kindness? Will you?
- To the congregation: Do you fully accept Sam and Emma as equal members of this congregation, embracing their honesty, truth-telling, and creativity? Do you?
- Will you, Sam and Emma, and you the community gathered, commit yourselves to this life? Will you?
- Will you, Sam and Emma, and you the community gathered, love neighbor as yourself and strive for peace and justice? Will you?
Then Sam and Emma shared how they want to live out their faith in the upcoming year. Both want to take bag lunches out to Dupont Circle and share with hungry people. Amazing.
We laid hands on Sam and Emma and prayed.
Then....Pilgrims has a Registry Book---the book that has the names and dates of all the new members, baptisms, and weddings. It has the names of the very first church members going back to the early 1900's. Bettina, as Clerk, is keeper-of-the-book. After laying on of hands, Sam and Emma wrote their own names into our Book of Life and Bettina wrote down the date and "confirmation."
This was the most moving part for me----witnessing Sam and Emma be part of this great cloud of witnesses of Pilgrims, using their own hands to write their own names, having the congregation witness the act in a public way rather than the their names going into the book in a private, off-liturgy moment.
THEN.....we shared the cup with the mentors and Sam and Emma doing the words and actions. THEN we shared a toast to Sam and Emma with our little communion cups. The early Church did this while at dinner and liturgy--toasting to Jesus rather than Caesar and Empire. So....we toasted to Sam and Emma. Then we kept on toasting to life and people and love and stuff. We toasted to Beau Biden, who had died the day before. Joe--we love you.
We sang a song then ate cake.
It was a wonderful day.
Capital Pride was last weekend in Washington, D.C. and the Saturday afternoon parade starts at the footsteps of Pilgrims. And by starting out in front of Pilgrims I mean this the chaos you see the picture above.
Pilgrims opens its doors for Pride for bathrooms, water (with our water station handled by the Fairfax Hotel) and this year we added communion in the sanctuary. Our sanctuary had the AC going full blast and one of our Parish Associates, Charles Van Gorder, was present to share communion, talk, and be present. Our sanctuary became a meditative space for those seeking some quiet and stillness from the chaotic, sensory, rainbow scene out front.
This year we also decided to take communion to the More Light Presbyterian marchers while we waited for the parade to start. This meant taking communion to 22nd and N Street, NW, Washington, DC, 20037.
Our fabulous interns, Emily, Andrew, and Kristin took old communion trays and made them fabulous.
Emily cut up baguettes left over from lunch from Pride officials lunch and staging area at Pilgrims.
Jess Fisher, former intern, and I took the bread and the trays to the More Light Presbyterian waiting area. We shared in communion using the human microphone method--a method used by the Occupy movement to run meetings and liturgies. We used improv for the Prayer of Great Thanksgiving. The whole thing went something like this:
Me: We gather
Crowd: We gather
Me: To share a sacred meal on the streets
Crowd: To share a sacred meal on the streets....
Me: What acts of creation do we give thanks for? People called those out. What acts of the prophets do we need to remember? People called those out. What acts of Jesus do we need to remember? What acts of the Spirit? People called those out.
Then we used the human microphone for the Words of Institution.
As Jess and I walked back to Pilgrims with what was left of the juice and bread, some folks stopped us to have their own communion moment. Before taking the bread and juice, one person said to Jess, "I have done some very bad things in my life. Very bad things." Jess shared with love and acceptance.
Reflections from sharing communion on the streets:
1) You know all those rules and constructs that the Church has around ordination and sacraments and whatever? Guess what? The streets don't care. Thank you, Jesus! When Jess (non-ordained) shared communion, the person didn't ask if she was ordained. Jess didn't ask if the person had been baptized. Who has time for those questions on the streets? Jess carried the symbols of love, life, community, and new beginnings and the streets called her to share freely. For me, the streets expose the absurd nature of the Church. Can you imagine if Jess had said, "Oh, wait. I can only share this with you if you are baptized." Or I had said, "Jess, get out of the way, this is for me the ordained to serve." Seriously? #assholeclergy
2) God is there. We didn't take the Church to 22nd and N. Nor did we take God there. God and the Church and the Spirit are already on the streets. We were greeted by God on the streets. "Well hello there Pilgrim people and MLP's. Thanks for being here on the streets. I've been here all along. Says God every friggin' day."
