The Landscape of Liturgy: The Prophet Amos, Fury and Haikus


Pilgrims is following the Narrative Lectionary right now and one of the texts in the fall was Amos 1:1-2, 5:14-15, 21-24. In my sermon, I focused on Amos' fury about the people disconnecting righteousness with their liturgy. Amos, speaking on behalf of God, hates the hypocrisy he sees with the people's liturgy and ritual actions. 

In our service, I invited people to write their own haikus based on what makes them furious when they look out into the world. 

Here's how I set it up: 

Excerpt from my sermon: 

Amos walked into Bethel and stood in the Tradition—and awakened people from their religious coma using God-talk, unmasking their use of worship and ritual.

Amos proclaimed “Remember not the former things nor consider the things of old. Behold I am doing a new thing.”

This was the new things of old.

Throughout the Book of Amos, the prophet asked in-your-face questions to God’s people, turning their assumptions Upside Down:

What if Israel is just like the other nations? What is Israel, the nation, isn’t alive at all, but dead?What if Passover happened again but Israel is the first-born of Egypt? What if the Day of Yahweh turns out to be the night of Yahweh?

Amos had to disrupt that familiar God language with the heavy reminder of their vocation as God’s people--Seek good, not evil that you may live. Hate evil, love good, and establish justice at the city gate.

Amos connected the ancient purpose of God’s people with a radical critique of their worship and rituals:

I hate, I reject your festivals;
    I don’t enjoy your joyous assemblies.
 If you bring me your entirely burned offerings and gifts of food—
        I won’t be pleased;
    I won’t even look at your offerings of well-fed animals.
Take away the noise of your songs;
        I won’t listen to the melody of your harps.

As Amos’ saw things, the people had been gathering for liturgy that had nothing to do with God’s covenant of liberation. Amos proclaimed that Israel’s worship was a sham.

True worship, said Amos, shows a real relationship with God that will transform a community’s relationship with Creation, the land and its people, a transformation towards liberation.

Worship must guide Israel in the constant work of doing good, building right relationships, doing justice, fulfilling obligations to care for self and Creation and God, loving God, loving self, loving neighbor.

Worship, Amos unleashed, must proclaim righteousness and justice; righteousness being right and equitable relationships no matter the social differences. Justice being concrete actions that a community takes to correct injustice and create righteousness.

Since justice and righteousness must permeate all of life, justice and righteousness must be at the center of Israel’s worship.

Worship and justice must be in harmony with each other Amos prophetically declares, in order that the work of justice be part of the people, like a heartbeat, like the rhythm of our collective breath, like water of a rushing river filling a dry riverbed in the desert.

Amos was fed up, he couldn’t take the kingship of Jeroboam II and the kingdom’s religious elite anymore. With poetic, liturgical language, Amos turned Israel’s God-talk, assumptions, religious structures upside down to cut through the crap and restore Israel to their task of loving neighbor, loving God, loving self.  

What can’t you take anymore?

Amos was a shepherd and a farmer whose vocation called him to observe the landscape around him.

When you look around, what  you are furious about? What injustices make your lifeblood boil?

What structures around you are a total sham, violate the call to love self, Creation, and neighbor?

What needs turned upside down? Is it that someone can have a history of violence, buy a gun, walk into a church and kill almost 30 people?

Is it that the weather is below freezing and we have neighbors in our city who are sleeping outside? Is it because we live in a city that is full of noise and people and stimulation and we can still feel lonely?

Is it that we have young people who are Dreamers and now fear deportation?

Is it that every day we can read the news and a man in power is accused of assault and people are bewildered that he must be held accountable?

Here’s your chance to cut through the crap using poetic liturgical language like Amos.

Here’s an invitation to connect our liturgical life with the prophetic act of calling for justice.

Invitation to Respond: 

I invited to folks to write haikus based on their own fury. 

We were still in the same set-up as we were in the week prior---all sitting up front in our two pew sections that face each other. 

We've invited people to write haikus in worship before. This wasn't a new thing.

One thing that was new was playing a djembe in between haikus. 

I gave people a few minutes to write while Rachel drummed on her djembe. 

