The Landscape of Liturgy: Ordination and Lingering

emmaus.jpeg

I preached this past Sunday at the ordination service of Dana Olson, chaplain at Ingelside at Rock Creek. Dana picked the Road to Emmaus story as her ordination text. 

Here is my sermon from the day: 

We are here today to ordain Dana Olson to the office of teaching elder in the PCUSA. We are here as the ordaining body, the Holy Spirit invoking community to lay hands on Dana and affirm her call to ordain ministry.

Dana: child of God, beloved one of the font and companion of the table since a young one at Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Baldwin, Wisconsin.

Dana, your call has gathered us, the priesthood of all believers, to bring you into the ordained life and to affirm, re-affirm, live into our own calls to disrupt the ways of injustice and be bearers of the Good News of Life.

You have given us a gift to be gathered today. Thank you for your call and the way it’s building community right now in this very moment.

And what a gift it has been for many of us to see your call, your courage, your confidence grow and multiply over the years.

I’m thankful to be here on behalf of Church of the Pilgrims here in Washington, D.C. where you spent time as an intern while at Wesley Seminary.

Today, it’s in the spirit of this story from the Gospel of Luke and the prophetic words of Micah, both whom give us stories of liberation and great reversals,    that we ordain you, Dana, to linger and walk and accompany those on their own Emmaus Road walk of seeking Jesus in life and at table with companions.

We meet the resurrected Jesus on the road to Emmaus, walking alongside Cleopas and his companion.  We find Cleopas and his companion not just walking side-by-side with a stranger, but also walking side-by-side with grief and deep sadness.

Just three days prior to this Emmaus encounter, Jesus had been crucified by the Roman Empire; put to death for the ways he shared life with the sick, the poor, the neglected, and despised. Jesus spent time with the oppressed and that time spent cost him his life.

It’s important on your ordination day, Dana, to lift up not just that Jesus spent time with the poor and hungry. It’s important to name on your ordination day the quality of time that was spent between Jesus and the rejected ones of society.  

Throughout the Gospel of Luke we hear of stories of Jesus at table, sharing food and drink with companions. In fact, Jesus liked sharing meals so much that he was called a glutton and a drunkard.

Eating and drinking were an important experience in the fabric of the ancient world. The word “companion” comes  from the Latin roots which mean “common” and “bread.”

A companion is someone with whom we break bread. Companionship specifically, table companionship was part of life in Jesus’ time.  And in the ancient world of Jesus, breaking bread took time.

Jesus didn’t breeze through table fellowship like a McDonald’s drive thru meal or get a meal out of something like the ancient world’s equivalent of a vending machine in order to get to the next healing or miracle.

While at table, Jesus lingered with his companions. They talked about pressing issues of the day, they discussed, pondered, wondered. They dreamed about a world made new.

They kept alive the language of God’s great reversal as proclaimed by Mary in the beginning of Luke’s gospel:

God turns the world upside down by exalting the humble and bringing down the mighty from their thrones, feeding the hungry, breaking the bows of the strong and giving strength to the weak.

Jesus sat at table to explore what Micah’s words to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God meant in a world dominated by violence, greed, and poverty.

While at table, Jesus lingered with extensive conversation over prolonged dinners.

So how Jesus ate and drank with others is important because Jesus’ way of table fellowship embodied God’s great reversal. He gave strength to the weak, he fed the hungry while lingering. Jesus paused. He took his time at table.

Being at table was were the stuff, the belovedness of life was centered for Jesus.

Cleopas and his companion had to linger at table in order to recognize the Risen One. As Jesus did in his ministry, Cleopas and his companion sat and talked and shared with Jesus, they took their time to share their meal.

In that time, in that sharing and talking, in the blessing and breaking of bread their eyes were opened to God’s greatest reversal of the resurrection.

Dana: today we ordain you as a Teaching Elder. That’s a nifty, new title to have.

And while today you will walk away with a new title, what you will walk away with as we ordain you is a life rooted in lingering.

As chaplain here at Ingelside, you have been called by God to linger in the ways of Jesus.

As you accompany this community in life, death, and all types of transitions, you are called to sit at table and linger with these companions, these breakers of the bread of Jesus.

As you welcome new people to Ingelside, you are called to linger in that welcome. As Ingelside staff stop you in the hallway for brief conversation that turns into deep sharing, you are called to linger in the hallway.

As you sit at bedside with the dying, you are called to linger in the dying process.