3) Boundaries get blown up on the streets. See #1. But there wasn't a table to center us. Or walls of a church to show us we are Church. I had to call out "The Lord Be with You" in a loud, directive way and get folks to bunch up together. We had to create our own space within the space of 22nd and N. We also started on our own initiative. No time and space boundaries of liturgy that prompted me to start like "now it's communion because that comes after the hymn which comes after the sermon."
4) Sensory + the Sacred + the Profane: The quiet nature of the sanctuary that people expect? The table manners of church respectability? Pigeons walking around? Garbage at our feet? There is no separation of the sacred and the profane on the streets. It's all sacred. The symbolic nature of the Eucharist gets infused all over the streets. And the sacred nature of the streets gets infused into us and the sacred meal. Again, boundaries are pushed, challenged, and blown-up when you have dueling piano players on a float behind you and Cher being blasted in front of you. The senses, our lives, our hopes, dreams, urban air, urban sky, urban asphalt, human brokenness and joy....it all gets knocked up together on the streets in a way, for me, that doesn't happen in a sanctuary. The "this is how we are supposed to act with communion, at the table" gets re-configured on the streets. And maybe not re-configured but you are you on the streets and less of what is expected of you, constructed of you by the Church and Empire.
Why are we doing communion ONLY behind closed doors? And who decided that along the way? And why is that the way we follow?
Some of the photos in the gallery were taken by Marti Mefford.
The structure of Church of the Pilgrims Holy Week services have stayed the same for many years.
In the past couple of years, we nuanced things a bit to add more elements of participation. Some highlights of what we did this year:
Palm/Passion Sunday: We did a repeat of last years public procession around the block. We gathered at 9:30am, armed with umbrellas and stuff from Oriental Trading, to decorate umbrellas. We also created signs with recycled cardboard that read, "Feed Your Neighbors," "Grow a Garden" and "Black Lives Matter." This is the ethic of our faith with words that are short, sweet, and to the point. Like Jesus and his followers, we walked with anti-Imperial words of the Jesus movement.
We gathered on our front steps and heard Jeff tell the procession into Jerusalem story. Sang a song and off we went with the beat of a drum. We had one person up front (me) to make sure we stayed together. Jeff was in the back of the procession to try to keep chaos organized.
We stopped at the steps inside the church to get organized with our processional song and into the sanctuary we processed. That's when utter chaos happened. We usually loop around the sanctuary a couple of times. For some reason, that didn't happen. People were everywhere with their signs and umbrellas.
Jeff remarked later that chaos must have erupted at some point in Jesus' procession. After all, Jesus and his crew didn't take 2 months to plan his procession. It just happened.
We ended our service with the arc towards the Passion narrative---so Palms---> Passion.
Maundy Thursday: We had an agape meal in our Fellowship Hall and Pilgrim storytellers told the Passion story by-heart. At the end of each part of the story, the storyteller blew out candles on the tables. As we got closer to the end of the story, storytellers also blew out candles on our Lenten cross we used throughout Lent.
Emily, our intern, created table-scapes with clear cylinder containers filled with water and one palm. Emily recycled this idea from her Palm Sunday communion table-scape. For Maundy Thursday, she added to each table a glass candle holder with white candle, a wooden, bark candle holder with a tea light, communion cups, a dried up palm from Palm Sunday, and small glass juice pitchers from Pilgrims circa 1950.
One of my favorite moments of Maundy Thursday is observing the meal come together in our kitchen. Lots of food that needs organized into baskets and trays. People jump in and make it happen. Connects a bit with the chaos from Palm Sunday. (see picture in the gallery below).
Thursday afternoon, Emily, Rachel, and I worked with Andy Wassenich, Pilgrim and actor/director and our voice building coach, on our stories. Funny. When we prepare your voice your storytelling is stronger. Noted.