                    Haiku on the prompt--what makes you furious. 

                    Haiku on the prompt--what makes you furious. 

I invited anyone to come up and share their haiku. 

After that first person shared, Rachel started up on the djembe with a simple beat. Rinse and repeat.

Several new people came up and shared which is always thrilling that at a first time at Pilgrims, people felt comfortable to stand in front of a new community and share their just created haiku. 

In our reflection, we thought the djembe made a big difference. Rachel's drumming filled the space in-between and kept the energy of the ritual action going rather than hearing haiku and silence/dead-space/wait for next person. Rachel's drumming created a thread--and the drumming always sounds like a heartbeat. 



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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Safety Pin Sunday

Church of the Pilgrims incorporated safety pins into our worship on November 13th.

The safety pin as a symbol of disruption and inclusion took off after the presidential election.

There were lots of opinions and thoughts on wearing a safety pin.

We went with this:

  1. Symbols matter. As Jesus people we are a people of symbols--bread, cup, water, cross, rainbow, ashes. At Pilgrims, we organize our community life around symbols. Symbols shape identity, connection, and mostly importantly....
  2. Action. Wearing a safety pin means you act upon what the pin symbolizes. As Jesus people we are to disrupt injustice, take risks for the sake of creating safe, brave space. We are people of the bread and cup.  We people of the font.  These  sacramental symbols demand action in the public square. In living a sacramental life, we are to embrace ancient and current symbols and create an ethic (choices, action) of justice and love. A Christian ethic without actions is nothing. Period. End of scene. So...if one is taking communion and then keeps silent about the possibility of 3 million people getting deported might want to also re-think wearing a safety pin. You might want to re-think a lot of things.

We used safety pins during our prayers of the people which happens near the end of our liturgy.

We did this:

We had six little glass candle holders filled with safety pins on our communion table. During prayers of the people we are all gathered around the table in a circle.

I said something about the safety pins--meaning, purpose.

I invited people to share safety pins with one another. I modeled the way we did this after the way we shared communion in September.

Six people (six candle holders) needed to come forward and take a jar. I didn't ask anyone to do this beforehand--folks needed to initiate this moment themselves. Those who took a safety pin candle holder walked to someone in the circle and asked, "do you know anyone who would like a safety pin?"

I modeled this language of asking after the question our Pilgrim families ask when they take bag lunches up to Dupont Circle to share food with hungry folks-- "do you know anyone who needs a bag lunch?" Our Pilgrimage groups do the same when they take out bag lunches to parks throughout D.C.

This language gives choice.  If claiming to be a people of safe ways, the last thing we want to do is slap a safety pin on someone without consent. In our ask, people were invited to take a pin and put it on themselves, giving space for their own agency to be part of the prayer time.  The person who received the pin would then walk to someone else in the circle.

As music played, people moved through the circle, sharing safety pins.

After we were all pinned up, I framed our sharing of prayers around disruption.

How can we disrupt moments of white supremacy, misogyny, Islamophobia?

What if you hear a co-worker make a racist joke? How do you respond in the moment?

Folks were invited to picture a place in their life where they had witnessed supremacy in action. Folks shared that place/experience with the person standing next to them. I reminded them we are still in prayer, still praying as we shared with each other.

After sharing, I invited folks to share their out-loud prayers as our not yet disruptive actions breaking into the here and now.

"I told my co-worker to knock it off with the racist joke."

"I stood next to my female co-worker when a male colleague tried to physically intimidate her."

I invited folks to pray AS IF their actions had already taken place. As if their prayer for justice had been manifested. As if they had already acted in a disruptive, prayerful way. As if we DO have the power to knock racism and sexism off its pedestal and place our bodies in the space where justice is needed.

This is another improv tool---you claim how you acted before a scene takes place. "I was super confident in that improv scene."

Speaking actions into existence was hard for folks. It showed me we have work to do.

A handful of folks used the prompt:

"I hosted people during inauguration weekend to protest."

"I spoke up against bullying in my office."

I also trust that people were imaging situations in their heads. It took a lot of risk and vulnerability to share in this way inside your head and outloud.