At brunch here on Sundays at Ingelside, at dinner with residents on Thursdays, at any meal you share here at Ingelside, you, as their chaplain, Dana, as a Teaching Elder, you are called to sit, talk, dream, embody God’s great reversal while at table together.

One of my dear mentor  has always said, “justice is important, but supper is essential.” Our Emmaus story gives us this vision. Jesus had just been crucified by an angry mob and the Roman government.

He could have sought retaliation. Jesus could have been walking to instigate a revolt, a violent protest to the Roman Ways of violence and persecution. He could have been walking to seek revenge on his own death.

Instead. Jesus sat down with two strangers to share supper.

While the structural changes necessary to subvert the Roman Empire ways of death weren’t immediately available, Jesus shared a meal and table companionship.

The Roman Empire had the power to legislate laws but they couldn’t legislate radical love rooted in the table of Jesus Christ.

There at table with strangers, Jesus shows us supper, a meal with others that lingers, is the source of love.

We find the holy in what is ordinary, when we share what is ordinary in love—that’s the companionship that Jesus offers us, offers you, Dana, as a child of the font and table, as one who embraces your own belovedness, and one who see the beloved in others.

Your call, your ordination, Dana, calls us to experience the sacraments in expressions beyond the enclosure of a traditional worship service.

In doing that work, in the simple act of pulling out a chair, sitting down at table,

looking someone in the eye and asking, “how are you”, you are proclaiming and establishing Beloved Community here at Ingelside.

We give thanks, Dana, to the churches in your life that have offered you this table fellowship, that have shown you God’s Holy Way.

For Gethsemane Lutheran, for the Campus Christian Fellowship during your college years, Calvary Presbyterian here in Alexandria, for Saint Mark Episcopal during your Young Adult Volunteer Year in Guatemala, for Church of the Pilgrims.

And thanks be to God these congregations have imaged their work on a lingering kind of God, a God that is relational and incarnational—a God that dwells in the deep places of us, our bodies, our neighborhoods, congregations and the web of life itself.

Our God is one whose very nature is to be alongside those who suffer, in the transformation of life and death; a God who swirls inside of life and brings forth wholeness, great reversals and forms companions to break bread with one another.

Dana: in your ordained life and ministry, we pray that the Church continues to call you to walk in the ways of accompaniment, of companionship.

Just as Cleopas and his companion walked in a time of deep grief and loss, we pray the Church calls you to be that companion—that one who, with others, can tell the story of ancient Israel, one who proclaims the death and resurrection of Jesus, one who can tell the story of the women at the cross and tomb, one who can share of the vision of angels who said Jesus was alive.

This is where I hope the spirit and story of Emmaus Road really takes hold of you, Dana. Our sacramental life in the reformed tradition, through the stories of faith, is at the font and the table.

It’s where all of us, and particularly you now, live out our tradition of resistance.

Dana, you know that we don’t have vending machine sacraments---we are called to spend time at the font and at the table.

We are called to linger and spend time with each other.  It is at the waters of baptism and at the table of bread and cup in our liturgy that as kings and empires fling and build themselves around us, we declare who we are and whose we are.

We give witness at the font and table that it is from our brokenness that we do the work of the women of the tomb, we do the work of the angels, we walk in the ways of Cleopas and strangers, we do the work of following Jesus to the table.  

And when we get off course, because that’s what we do as humans, when, at times, we can’t recognize who is right next to us, when we get off course, God re-directs us, resurrects us back at the font and the table.

With the stories of faith, the water of the font, the bread and the cup, you are part of God’s invitation to come back; be a new beginning as we learn over and over how to live and love again.

And while yes the water and meal are symbolic, the sacraments are as real as it gets. Our sacraments are radical acts of hospitality; they are the continued, story of a God inviting us to create beauty and love in community

In your ordination, you receive this sacramental work of our Reformed Tradition. This is a gift and the sacraments are powerful instruments and experiences for teaching and formation, for creating liturgy that is deeply committed to shaping and organizing prophetic, communal life.

Your ordination, Dana, is also an act of accountability because we’ve seen throughout our tradition how the sacraments become a weapon in the hands of people more concerned with preserving power, authority, and privilege.

You are called to share how Jesus has been made known to you and Ingelside in the breaking of the bread.

Each time you come to the table, you do as Jesus did on the Emmaus Road: you take bread, you bless it, you break the bread and you share with everyone.

It is our hope that at whatever table you break and bless bread, your eyes will be opened, again and again, and you will recognize that Christ is always at your table.

