Death and Resurrection of Coffee Hour

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.
Praying around table, community, liturgical art during Epiphany at Pilgrims.
Praying around table, community, liturgical art during Epiphany at Pilgrims.
  • Discernment through liturgy: We dedicated the season of Epiphany to this grant and our young adults. They planned worship with our planning process. They preached. They told personal stories of being beloved. They told Biblical stories by heart. They made liturgical art. We reflected together for 15 minutes after each worship service on what we observed and noticed in the service. Our young adults cracked open the sacred space with their truth-telling, prophetic imagination, and vulnerability. It was fucking amazing. So friggin' proud.
  • Discernment through a beach retreat: We went to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware and had this swanky-ass house (picture remote controlled fire places) and told Biblical stories, told our own stories. Did yoga, more voice building. We shared tears, beers, and Hungarian moonshine. Rehoboth in Hebrew means wide open streets, spaces; a place of enlargement or flourishing. It was the perfect place for us. A question throughout the retreat was "what do you need to die to in order to resurrect a more authentic self and story?" {insert tears and beers here}.
  • 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.

    Rehoboth indeed.

    Decolonizing and Disrupting Liturgical Space

    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.

    A Liturgical Die-In

    Structure of the Liturgical Die-In. This is what we worked off of in our collaborative planning.
    Structure of the Liturgical Die-In. This is what we worked off of in our collaborative planning.

    The Forum for Theological Exploration  (FTE)  had their annual Christian Leadership Forum in Dallas, TX  at the American Airlines Training Center during the first week of June. I coordinated the worship along with leading an idea lab on liturgy on the streets.

    The conference started Wednesday afternoon and went until Saturday morning. Each day we had two, 30 minute worship services--one in the morning, one in the evening. The worship services connected to the theme of each day and to the overarching theme of "Active Faith Matters." The CLF also grounded itself in the 60th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act and the murders of Freddie Grey, Michael Brown, and Trayvon Martin. What does an active Christian faith mean in the face of supremacy and domination?

    I came to Dallas with structure for each liturgy, hoping the energy, world view, and passion of participants would be infused into the structure. For our Friday evening liturgy, I created a structure for a liturgical die-in. What follows is the liturgical framework, sermon, prayers and reflections from the leaders of this liturgy and  its participants.

    This is what was created in a mere 30 minutes.

    We gathered in our conference room standing as a mass. No chairs. We were standing up while singing "I'm on My Way to Freedom Land."

    (play the song while you read the rest of this blog)

    Emily weaving her way through the crowd telling the Gospel story.
    Emily weaving her way through the crowd telling the Gospel story.

    Emily Wilkes, intern at Church of the Pilgrims,  shared the Mark story of a group of friends busting through a roof of a house to get their paralyzed friend, who was on a mat, as close to Jesus as possible. Emily had memorized the story and she told it by heart.

    Emily's Reflection from the experience:

    Standing among a crowd of nearly two hundred people, I began to tell the story of a paralyzed man whose friends tore off the roof of a building. I wove in, out, and through the crowd; their physical closeness and excitement gave me permission to channel their energy in my storytelling. It was an ecumenically diverse space, where many shouted affirmations as they felt moved. This evident participation drew me even more deeply into the story, and I was transformed through its telling. Within myself, I could imagine I the confusion, tension, anxiety, and joy the crowd surrounding Jesus must have experienced. The two hundred of us inhabited and embodied the story together. After we’d entered into the story as a community, we were then ready to enter into the sermon.

    After Emily's storytelling, we sang a Gospel Canticle, "Blessed be the Lord, for he has come to his people and set them free" from the bilingual hymnal, We Pray in Song. We sang this several times with contemplative energy.

    Kimberly White

    gave the sermon, also weaving through the FTE crowd.

    Here is

    Kimberly's sermon


    Hands up! Don’t shoot! These words and the gesture have become a rally cry of the #BlackLivesMatter movement that has swept our nation. In the aftermath of the death of Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO, many people set out to demonstrate against a system that was oppressive. And here, we find the paralytic man in his own oppressive state. He is confined to a mat, unable to move.

    While we don’t know what lead to this man’s paralysis, we do know that he is a representation of something. This paralytic man is a representation of what oppression can do to a person, and even a community. He represents hopelessness – he has been in this state of paralysis with what seems like no hope of healing. He represents this notion/thought/idea that this paralysis is permanent. He represents helplessness– because of his paralysis; he can’t even get to the one who could offer hope. And on top of that even if he could move himself, he can’t get past the crowd – the crowd that should have been crowd surfing him to Jesus in the first place.

    But thank God for the four men. It is the four men that stand in solidarity with him. It is worth noting that all the texts that narrate this story call it “their faith,” which Jesus says. That the paralytic had faith himself, we know from the proclamation of his forgiveness, which Jesus made before all that were gathered. What we are taught in this moment is that not only did the man have faith, but the bearers had the same faith with him. While the paralytic couldn’t change his condition on his own, they recognized that there was one who could help him. All they had to do was get him to Jesus – the source of his healing. Spiritual healing – his sins were forgiven. Physical healing – he was able to pick up his mat and walk.