After the calling out of prayers, we went right into the Lord's Prayer, skipping over our usual part where folks ask for prayers of healing.

During the last hymn, a church member came up to me and asked if I was doing the benediction. Nope--Jeff is. This church member had a prayer request for another member. She shared with Jeff.

Jeff shared the prayer request after the hymn. Then other people started popcorning their prayer requests.  I loved how people created this moment--we aren't quite done yet! They went "off script" and shared their prayers--not letting liturgy end without getting in their prayer requests. That itself was an act of disruption.

#Blacklivesmatter Liturgy

On July 5th, Alton Sterling was killed by Baton Rouge police while selling CD's outside a convenience store. That same week, Philando Castile was killed by Minneapolis police after being pulled over for a broken taillight. Castile's girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and her young daughter, were in the car at the same time.

On July 10th at Church of the Pilgrims, our liturgy proclaimed #blacklivesmatter.

Our liturgy at Pilgrims has as solid structure--prelude, call to worship, sharing of thanksgivings, sharing the peace....

Yet we are a nimble bunch. When something horrific happens during the week, we are able to tell the horrific story by making last minute changes to the liturgy. While the structure might stay the same, the content or actions or songs might shift to reflect what's happened to the planet.

This is what we did on July 10th.

We scrambled around that morning, placing 12 candles on the table, filling the font with floating candles, making two #blacklivesmatter banners. One banner went around our communion table. The second one hung from our choir loft.

We had 12 candles on the table to name 11 African-Americans who were killed by police. While the list of African-Americans killed by police is longer than 11, I picked 11 names that were listed in a Washington Post article in early July. We added a 12th candle to represent the many others who have been killed.

Sam and Emma light candles for #blm during our prayer for illumination.
Sam and Emma light candles for #blm during our prayer for illumination.

During our prayer for illumination, two of our youth, Sam and Emma, helped to light the candles while I read the names. We read a few names, sang a song, read a few more names, sang the same song again, read a few more names, closed with the song. This moment was slow and contemplative.

Rachel Ford, our summer intern, was set to preach on excerpts from the Book of Job. Rachel kept the Job texts, pulling in more of her own story of naming, claiming, and resisting the social construction of whiteness.

During prayers of the people, we read the names again. Eleven people in the congregation took turns calling out a name and this time we added the object that was connected to their death.

Alton Sterling, CD

Philando Castile, broken taillight

Eric Garner, cigarettes

The list continued....

We also read the names of the five police officers killed in Dallas during a peaceful #blacklivesmatter march.

I asked two of our elementary aged kids to read two names of African-Americans killed by police during prayers of the people.

This is what happened with one of our kids.

I asked Pilgrim kid to read a name during prayers of the people. Pilgrim kid said yes. Pilgrim kid then went to the bathroom and

turned his shirt inside out. His shirt had a Super Dino cartoon on it and Super Dino was holding a gun.

Pilgrim kid thought it would be inappropriate for him to read a name while wearing the t-shirt. He turned the shirt inside out.

When we include kids in liturgy, when we ask kids to participate in meaningful ways in liturgy they have something to react/respond to. Inviting creates a structured moment, giving kids the experience of making a choice and a decision about how they will respond to the invitation to participate.

In Pilgrims nimble state, we were able to organize our religious life around the killings of Sterling and Castile.

In inviting people to read names, especially two of our Pilgrim kids, folks were able to interpret their individual lives and Pilgrims around #blacklivesmatter.

We're baptized in these waters (baptized in these waters) And in each other's blood (and in each other's blood)

-from American Skin (41 Shots), Bruce Springsteen.

Our Pilgrim kid was given the experience to interpret his clothing and actions in relationship to #blacklivesmatter. This is how our liturgy constructs identity and worldview, and how liturgy can give us the choice to enact those identities and worldviews in order to create a world made new.

Montreat Youth Conference Sermon #5

In early June, I was the preacher for weeks 1 & 2 of Montreat High School Youth Conferences.

Six hundred kids attended the first week and 1200 kids the second week.

The theme was “Be the Difference” with a sub-theme each day. The theme for Friday was “Be the Difference In the World.” This sermon is from evening worship on Friday, the fifth and final day of the conference.