In this life as a Teaching Elder, a minister of Word and Sacrament, Dana, release the waters of new life. Release the bead and the cup. Linger. Stay there. Be life. Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God, Dana.

Trust that God is calling you to invite people to see how their life can become a sacrament—that’s when we share life, resist the ways of hurt and destruction.

At the table and the font, we see means of hope, and heal from fear.

From one ordained soul to another, welcome, Dana, to this new era of your life, your practice, your ministry, your life of lingering.  

 

The Landscape of Liturgy: The Work of the People During Death and Dying

This article was published by Duke Faith and Leadership on February 6th, 2018. I've added additional photographs for this blog post. 

Beset by grief at the imminent death of a beloved former pastor, a minister and her congregation let liturgy lead them amid death and dying.

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 6, 2018

“Can you call me? I have some difficult news to share.”

It was a voicemail last March from my friend and former colleague Jeff Krehbiel. For 16 years, we had worked together at Church of the Pilgrims (PCUSA) in Washington, D.C. Only a few weeks earlier, he had left for a beautiful new job in Chicago.

When I called Jeff back, his words punched me in the gut:

“I’ve been diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer. It’s spread to my liver.”

My head felt hot.

We talked for a few minutes about his tender spirit and how that would help him in the days to come. I adamantly assured Jeff that Pilgrims, though far away, would be with him as he faced his life-threatening illness.

But the truth was, once I hung up, I had no idea what to say or do. How exactly would Pilgrims be with Jeff in his dying? How would I lead? More urgently, what would I possibly say to the people who had known and loved him for so many years?

For 16 years, Jeff and I created liturgy together with the feisty folks at Pilgrims. In our liturgical work, we learned to tell biblical stories by heart. We created beautiful,boundary-pushing liturgies, rooted in biblical texts and our Reformed tradition.

Over the coming weeks, as all of us at Pilgrims wrestled with our grief, I let liturgy lead me and ultimately the congregation through truth telling amid death and dying.

Let me share with you how this worked and what we created liturgically in D.C. as Jeff was dying 700 miles away in Chicago.

MARCH 26, 2017, FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT, FIRST SUNDAY AFTER JEFF’S DIAGNOSIS

The lectionary gave us the story from the Gospel of John about the man who had been born blind.(link is external) I preached that Jesus affirmed the man’s belovedness with mud, water and a holy welcome. The crowd and the man’s parents, on the other hand, kept their distance.

Jeff, in a sacred act of hospitality, had welcomed us into his dying, I told the congregation. We would let Jeff’s transition to death mark us so we could birth God’s holy love at a time of dying.

That Sunday, we used our Lenten prayer stations as a way to respond to people living in their own uncertain and tender places -- refugees, those working to care for the planet and others.

As part of our communion prayers, we blessed a fleece blanket for Jeff, stretching it out and holding it within our prayer circles as people tearfully prayed for him. Ten-year-old Jamie Ernesto prayed for Jeff’s happiness, and when our prayers shifted to the suffering in the world, he prayed for the people suffering in Syria.

Blessing of Jeff's blanket. 

Blessing of Jeff's blanket. 

 

APRIL 9, 2017, PALM SUNDAY

As we have done for several years, Pilgrims started off our Palm Sunday liturgy with a New Orleans-style jazz funeral procession around our block, with members carrying eco-palms, decorated umbrellas, drums and cardboard signs proclaiming justice.

We had already sent Jeff’s purple blanket to Chicago, where he received it gratefully. Now we had three more blankets: one for Cheryl, Jeff’s spouse, and for each of his two daughters, Andrea and Kelsey. They, too, needed to be wrapped in Pilgrims’ love.

The three blankets became our cloaks as we carried them with us in our procession. During our communion liturgy, we placed the blankets at the foot of our 8-foot wooden cross, its base now covered with palms.

Pilgrim Diana Bruce carries one of our "cloaks" during our Palm Sunday procession. 

Pilgrim Diana Bruce carries one of our "cloaks" during our Palm Sunday procession. 

 

WEEK OF APRIL 17-21, CHICAGO

The week after Easter, I flew to Chicago to spend time with Jeff and his family.

On my third and final day with Jeff, the two of us went up to the 40th floor of his apartment building overlooking Lake Michigan and planned our final liturgy together -- his memorial service.

I took notes on my phone as we talked: “Let’s sing ‘Marching in the Light of God.’ Yes, let’s have communion and the story of the feeding of the 5,000.”