Good Friday: This year we carried our large wooden cross in like a coffin into our candle lit, dark, Taize infused sanctuary. We placed it down on the ground in the middle of our space. Near the end of the service, people came forward during the prayers to hit a nail into the cross three times. Emily, trusty intern, orchestrated this and CHOPS to Emily for pulling something off she had never seen/experienced.
I'm pretty sure Emily had some internal chaos going on with this new-to-her leadership role. Emily had never been through a Holy Week before and we tossed this part of the service for her to lead. SHE PULLED IT OFF WITH GRACE AND LOVE. People then placed tea lights around the cross as we sang, Will You Remember Me When We Come Into Your Kingdom.
Easter: More chaos.....one of our members is in event planning and gave us 60 tulips for folks to place on the cross during our opening hymns. Pilgrims bring additional flowers to supplement. Some ideas work. Some don't.
Around 10:15 we realized we were about 40 flowers short of what we needed. Justin blazed off to Trader Joe's and pretty much saved the opening ritual action. Justin did this WITH GRACE AND LOVE. Usually people come down the center aisle to place their flowers on the cross while singing opening hymns. This time people came from all directions. Floral mash-up! More chaos!
Then.....skipping ahead in the service....Emily told the Emmaus story as part of the invitation to the table. THEN....Rachel and Carol sang our invitation to the table. They did this WITH GRACE AND LOVE.
As the gluten-free bread and cup were being shared, little Kate, age 3, walked into the middle of the space to check things out. I asked her if she wanted to help serve. She said yes. I paired her up with Karen. Karen welcomed Kate into the experience of serving. Both served WITH GRACE AND LOVE. Our last song had our kids jamming with Jeff as he played his guitar and they played random instruments. <chaos>
Holy Week theme: CHAOS WITH GRACE AND LOVE. I know I could be more organized in some areas for Holy Week. There are some things for Holy Week we could talk through more with key leaders.
And....there will still be chaos. Just as there was with Jesus and his followers with this incredible, restless, less-than-relaxing story. I can't even imagine the chaos going on with Jesus' followers during the last week of his life. Can you?
Talking through details with folks would be helpful not to eliminate chaos but to help folks be more present in the chaos. Trying to minimize chaos feels, on some level, like I'd be trying to sterilize the story. Trying to think through some additional details with folks for the sake of being more mindful, aware-we-are-in-the-midst-of-a-chaotic-story, cognizant that as we feel the chaos of Holy Week, we are, in essence, feeling the nature of Jesus and his followers during those final days.
Church of the Pilgrims Lenten liturgical journey took us beyond our church walls. Folks at our worship planning session came up with the theme of "Be Salt. Be Light. Be Bold." We came to this theme after exploring the Beatitudes, our Brian McLaren lectionary focus for the season.
As we wrapped-up our brainstorming session, Roberta, a regular at Pilgrims, reiterated "we need to be bold, we need to be bold." Roberta's emphatic-ness stayed with me.....
In order to BE BOLD, this is what we came up with for our Lent order of worship.
10:55 Taize singing led by Rob Passow, our music director, and the choir. Keep singing until 11:05
- Liturgy of the Cross--opened up with some words about Lent then snuffed out a candle each week on our handmade Lenten cross. This marked the movement towards Jerusalem and how Lent calls us to pay attention to how the ways of death are around us on a daily basis. .
- Choir sang an anthem.
- Biblical story--told using Biblical storytelling or responsive with the congregation.
- Sermon--8-10 minutes.
- Hymn--we used that as an invitation to come forward to the table.
- Communion--short and sweet with the ordained and non-ordained (example: two of our confirmands) breaking the bread, pouring the cup, saying the words of institution.
- For 30 minutes people were invited to be BOLD. Be SALTY. Be LIGHT. They had several choices to make for acts of service: 1) taking already made bag lunches out to Dupont Circle to hungry folks; 2) making more bag lunches for Open Table, our lunch for hungry neighbors each Sunday; 3) working in our urban garden; 4) participating in an advocacy conversation that changed each week (Syrian conflict, Darfur, homelessness in D.C., community organizing).
At 12:15, folks came back to our coffee hour room to debrief for a couple of minutes (how can you imagine your boldness today influencing your upcoming week?). We sang an Amen or Alleluia then benediction.