My first sermon on the Call of Paul can be found here.

My second sermon on the Young Man Born Blind can be found here.

My third sermon on Pentecost can be found here.

My fourth sermon on Breakfast at the Beach can be found here.

Liturgy for this service can be found here (scroll down for Friday).

Exodus 2:1-10

Our stories this week have us beginning and ending with water.

Water is Creation’s bookend to stories that showed us how our Biblical ancestor’s lives were disrupted, turned upside down by God.

In our stories, each person took risks to create a thread of collective voices that gives us a picture of the life of faith.

This is how we want to look at our stories from the week—as a collection of voices and lives that were disrupted, turned upside down, people who were stopped in their tracks, sought a place of belonging, longed for a new type of family, a radical type of love that would accept and nourish them.

What these voices from the week give us is a way to live out our faith.

Paul was blind, couldn’t see or care about how he destroyed lives and relationships.

The young man born blind was healed and could see.

The Pentecost church showed us that in relationship we are called to look, listen, and feel.

Jesus and his disciples showed us that we need to die to certain ways of life in order for new life, the resurrection to take hold of us.

God wants nothing more than for us to be included in God’s story of dying and rising, death and resurrection.

Today our subversive, radical, freedom-bound women in Exodus call us to act.

Pharaoh is trying to prevent the growth of the Hebrew people who are slaves, he’s trying to prevent revolution. If there are more slaves that oppressors, Pharaoh knows the Hebrew slaves will rise up and demand freedom.

Enter the young people. Enter our subversive women, our women who end up disrupting

Pharaoh’s plan and set in motion the liberation of the Hebrew people.

In a prophetic act designed to save Moses’ life, or at least let him live a few more days, Moses’ mom sent him down the river. Miriam, Moses’ sister, takes over once mom places Moses in the Nile River, watching over him, witnessing him float down the river, acting as Moses’ guardian angel as was said this morning. Enter Pharaoh’s daughter, an Egyptian princess. We know what the princess’ dad would have done—Pharaoh would have tipped over the basket.

That was the law.

By law, the princess should have at least just pushed the basket down the river and let someone else deal with the baby.

As Rodger mentioned this morning, the Nile River was a place of death, with thousands of male babies dying in its waters.

The princess, for a moment, subverted the River, turned it upside down as a place of life and new beginnings.

The princess acted, she took a huge risk, broke the law, her father’s law, for the sake of saving baby Moses’ life.

Blindness with Paul and the young man.

Seeing. Looking. Listening with Pentecost.

Feeling. Dying and Rising on the beach.

Now we act.

Those are crucial elements to the life of faith. When we are blind, not paying attention, asleep, numb to the world and those around us….we are called to see, to look, to listen, to feel, to die and rise in order that we can act and be a difference in the world.

On our last night together, I wanted to leave you with some thoughts on how you might transform your Montreat experience once you get back home.

How you might see, look, listen, feel, die, rise, act once you get home.

First: what is critical to be the difference is this--

You are stronger together. You are stronger as a community.

The one voice, the hero voice, the individual has some power.

When you act as a youth group, as a church you increase your power, your ability to make change.

Picture one person from your youth group goes to Session or committee with an idea about something that needs to die in order for new life to begin again at your church.

That’s just one voice. One person. Honestly one voice can be dismissed when you stand in front of those in the room with power.

Now picture your youth group going to Session or committee all of you packed into one room. It will be hard for that group of people to ignore your voice.

One thing I always tell my co-workers, I tell myself this all the time too---you need to come to power with a proposal. Don’t go to your committee with words like “we just wanted to get your feedback on something” or “what do you think of this idea.”

No. Go to Session or your governing body with a proposal.

We want to do this. This new idea needs to happen. This is the plan.This is our hope, our dream for our Church in order  that our church can create space for the resurrection.

With a proposal, a plan, your Session, those in charge, those with power have to react to you.

You are showing them while they have power as far it goes with the structure of your church, you have power with your hopes, dreams and the size of your group.

Always go to power with a proposal. Be organized.