Later that morning, as we sat in the living room with Cheryl and Jeff’s sister, Sue, I realized that the time to say goodbye was fast approaching. Again, I fell back on liturgy.

First, we washed each other’s hands and shared communion. Then, I asked Jeff to tell the footwashing story. Despite his weakened condition, he sat up straight in his chair and told it by heart. In that moment, I recognized Jeff’s embodied gift to Pilgrims: storytelling.

We shared the bread, a baguette from lunch, and the cup, a Naked-brand berry drink that Jeff was having to boost his energy.

I took my Chicago story back to Pilgrims, and the following Sunday, April 23, I shared what I had experienced and witnessed.

APRIL 26, 2017, HEALING SERVICE

A few days later, on Wednesday, we had a healing service at Pilgrims.

We told the footwashing story and washed each other’s hands. We shared communion. We set up prayer stations throughout the sanctuary where people could sing, process and be together.

The next day, April 27, Jeff died.

MAY 6, 2017, CELEBRATION OF LIFE AND RESURRECTION

Nine days later, Jeff’s family and friends gathered for a service of life and resurrection. Because Pilgrims could not accommodate the anticipated crowd of more than 500, the service was held two miles away in the much larger sanctuary of D.C.’s New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. There, we sang “Marching in the Light of God,” shared communion and listened to Kelsey recount the feeding of the 5,000, carrying on her dad’s gift of storytelling.

MAY 7, 11 A.M. WORSHIP

The next day at Pilgrims, we honored Jeff’s life by weaving his spirit through our Sunday worship. We had flowers in the sanctuary from More Light Presbyterians, an organization working for the full participation of LGBTQ people within the PCUSA. We chanted Psalm 23,(link is external) heard Acts 2:42-47(link is external) and its description of the radical acts of sharing in the early church and sang “Here Comes the Sun” with a new appreciation.

We laid hands on Jeff’s siblings and his mom after they announced that they would be giving a handmade communion set to Pilgrims in his memory.

We shared communion together, all of us clumped around the table. At one point, a basket of bread got separated from the cup that was supposed to be accompanying it.

As Cheryl stood in the circle with a piece of bread and no cup in which to dip it, she looked right at me and smiled.

“Maybe we should get some of that Naked berry drink,” she said.

After communion, with drumming and our Pilgrims kids leading the way, we processed out to Pilgrims’ urban garden. Gathered together, we heard words from Cheryl, sang “What Does the Lord Require of Us” and watched Andrea “water” our garden with her dad’s ashes.

Coffee hour that day was in the garden. In honor of Jeff, we also offered wine and scotch, including the “peaty single malt” he favored so much it was mentioned in his obituary.(link is external)

Long before Jeff died, Pilgrims had become rooted in the “work of the people,” thanks in large part to his efforts. As we had learned over the years after other deaths -- and again after Jeff's -- liturgy had prepared us to trust that nothing in life and death can separate us from the buoyancy of God’s love.

 

The Landscape of Liturgy: Liturgy and Saying Goodbye

The Landscape of Liturgy: Liturgy and Saying Goodbye

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.

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We Need More Cowbell! And Communion and Baptism, Part 2.

 

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. 

Background:

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.

These are the communion trays we use for communion on the streets during Capital Pride. We used the trays for our Stewardship Sunday.

These are the communion trays we use for communion on the streets during Capital Pride. We used the trays for our Stewardship Sunday.

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.

Communion Without A Center

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.

Confirmation and an At-Table Service

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.

The questions:

  • 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.

Communion on the Streets for Pride

Capital Pride takes shape outside Pilgrims.  That's our intern, Kristin, in the front of this pix. Check out the bubbles in front of her...coming out of our bubble machine.
Capital Pride takes shape outside Pilgrims. That's our intern, Kristin, in the front of this pix. Check out the bubbles in front of her...coming out of our bubble machine.

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.

We shared.

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.

Lenten Liturgy Beyond Church Walls

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.

Pilgrims Lenten Cross--like a reverse Advent candle wreath.
Pilgrims Lenten Cross--like a reverse Advent candle wreath.

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.
  • 11:45!
  • 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.

Blessing of the Plants in Worship

plant communion
plant communion

Four years ago, Church of the Pilgrims started an urban garden with one raised bed. Now we have four raised beds, a root veggie garden, herb garden, large perennial bed, four beehives, and several composts. The produce grown from the garden goes to creating meals for Open Table, our Sunday lunch for hungry neighbors.