    And here, we find ourselves – our America – paralyzed by oppression. The oppression of addiction, homelessness, hunger, depression, poverty, war, gender inequality, racial injustice and a myriad of other things. Think again of Ferguson, of Cincinnati, of South Carolina, of Baltimore. Think of the protests that were taking place. Think of the die-ins. Those who lay in the same position as the paralytic man. Die-ins represents this same image as the paralytic – helplessness and hopelessness. Those who participated in these protests did so as a sign of solidarity to fight against all that was and is taking place in the city and the broader community. Like the four who carried the paralytic man, each of those who have made gestures likened Christ to have done so for one purpose and one goal – to get to the truth. These four bearers carried the man to the truth. And today, I invite you to pray in the posture of this paralytic man and those who have laid in solidarity. That our prayers would be like the four men, carrying us to truth. That our prayers would speak love. Speak community. Speak life. And tell the story of our faith, as a community, that will lead us to healing.

    Here is Kimberly's personal reflection after the die-in:

    It’s happening in Florida. It’s happening in Ferguson. It’s happening in New York. It’s happening in Ohio. It’s happening in South Carolina. It’s happening in Baltimore. It’s happening all around us – hundreds of people are laying motionless on the ground in a position of death staging die-ins as a form a protest to the atrocities that are facing our communities. While this act of protest has, as of recent, come on the heels of a death in the Black community, this day, it happened as a form of worship. For days we gathered in Black Hawk Ballroom to talk about #ActiveFaith, and in this space we had the opportunity to put those discussions into deed. The act of a die-in has become a sort of rally cry for the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and we were able to see the correlation between these die-ins and the one that the paralytic man faced everyday due to his own oppression. As the scripture was recited, the crowd began to fidget.

    As the sermonette went forth, the crowd verbally affirmed the words. And then, in that space, we were all asked to get in this posture of the paralytic man and those who have laid in solidarity. As the history was given, names of those Black and brown bodies that have been gunned down were read off, and prayer was offered up, the images of unmoving bodies strewn on the floor floated in my mind. I imagined every face. I felt every body. For a few moments, I opened my eyes and looked to my left and to my right. Feelings of grief, shock, fear, anger, hope, and a myriad of others things overwhelmed my body. We worshiped in this position. We prayed in this position. And in the end, just like the four men who carried the paralytic man to Jesus, we helped each other out of that position and back onto our feet. While we know that the oppressions of the world won’t be healed in one moment, in that hour of worship, we stood in solidarity with the ones who will fight until healing comes. We stood in solidarity with the dreams of our ancestors. We stood in solidarity with the dreams of our neighbors. We stood together after laying in a position of death. We stood, in order to tell the story of our faith, as a community, that will lead to healing.

    Marquisha leading the die-in prayer
    Marquisha leading the die-in prayer

    Marquisha Lawrence led the die-in prayer after Kimberly's sermon.

    Here is Marquisha's prayer:


    n Ferguson, we die in for 4.5 minutes representing the 4.5 hours that Michael Brown's body lay in the street. As you lay there, we ask that you reflect on the word that was given to you on Wednesday...reflect and pray about how you can be bring innovation, wisdom, connectivity, transformation, healing, dreaming, discovering, risk taking, questioning, truth telling, boldness, authenticity and new possibilities back to your ministry settings, in your own congregations, in your own cities, in your own states, in your own denominations, in your own academic settings.

    I invite everyone to die

    (4.5 minutes)

    (Ashley's note: When Marquisha said "now" 200 people dropped to the floor on their backs in an instant. We stayed on our backs throughout the entire prayer).

    God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, thou who has brought us thus far on the way. We lie here before you praying for our cities, praying for our congregations and praying for ourselves that we might have courage, that we might have wisdom that we might be bold enough not to cower when you have called us to stand tall...when you have called us to be innovative...when you have called us to speak truth to power...when you have called us to dream a bigger have called us to sing a new song...when things get tough and we can't find our way, help us to remember that our work is not in vain and neither were the lives of:

    Freddie Gray

    Kevin Allen

    Rumain Brisbon

    Tamir Rice

    Akai Gurley

    Kajieme Powell

    Ezell Ford

    Dante Parker

    Michael Brown

    John Crawford III

    Tyree Woodson

    Eric Garner

    Victor White

    Yvette Smith

    McKenzie Cochran

    Jordan Baker

    Andy Lopez

    Miriam Carey

    Johnathan Ferrell 

    Carlos Alcis

    Larry Jackson

    Deion Fludd

    Kimani Gray

    Marissa Williams

    Timothy Russell

    Reynaldo Cuevas

    Chavis Carter

    Shantel Davis

    Ervin Jefferson 

    Kendrec McDade

    Rekia Boyd

    Ramarley Gray

    Trayvon Martin

    Dying in Prayer
    Dying in Prayer

    I invite you to silently rise and support each other as we get up.