Know that when you go to power with a proposal, you are going to bump up against risk and vulnerability.

You need to take risks to create change. You need to put yourself out there. And that can feel really vulnerable.

People can disagree with you. That disagreement might rattle you. It might rattle a relationship. And we are called to take risks for the sake of new beginnings.

Remember—all you need to do is tell your own truth, like our young man born at birth. Don’t feel like you need to have all the answers. Be passionate. Use the religious language you’ve experienced this week. Disrupt ideas. Call for death and dying in order that God can shape new life. Nourish relationships.

Create a place of belonging and welcome. Love difference.

Another way to create change:

Invest in your worship.

Eric, Amanda, Nathan and I have been planning worship for this week since January.

We’ve had numerous conference calls to bring an intention and focus to our worship services.

I learned this in seminary: if you want the world to change, you need to experience change in worship. If your worship stays the same week after week, then really what you are saying is that you don’t want the world to change. How we worship reflects how we see and dream for a world made new.

You’ve experienced new music this week, probably experienced new ways of doing a benediction, new ways of praying like we did last night with silence. These experiences were intentional so you could experience what change feels like.

If your worship is the same week after week—you need to tell your worship folks that when God says to sing a new song, God actually meant a new song.

Another thought on creating change….

Dinner as a family.

Meals with family are crucial. We have a busy schedule in our house and we try to sit down together as much as we can, even if one night we are all eating cereal.

We start off with highs and lows—our kids, Sam, Maddie (12) and Ryan (9) usually groan….why do we always do this….

Maddie and Ryan always offer a high and low to the day. Sam usually passes and listens.

One night we sat down and Ryan asked his dad for a high and a low.

Bob works with homeless folks, and there have been times when Bob has known someone who has died because they frozen to death on the streets or overdosed on drugs.

One night Ryan asked his dad for a high and low.

Bob paused.

Ryan said, “what’s up, did someone die?”

Yes, Bob said. Someone did die today. Tears started to come down Bob’s cheeks.

Maddie kicked into blunt caregiver mode and said, “alright dad, let’s get right to it. Do you need to talk or not talk about. Do you need to be alone or around us.”

Meals are crucial to our sense of belonging as a family, as a community.

We see each other. We can look, listen and feel. This is why Jesus shared breakfast on the beach.

One way of being a difference is sharing meals, even if you are eating together at 9pm and dinner is ice cream.

Creating change idea #3:

Come to The Pilgrimage.

Come to Washington, D.C. to look, listen, and feel the stories of the homeless and poor.

Come to reflect, take risks, step out of your comfort zone, have your lives intersect with the most vulnerable in the nation’s capital.

We have $500 grants our Pilgrimage groups can apply for—we call these grants SEED grants and they are given to Pilgrimage groups who want to start something new, be part of change in the community.

We’ve given out grants to help start community gardens, build picnic tables for a senior citizen center, create blankets to hand out to those on city streets.

Come to The Pilgrimage to be the difference.

Change idea # 4

Take bag lunches out to homeless folks in your city and neighborhood. Our youth and kids at Pilgrims do this—kids like 4 year old kids do this.Our Pilgrimage groups do this, too.

It sounds like no big deal.

We pack up some bag lunches with a sandwich, granola bar, fruit and walk around together, sharing a lunch with those who need one.

But when you share a bag lunch with someone, you share your name, a conversation starts, stories are shared…even for a few minutes….our kids are impacted and remember the experience.

Our confirmation group last year did this, Sam was part of the group.

As we walked along and handed out some lunches, Sam could barely stop asking me questions and Sam is a kid of few words.

Sam asked:

Where do people go to the bathroom around here?

Is there a place for them to shower?

Do the police bother them?

How many homeless people have a job?

Does dad know any of these people?

Sam was seeing Pilgrims neighborhood in a new way and the walk was getting him to ask really important questions about what it means to be homeless in D.C. You want to see your neighborhood through the eyes of those who are hungry, homeless, seeking shelter and clothes. You don’t want to assume what’s going on with the least of these. You and your youth group, your church need to see the streets of your city/town through the eyes of the least of these.