We've done a lot of work in these past four years in incorporating the garden into life at Pilgrims, particularly our liturgical life.

Several weeks ago, we had our spring planting day after worship. Before we plunked everything into the soil, we blessed and honored the plants in worship. How to bless the plants came out of a brainstorming session with Jess Fisher and Dana Olson, our two interns.

I preached on the Emmaus Road, focusing on "recognition" and how breaking of bread (the non-human) and community (human) push us to recognize the Holy One. I'd give this sermon a B, mostly because I was focused on communion that followed.

As part of the invitation to the table, I had people share their hopes and dreams for what they want to recognize in this Eastertide season. I stood next to the font which was in front of our table---everything surrounded by the plants we would soon plant.

Plants growing out of font and table.
Plants growing out of font and table.

We had a lime tree, olive tree, creeping thyme, tomatoes, eggplants, sunflowers, basil, cabbage, peppers, and native plants. These plants were grown by non-Monsanto seeds by Pilgrims or purchased at a farmers market from a local farm.

During Pilgrims baptismal liturgy, we share hopes and dreams for the person being baptized. Someone shares a hope and dream, then they take the pitcher and pour water into the font.

We did something similar with our "recognitions."

I had planned to have people call out what they hope to recognize/pay attention to within themselves, Pilgrims and the planet in their pews with me pouring into the font.  Jeanne Mayer, a long time member at Pilgrims, was the first one to share. She came up, grabbed the pitcher out of my hand, shared in front of  everyone. This is the pattern in our baptism. Not sure what I was thinking...me holding the pitcher for everyone. Thankfully Jeanne pushed me out of the way.

Our intern, Jess Fisher, arranges the scene.
Our intern, Jess Fisher, arranges the scene.

One-by-one 10+ people shared. The recognitions focused on growth, perspective, expansiveness, and community.

People were then invited to come forward to our open table, singing "Come to the table of Grace", and take a little communion cup, dip it into the font with the water full of hopes, and water the plants.

As we gathered around the table, we prayed, shared our hopes and dreams for the plants, and continued with an improv Prayer of Great Thanksgiving.

After worship, 15 of us went to our garden and planted our hopes and dreams.

The Sacramental Nature of Springsteen and the ESB

Eucharist and Springsteen The video below is  of Springsteen and the E Street Band performing their song "High Hopes" on the Jimmy Fallon show several months ago. I love this performance. Who else would bring 17 band members, cram them on to a stage, and have a wrap around balcony for an audience?

What I'm most taken by in this performance is the movement of the bodies of Springsteen and the E Street Band. They engulf their instruments with their bodies. It's memorizing to watch Tom Morello, Nils Lofgren, Patti Scialfa, Soozie Tyrell, and Everett Bradley (my fav!) organically move their bodies to the words, energy, and rhythm of "High Hopes." Each has their own unique movement on stage yet they all fit together as a band/community in their uniqueness.

They have "presence." This is a word used in theater, referring to "stage presence." Stage presence refers to the impact the performer has on the audience. Presence heightens the spectators' own awareness of their own presence in that particular moment, time, and place. Presence of a performer can create a liminal space. Liminal is a fancy word used in ritual studies. Wikipedia has a good definition:

....when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete. During a ritual's liminal stage, participants "stand at the threshold" between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which the ritual establishes..... 

The ESB's presence is a communal one---their liminal impact  through sound and body movement doesn't occur in isolation; they create presence and liminality together.

Presence and liminality are important to me in the Eucharist.  For me, Presence isn't located in the elements of communion rather in the act and participation of communion.  Communion is a gathered, communal meal, rather than a ritual that focuses on the objects of bread and the cup. It's a lumped up sum of people seeking to end up on the other side of the communion experience existing in a new way however profound and subtle.

In the video I'm taken from beginning of the song, to middle/threshold/liminality, to the end because of the presence of the band--their movements, sense of connection, deep sense of community on stage, and passion for music that critiques the dominant social order. My favorite movement/presence moment starts at 4:52 when they hit the refrain and their bodies create a magnificent presence on stage--fluid, connected, communal, liminal.

The Baptism of Springsteen
The Baptism of Springsteen

My spouse, Bob, and I went to the Springsteen concert in Columbus during Holy Week.

In this picture. Tom Morello takes a gi-normous sponge, full of water, and drips it over the head on Springsteen who, at this point, is down on his knees. Morello was making a dramatic moment out of cooling off his front man. I see baptism. You can see Springsteen in the JumboTron with Morello leaning over him. Look to the right hand side of the picture for the real thing.