Coffee hour continued.
Things I noticed during Lent:
1) Our usual worship lasts until 12:15 or so, and we did what we wanted to do in 45 minutes within the sanctuary walls. Take-away: what are we *really* doing in those additional 15 + minutes?
2) We focused on composting in the garden on most weeks, including our worm composting. I watched Jeff and Gregg, two members, CUT UP FOOD for our worms. Worms will eat produce in any shape or form. But Jeff and Gregg thoughtfully cut-up food for our little wormies. Take-away: intention + paying attention + thoughtfulness=connection, even with worms.
3) The very human experience of being together in experiences of outreach as part of worship. No liturgical scripts. No prayers written out. No faces in the hymnals. Just us making food, composting, listening, engaging, connecting with hungry folks. Liturgical improv beyond church walls. Take-away: Pilgrims works hard at having worship where we are ourselves. But still. Bulletins and such do put me/us roles. In sharing the work of outreach, we/I dropped whatever liturgical roles I/we inhabit and we talked, conversed, learned, farmed, organized.....
4) Coffee hour had a buzz. Folks dribbled in after their outreach and were chatting it up. When we paused for reflection and a final song, people went right back to their conversations. Take-away: People dribbled in because the various service experiences didn't end at the exact same time. In a normal service the benediction declares worship over in one moment. Time felt more fluid with folks coming in, already connected via service.
5) The outreach was a great way to split people up. Church cliques exist. Service was a great way to mix-up Pilgrim peeps. Take-away: Need to be intentional to get folks out of their church molds.
In an ecclesiastical move that defied logic, reason, and history, parents of young children at Church of the Pilgrims have killed off Sunday school.
Several weeks ago, Nancy (Elder for Education) and I scheduled a meeting of parents during Buffet, Pilgrims lunch on the first Sunday of the month.
Goal: talk through Sunday school and if it's what we need to be doing. Why? Because not many folks were attending.
There, around a table, while sharing a meal, while their kids climbed under the tables and wheeled themselves around the Fellowship Hall in Kozy Kars, Nancy delivered the reality of Sunday school--
Low attendance. Reality. Check!
After musing around with the reality of "it takes everything we've got to make it to worship" Pilgrims parents said, "let's just stop."
And just like that....a door was opened.....for new ideas.
New goal: Weave the kids into already existing things at Pilgrims instead of creating extra stuff.
So...it was done. Good-bye learning via the ways of the 1950's. Good-bye to an element of Pilgrim life that didn't fit anymore. Good-bye to the hamster wheel of doing something because we were supposed to be doing it.
Hello to bandwidth for me to do something new with the kids and families.
A couple of days later I was having a conversation with Sabina, the lead teacher at School for Friends, the preschool located at Pilgrims. Sabina shared how they were focusing on perspective in February. Sabina and the book "Dramatic Difference" led me to this:
I bought two books for each family: Where the Wild Things Are and Brave Irene. I copied 5 stories out of the Family Story Bible by Ralph Milton. These are Gospel stories that focus on one character who needs help.
Parents read the books + 1 Biblical story each week with the kids.
Then they have a conversation with questions like 1) How could Zacchaeus, Irene and Max be friends? 2) How could they visit each others stories? 3) Can you create a new story with Max, Irene, and Zacchaeus? 4) How could Zacchaeus help Irene? How could he help Max? 5) How are all 3 bold? (Be Bold! Be Salt! Be Light is theme for Lent).
Next make a plan to do something---write a new story, have more of a conversation....how do they want to respond to these questions? Execute plan!
In the write-up I handed off to parents I also included meal time ritual of candle lighting, sharing high and lows, experiences of being bold and brave.
Wreck this Journal:
Taking a play out of the playbook from Theresa Cho at St. John's Presbyterian, I rifted her Wreck this Journal format and created a Wreck this Journal for each kid. Putting journals together---what a great job for an intern! Thanks, Emily.
I've watched two of my kids work on their Lenten journals. Really amazing to watch energy explode as they realized they could literally wreck the journal. Here is a picture of Maddie's journal and a picture of Ryan's---easy to identify whose is whose.