Last thought on how to create change: if you see guacamole in your church refrigerator with an expiration date of 2007, toss it out. Don’t hold on to it. Don’t wonder if someone else will take care of it. The guacamole isn’t serving you anymore.


Everyone in our stories this week took some incredible risks for the sake of a world made new.

And in every story a community, an individual died to ways that weren’t serving them anymore. They participated in God’s invitation to dying and rising in order to create a world made new.

In that dying and rising with Paul, young man born blind, Pentecost community, breakfast at the beach, women in Moses’ life, they were part of a ripple effect, a movement forward, they embodied the Spirit, they lived out a holy welcome and belonging for everyone.

Keep looking, listening, feeling, seeing; let yourself be disrupted, let yourself be healed; let yourself be loved so you can be more loving.

Die to those ways that aren’t serving you, in order that you can be part of God’s story of dying and rising. God wants nothing more for us than to be made new, than to be resurrected for the sake of the planet, God’s home, which is deeply broken and in need of healing.

Montreat: you have been changed. So as you go . . .back to your homes, back to your churches, back to your schools, back to your families and friends,

May you be led into this new truth, this new understanding, this new way of believing, this new way of loving, so things will change, so lives will be different, so you will not return to where you once were.

Because God’s Word is within you.


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.

    Improv and Confession

    I'm taking a foundations of improv class through the Washington Improv Theater. It's a 8-week or so class that meets every Monday for 2.5 hours. It's pretty sweet and our teacher, Lisa Kays, is great. Check her out here. Also taking this class with my beloved Casey Wait Fitzgerald. One of classes focused on emotional commitment. Emotional commitment is when you start an improv scene by leading with an emotion. Game on with this class. I'm full of emotions!

    In this class, we created scenes leading out of an emotion.

    Now....let me say something about starting a scene. To me, it's like Harold in the books Harold and the Purple Crayon. That little, white, Pillsbury-like- dough-boy takes his purple crayon and creates a scene out of nothing.

    The first mark that Harold makes in the book starts on a blank slate. Eventually, Harold builds off each line and circle to create something out of nothing.

    That's an improv scene. You create something out of nothing. It's very Paul-in-the-Book-of Romans-like: God creates something out of nothing.

    In this class, we created something out of our emotions.

    Here's an exercise we did:

    Lisa created 4 squares on the floor. One for anger. One for happy. One for sad. One for fear.

    In pairs, we would step into a square to start a scene (again, blank slate). I'd step into one square and my partner in another square.

    I stepped into a square and started a scene linking the emotion of the square with emptying the dishwasher (a favorite improv go-to for's never about just emptying the dishwasher). Lisa could prompt us to step into another square and instantly my emotion to the scene would reflect the emotion of that square. At the same time, my partner is stepping into another emotion square and his yes....anding...would reflect that emotion.

    Picture that game Simon Says.

    In the fear square, my partner eventually revealed that he didn't want me to leave him over emptying the dishwasher. That changed the entire scene....because it wasn't about the dishwasher....the scene became about confessing a real fear in a relationship. 

    Lisa commented at the end of class that when in doubt in a scene make a confession....unload deepest of fear, sadness, love, anger because it shows something at stake. I'm really fearful right now.....really fearful....because I'm afraid you are going to leave me.

    Lisa said when in doubt in a scene, make a confession. That's where the juice is.

    Confessions....juice....Casey and I just looked at each other.

    This past Epiphany, at Church of the Pilgrims, our young adults have preached, told the Biblical stories by heart, and told their own personal stories based on the theme of "Being Beloved." This liturgical work comes out of a grant we received from The Forum for Theological Exploration to do discernment work with our young adults.

    This past Epiphany has been a season of beloved confessions.

    Each week our young adults shared their fears, their deepest vulnerabilities. They shared heartache and shame. And they did this not in the abstract but through their own stories as linked to the lectionary, Gospel stories of Epiphany.

    They all, indeed, brought the juice. The juice-- the Spirit, the life-blood, the all happens in many ways in liturgy.

    This past Epiphany our young adults preached, told the Biblical stories by heart, and were our personal storytellers during liturgy. Their work and the focus on Epiphany comes out of a grant we received from the Forum for Theological Exploration to do discernment work with our young adults.

