Pilgrims Book of Life

This isn't our membership book. Our book is less worn but brown and leather and you get the idea.
This isn't our membership book. Our book is less worn but brown and leather and you get the idea.

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.

This is NOT Eli's bar mitvah! But this is Temple Rodef Shalom. You can see the home of the Torah behind this family.  This is the scroll that Eli read from that took me to the idea of how to create the experience of being connected to generations prior.
This is NOT Eli's bar mitvah! But this is Temple Rodef Shalom. You can see the home of the Torah behind this family. This is the scroll that Eli read from that took me to the idea of how to create the experience of being connected to generations prior.

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.

book of life
book of life

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 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.