I can't tell you the amount of space I feel in my work. I loved doing the journals. I loved talking with Sabina and having time to create at-home materials. I love not having to think through the details of Sunday school. I've noticed I've slowed down a bit, my brain doesn't feel so full and chaotic. Sunday mornings have been a dream---I have more time to get ready for worship which is it's own labor intensive endeavor at Pilgrims. I feel so much more mindful on Sunday mornings. Less program. More people.
Pilgrims kids are in worship all the time. We have three stations set-up throughout the sanctuary that invite our kids to engage in our liturgical experience at their own developmental level. On any given Sunday you can see our kids sitting in the pews with their parents or moving around to one of stations when their body has had enough of sitting.
When I observe our kids in these stations and I see them drawing, felt-boarding, working with the sand tray, I can wonder, "are they paying attention?"
Thankfully the Spirit intervenes on my wondering with an experience like this one.
On Transfiguration Sunday, we used tableau's to explore the transfiguration story together. See this video.
After we were done with the tableau’s, I went back to the storytelling station to check-in with Skanda, one of our seven year olds.
After the “Hey, how are you Skanda?” we quickly moved into this conversation:
Skanda: Pastor Ashley, what were you doing over there?
Me: We were creating sculptures with our bodies. That’s how we told the story today.
Skanda: Why did people get up there and do that?
Me: They wanted to show others how the story made them feel.
Skanda: Why didn’t my dad get up there?
Me: I don’t know. You’d have to ask him. Some people like to observe and watch things.
Skanda: How did you let people know you were going to do this? Did you call them up this week?
Me: No, Andy taught us how to do these last week. I just explained it again.
Skanda: Oh, how much longer until worship is over?
Love this kid.
Skanda had been back reading in the storytelling station the whole time. One, including myself, might think, “there is no way Skanda’s paying attention. That kid is totally checked out.”
Oh, but he’s totally checked-in. Not only listening and watching but also wondering about how I/we made it happen. “Did you call people up and let them know?”
Pilgrims are used to doing stuff like this in worship so phone calls and emails aren’t needed. And I adore Skanda’s thinking—what needs to happen prior to worship to get people on board? How do you create ownership with liturgy? Does Skanda need his own heads-up in times of transition?
He noticed we did something a bit out of the ordinary. Skanda paid attention to his dad’s participation. He wondered about what needed to happen prior to doing something like human sculptures. Skanda thought critically, at his age level, about liturgy and its parts–especially the parts that happen before the Sunday performance even happened.
Next time we have worship planning, I’m calling up Skanda.
We watercolored from the font on January 18th.
Our theme this Epiphany season is "what does the Kingdom of God look like?" This builds off our Advent themes/candles of vulnerability, courage, resiliency, and empowerment.
Rachel Pacheco, our Pilgrimage Program Manager, preached on a miracle story in Mark---the one with Jesus calling out a demon--and the Wedding in Cana. Rachel focused on imagination as a key piece to kingdom building.
After Rachel's sermon we were invited into our Epiphany practice of creating a mosaic, putting the pieces together, of what the kingdom looks like. Emily invited folks to imagine something new, let our imaginations take hold of us and picture transformation and holy change.
People were then invited to create a mosaic square by drawing, painting, or writing what has been sparked in their imagination. People could use charcoal pencils, cray-pas, and markers to create their paper tile. They came forward to the table and glued their prayers on to foam board.
One station was watercoloring and we filled the font with water so folks could use the water as a means of creating their prayer with paints. Emily gave this a context: the font is an experience of new beginnings, of transformation. Our imaginations can take us to new beginnings, call forth something new and sacred.
I avoid like hell taking pictures of people IN worship. But this I couldn't pass up. Watching our kids stretch themselves on a stool to reach in and get some water to use for coloring was......amazing. The water, the font, the use of color, imagination, the facial expressions, the improv, the creativity....
THEN....during the last hymn we brought out a cake---The Cake of Imagination. I started cutting up the cake and those folks who cut-cake-better bumped me aside to take over. We ate cake ("was that the host?" someone asked?) and celebrated imagination as a expression of the Kingdom.