What an image to have in the middle of a 3+ hour concert that prophetically blasts songs about social responsibility, taking care of each other, economic justice, and offers up a social critique of capitalism. It's what Christian baptism claims--that in community we take responsibility for our place on the planet. Baptism creates a liminal experience of taking us from one existence pre-baptism to a threshold, liminal moment of transition, and into to a new existence within community with the Presence at-hand. Thanks, Springsteen, for doing the same.

Analysis of Pilgrims Lent, part 3 of 3.

Background on Pilgrims Lent can be found here and here. This is continued analysis of Pilgrims Lenten worship. Here I focus on our weekly Eucharist experience.

Laban Movement Analysis:  (LMA). One of our members, Andy Wassenich, tuned me into LMA and I used it to give thought and theory to our communion experience each week. Before we came to the communion table, we had a walking meditation. People walked mindfully around the sanctuary with three reflection questions that were shared during the walk. We walked because Jesus' primary mode of movement throughout the Lenten stories was walking. He walked himself from the wilderness to Jerusalem. We did the same.

LMA is a theoretical and experiential system for the observation, description, prescription, performance, and interpretation of human movement.

"At the heart of LMA is a recognition that movement is a psycho-physical process, an outward expression of inner intent" (Ed Groff). LMA has four major themes: body, effort, shape, space. It works to bridge polarities in movement: bound/unbound, group/individual, simple/complex, exertion/recuperation, mobility/stability. I'm a LMA expert nobody and what I took away from it, and how it relates to communion, is how we can build awareness with our bodies and how we are present in our bodies in a space.

What shape does our body take in the sanctuary while walking? Growing. Shrinking. Hallowing. Are we controlled and contained? Fragile? Vulnerable? Relaxed and at ease? Tense?

Our body takes shape in space.

There is also the inner space of breathing. That's an inner shaping. Our bodies expand and contract while breathing.

One writer of LMA says:

People who develop their power to perceive critically the way they exist in the world with which and in which they find themselves; they come to see the world not as a static reality but as a reality in the process of transformation.

How we experience our bodies impacts how we perceive ourselves and our sacred power. The external shape (and internal breathing) can be a mirror to our inner happenings--do we feel powerful and proud, ready to create transformation? Or do I feel like shit about myself and I walk around with my body posture and movement reflecting that shitty reality?

Movement has meaning. We walked, like Jesus, to embody our reality---that we are not static but in the process of transformation. Always.

Communion: Continued vision for Pilgrims communion---dismantle the "normativity of the proper." ( I got this phrase from my friend, Claudio Carvalhaes). That means this: the Church has wedged it's tighty-whities up so tight with communion that it's created a sacrament based on anxiety-ridden ordering of space, patriarchal/colonizing doctrines, and clergy-ego-power driven liturgical practices.

Time to blow that shit up.

Coming back to the use of improv---we improved communion. We were gathered around the rickety table, standing in mountain pose and symbolizing our readiness to share. We offered up a time of prayers---people calling out the vulnerability of broken bodies and the broken planet. Then Jeff or a church member started to chant the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving. Basically what elements of creation, prophets, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit do we need to give thanks for? People called them out. We sang a lovely Sanctus. People didn't have bulletins so heads were looking ahead, not down. We improved the words of institution--people called out the story after a prompt by whoever was at the table. One Sunday neither Jeff or I was at the table.

We moved the sacrament into the margins of society and unexpected places. Clean water. ACA workers.  A dying cousin. My nephew with leukemia.The sacrament was taken to those unexpected places and peoples through the improv.

Here the intrinsic relationship between the planet and the sacrament could be felt--and it wasn't constructed by me or Jeff. People were moved by nudge of the Holy. The dualism of planet and sacrament was broken down.

The experience of communion moved away from the right and proper words and gestures (and people/power) to "authenticate" communion and into the realm of the Holy Spirit.

Each week we were at a beautiful, crappy looking table surrounded by people trying to connect with each other, their hopes and dreams, trauma and heartache with each other. We gathered as a body seeking Gospel stories of Jesus to shape and move us, nudging/pushing/challenging us to notice God. We weren't bound to the imperialism of the Church that claims "if you don't do communion this way it won't be right." We weren't bound to time and space and things. Through words, prayers, song, movement, bread, anointing, and our bodies we found the sacrament waiting for us, letting us in, and cracking us open for what is to come.