    We end this die in the way that we end every die in with the words from our dear sister Assata Shakur: repeat after me:

    It is our duty to fight for our freedom

    It is our duty to win.

    We must love and support each other.

    We have nothing to lose but our chains.


    Marquisha's Personal Reflection

    In preparing for the liturgical die-in, I was sure to add in the names of many of those who died in police involved deaths. The list is pages long, but I randomly selected 33 names. When the section of the prayer came to the 33 names, I told myself to: “slow down and articulate every single name. Do not go too quickly, for this may the last time that their names are called in honor.” As the names were read, the tension in the room swarmed with people crying, moaning, and tapping--all with their backs on the ground. It was hard to tell whether these reactions were from despair, discomfort or a myriad of other feelings, but for that moment, these 33 people were acknowledged as humans, worthy of honor.

    Once we were standing after Marquisha's prayer....

    The crowd had this posture during the Jesus is Coming song.
    The crowd had this posture during the Jesus is Coming song.

    We finished with a cathartic song, "Jesus is coming, this I know. Freedom is coming, this I know."  We sang this over and over and over again. And over again. Until finally someone tossed open the doors of the conference room,  the song coming to a close and  off we went to a reception and dance party that included a band with a horn section.

    Reflections from Two Participants from the Die-In Liturgy

    Hassan Xavier Henderson-Lott

    In the fall of 2014 I began to associate myself with the alliance #ShutItDownAtlanta. This organization served as an avenue through which many of differing identities expressed our frustrations concerning police brutality in America. Among the many who gathered in solidarity with the victims and the families of victims who had fallen, were individuals; African-American women and men whose lives though well-lived, are overshadowed by fear and the suspicion of whether or not their lives actually matter. Never before had I been provided an outlet to express my truth. Loudly we marched in hundreds chanting and singing! But there was never was a time to grieve in community. Internally, in the comfort of my own heart and mind I mourned the losses of my sisters and brothers murdered by police. Strength was the name of the game! “Don’t let them see how badly you hurt.” I would not cry. I would not give-in to emotionalism.

    However I did not then understand the importance of weeping. Loudly I marched through the streets of Atlanta, solaced by the display of “strength” as intense rambunctiousness. But in Dallas, I was vulnerable. I prayed through weeping. The die-in experience affirmed for me the strength in silence and the credibility in crying. As I lied on the ground I experienced a transfiguration of the room. The carpeted floor became concrete. The silence of the room was loud with the sirens of emergency vehicles. I was Michael Brown and Eric Gardener and Yvette Smith. I heard nothing, including my Mothers mourning the loss of their son. I returned to witness participants striking the floor with their hands. They were supposed to be completely still. They were in pain! I knew that the experience was all too real for many in the room. They beat against the wooden floor of a ship. I was on a ship, lying on my back; my mother still mourning the loss of her son! I witnessed the pathology of black suffering in America. I experienced a historical memory of my past. It became not only real but tangible to me. All within four and a half minutes I traveled back over four hundred years. I got up, on my feet. And I danced in the same confident hope of my ancestors. “Jesus is coming, Oh yes I know!”

    Andre Gilford, Jr. 

    Bodies lying

    Spirits standing

    All colors together

    In prayer.

    During the Forum of Theological Exploration’s Annual Christian Leadership Forum, I participated in a gathering of young adults committed to spiritual renewal and social justice. These individuals came to Dallas with a purpose, seeking a renewed sense of purpose and mission among those who share in that pursuit. During our corporate worship time, our various feelings and experiences came together in prayer, unexpectedly. We were white, black, South Pacific, Asian, Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, middle class, upper class, in seminary and discerning the call. We were all different, but together we came to a sacred space to worship. And in our worship, we provided space for the Black lives denigrated by the power of a racist and oppressive system called America by dying in. We prayed together in silence by lying on the floor and being still in the moment. Die-ins represent the four and a half hours that Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO laid in the street after being killed with his hands up by a local White police officer.

    By lying on the ground together with my peers and colleagues in ministry, I was overwhelmed. My spirit, still standing, connected with the spirits of the ancestors who cry out from the earth calling for this system of racism and oppression to be ridden. I felt connected to the spirit of Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Renisha McBride, Trayvon Martin, and many others who have been killed at the hand of racism. As I laid there, I listen to my sister Marquisha Lawrence speak the name of the known sisters and brothers who unwillingly gave up their lives for the freedom of those who continue to be the subject of violence and pain under the guise of racism. Never before had I felt immense feeling in prayer. There was something to our bodies lying and our spirits standing; all colors together in prayer. We needed that space to take a moment and use our bodies to resist all injustice against those most at risks. In that moment, we stood still and provided space for our spirits to connect with the spirits of all Black lives. Our bodies laid on the ground stood as a symbol that Black Lives (do) Matter.

    Professional Photographs by the Forum for Theological Exploration, Atlanta, Georgia.