Analysis of Pilgrims Lent 2014, part 3 of 3

My last two posts (here and here) focused on the liturgical structure for Lent at Pilgrims. This post focuses on analyzing our liturgy through theory and method. I'm not going to evaluate what worked, what didn't work. These next two posts  is about looking at Pilgrims Lenten liturgy through a conceptual lens (note: I try to keep my posts to 500 words, hence two posts for analysis). Here goes:

Improv: Improvisation is the artistic method that creates a state of saying "yes....and." Improv involves intuition, and spontaneity.  It has structure to create safety in order to take risks. It involves making things from what is at hand, making something out of nothing. Improv is comedy. It's jazz. It's hip hop. It's cooking. It's theater. It's parenting. It's MacGyver and the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew (go, 70's!) fighting the bad guys.

It isn't just one thing--it's many things. Though, I guess, it really isn't a thing. It's a process. It's a way of making and creating.

We had lots of improv in our liturgy during Lent. We used an improv game to create a primary experience of improv. After the storyteller told the Gospel by heart, we did a Biblical tableau. People were invited to call out a particular moment in the story (structure: particular moment in the story) and come up in front of the sanctuary and strike a pose (improv) that reflects that moment. Then others came up and shaped out with their bodies their own interpretation of that biblical moment. One rule (structure)--had to be touching each other via hand, foot, shoulder. Bodies had to touch.

The Biblical story came to life in front of us through risk-taking, vulnerability, and saying "yes" to the invitation to build. Those are in and of themselves Biblical values. Improv creates space for the Holy Spirit to be seen, touched, and experienced.

Deconstructing Power: Power and liturgy go hand-in-hand. Liturgy can affirm hierarchical, dominating, and life-sucking, can't-afford-food-for-my-kids power. Liturgy demands relational power--the kind that creates space for people to connect and feel their own capacity to create Holy change. Deconstructing power means dismantling constructed sources of power.

Like improv, deconstructing power came in lots of ways in our liturgy. One way was moving the furniture out of the way.

Our "created just for this Lent" communion table.
Our "created just for this Lent" communion table.

Read this post for background.  Goodbye pulpit. Hello small, rickety communion table. Hello trying to figure out where to place your body in the space. Liturgical furniture is one way of creating a border--a marking point between preacher and people, liturgist and folk, communion and all who share.

Jeff preached note-less sermons. He moved mindfully around while preaching. I was sick the Sunday I preached. I sat in a chair as close as possible to the front pews. Liturgists stood without the pulpit and had to decide where to stand and place themselves. Gospel storytellers had room to move. We started the call to worship from the back of the sanctuary, at the font, and moved up the aisle to our crosses.

A pulpit gives a visual anchor it also grounds energy, spirit, and power in one place.  Our bodies are in one shape behind the pulpit--standing. The power source is located in one spot. During Lent, our bodies were all over the sanctuary, creating and symbolizing power in it's most shared, relational existence. The is the power of the Gospel stories during Lent.

Lent 2014 at Pilgrims, Part 2 of 3.

Our "created just for this Lent" communion table.
Our "created just for this Lent" communion table.

Lent 2014 at Pilgrims, Part 2! Read about Part 1 here. During our worship planning session for Lent, Mary Ester, one of our members, said we should move the furniture (communion table, pulpit) out of the sanctuary and have the preacher, storyteller, and announcement person be in the open, arid space. Mary said she can hide our bodies behind furniture. Let's break down the barriers between bodies and people.

So we did. We have a newly constructed, small, wooden communion table that looks like it might fall over at any minute. The preachers, storytellers, and liturgist are just in the middle of our liturgical space.....with our bodies.

I've noticed, within me, this keeps the energy moving. Up until this moment in the service there has been lots of movement in body, energy, and voice. Even though Jeff maybe be moving around just a bit while he's preaching, it's enough to keep up the flow that's already present. The thought of a preacher getting behind the pulpit at this point in the service feels like an energy killer.

This means sermons with notes!

More vulnerability. More risk. More of the preacher being "seen" by those around.

After another hymn, announcements, choir singing we move on to communion....

Before we come to the table, we do a walking meditation. As Jesus moved himself towards Jerusalem, his primary mode of being was walking. So....we take on that body movement and posture in a walking meditation before we come to the table.

We ring a meditation bell, Rob (our music director) starts a very simple droning on the piano, and people walk mindfully around the sanctuary. One of the leaders offers up three meditation questions, one at at time, that are based on the theme of the Sunday + Biblical character.

Examples: When the blind man was healed, I wonder what that healing felt like in his body? I wonder what healing feels like in our own bodies?

Mountain Pose
Mountain Pose

After about 5 minutes of walking with questions, we come to the table singing "Come Bring Your Burdens to God" and stand near the table in mountain pose under the three crosses. The question becomes: where will you stand? Close to the table? Out on the margins of the mashed up community? The invitation is a "all is welcome, no exceptions" and claim your own place at the table. Where will you stand? Close to the table? Close to others? On the  margins of the mashed up group?  What pushes your comfort zone without putting your body in major discomfort.

This is yoga---finding your edge. Taking your body to the edge is place between new sensations and pain. You seek new sensations. Avoid pain. This is how change takes place in the body.

We offer time for prayers---for broken and whole bodies, for the broken and whole planet.

Our communion liturgy is improvised. Jeff and a couple of others have chanted some initial words that move us through the Prayer of Great Thanksgiving and people call out the content. Example: Let us give thanks for the planet which God created (chanted). What of creation do we need to give thanks for? (spoken) People call out the thanks.

We work our way through the primary elements of the Prayer. We improvise the Words of Institution. Example: Leader shares "On the night before Jesus was betrayed, what happened?" People fill in the rest of the story. It's a multitude of voices at once. 

We share the bread. Share the cup. Offer anointing of hands with the words, "Jess, your body is sacred."

Our closing hymn each week in worship.
Our closing hymn each week in worship.

We sing "Sacred the Body" hymn #27 out of the Glory of God as the closing hymn each week. Note: This hymn was created by Ruth Duck for a worship service I was part of while at Union Seminary in NYC. #amazing

In the next blog post on liturgy, I'll give my reflections on the liturgy as a whole and the "back story" ritual and  movement theories that are present.

Breakfast at Pilgrims Beach

During Epiphany, sermons during worship at Pilgrims focused on sharing epiphany stories; giving witness to moments in our lives that were revelations and "a-ha's" when it comes to living in God's Way.  Our stories revealed risks taken, security upended, and the discovery of community to sustain and embrace us.  Each preacher rooted their story in a particular Biblical narrative. I used the story of Jesus sharing breakfast on the beach in the Gospel of John.

I used this text to talk about my experience taking communion during my Jesuit Volunteer Corp year in Atlanta, GA at the Open Door Community. This is what I said about taking communion once a week at this intentional, Christian community:

[blockquote indent="yes" ]In the receiving of communion, Open Door would take to the streets in worship, at the county jail, day labor sites, under bridges---pushing to embrace the streets as holy places. In the sharing of food and human connection in these places, and by laying claim to the presence of God in these places, the community sought to disrupt business as usual. It was solidarity in action—letting liturgy enable us to see the city in a different angle and with different eyes and to start to feel it in your bones the realities of poverty and the streets.[/blockquote]

In order to "feel communion in our bones" I took an idea out of the liturgical playbook of a clergy companion, John Allen (former intern at Pilgrims many moons ago) by sharing the communion meal around a faux campfire.

This is what I came up with:

When it was time for communion, we mindfully made our way to the entrance of the sanctuary and sat on the floor.

We gathered around the fire pit, we picked up the pause I set in the sermon to share in epiphanies that had come up so far in the service. We did this each week during Epiphany right after the sermon.

People shared beautiful testimonies. Really beautiful.

Then we "improved" the prayer of great thanksgiving. I offered up prompts like: "what part of creation do we need to give thanks for" and "what prophets and prophetic communities of now and long ago do we need to remember."

We did the words of institution together--creating the story of the last supper together.

When I got to the point of offering up the fish, I said, "what do we need to say about the fish?" Jamie Ernesto, age 7,shouted out "THIS IS THE FISH!" Yes. It is the fish. Stop the theological blah, blah, blah. It's fish. People LOL'd.

People talked to each other while they shared the bread and the cup---like a real meal.

The passing was a little chaotic, "can someone pass the cup?!" was shouted out a couple of times.

The fire. The sharing of epiphanies. Jamie Ernesto. Laughing. Talking.

This was one of my most memorable communion experiences ever. Parts of this communion could be replicated again. Yet we can't replicate the human beauty of this experience of the palpable authentic holy presence of Pilgrims.

Communal/Communion/Presence/Indeed.

Here is a clip of communion at Pilgrims beach.