    Throughout Epiphany, our young adults, through sermons and storytelling, shared their fullest selves. They shared their loves, their joys. They shared their heartache and shame. They shared their deep self-doubts. They shared their belovedness.

    It was incredible. It was the juice.

    Communion Table at The Open Door Community in Atlanta, Georgia.
    Communion Table at The Open Door Community in Atlanta, Georgia.

    That story you are holding on to because you wonder if anyone will love you, think you are beloved after sharing? Even as you tell that story is your body shaking? Our young adults released those stories to Pilgrims this past Epiphany.

    Our young adults embodied church and what church is for: a place to bring the ugly, the feared, the what-feels-shameful. Church is the place to bring those stories you wonder if you can tell anyone else.

    Pilgrims, in return, became a vessel, a cup to hold, share, embrace those confessional stories. Pilgrims received those stories and said, "we love you. Period."

    Confession and juice.

    In Epiphany, Pilgrims became an embodied communion cup, holding and carrying those beloved confessions.

    Improv and Empathy

    I had my second improv class this past Monday at the Washington Improv Theater. Focus this week: Physical Arrangement

    Physical arrangement in improv is when you use space as structure for improv.

    This is an example of physical arrangement.

    One of our first exercises had us all in a circle. Our teacher, Lisa, tossed us an invisible, red ball. She held the ball in her hands. While the ball was invisible, the ball was real. We treated the invisible ball as if it was a real red ball. We tossed the ball around the circle. Key observation: we could NOT say no to the ball. Lisa created the reality that there was a red ball. Therefore, we honored the space Lisa created by tossing this very real, very invisible ball around our circle.

    My favorite exercise was physical mirroring. This is when you have a partner and you mirror each other's physical movements. I stood facing my partner and moved my right arm up and in a circle. She moved her right arm up and in a circle--mirroring my exact movement.

    I loved this exercise because it was slow and our movements were simple. Empathy seems to drive the slowly, simple movements. My partner wanted me to be able to follow her movements. In order for me to follow she had to go slow. She had a sense of what I was going through as a follower and what it took to merge movements.

    We built off this exercise by both moving as the same time--taking turns leading and following each other's movements. While we took turns leading and following each other, there was this mysterious merger we had with each other. The boundaries between who was leading and who was following were clear and blurred all at the same time.

    Empathy and improv are connected. This connection seems to break through the binary of right and wrong. In improv, there is not right or wrong. There is only risk. There only "is."

    Examining right and wrong is crucial when it comes to liturgy and the experience of liturgy.

    In theory, the Church can embrace the truth that as humans we are a mess, we are fallible, we aren't perfect. Jesus embraced imperfect people. Therefore I/we will, too! Except we don't have too because I/we are always right.

    Embracing the reality of imperfection seems to get blown out the sanctuary door when imperfection (our humanness) is part of the liturgy.

    • Sing perfectly.
    • Sermon must be consistently right.
    • Your kid(s) are making noise in worship which must mean you aren't right in your parenting.
    • This liturgy is making me uncomfortable which means there must be something wrong with me and/or these worship leaders are just wrong.

    When our internal landscape of rightness rears its non-empathetic head....when we cling like hell to our rightness, we literally create our own reality on top of the reality we want to reject and ignore. The consequence--we miss out on the invitation to share in Jesus-like-empathy. We miss out on being human together.

    • Someone stops singing because tears are coming down their cheeks.
    • A parent struggles to parent their child(ren) in worship and feels helpless and lonely.
    • Preacher give crappy sermon because they are preoccupied with a family matter.
    • This liturgy made you uncomfortable? Say more about that....

    Improv and empathy. It's real. And it's not just for the theater or the Church. It's for everything.

    This mirror exercise is lifted up in a Science Friday podcast with Alan Alda, the actor, who started the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Sciences at New York's Stony Brook University. This center trains doctors and scientists in improv in order to become better communicators by accessing empathy.  An example was given of a doctor, who had been trained in improv at the Center, was giving a patient the news she had 6 weeks or so left to live. The mirroring exercises that the doctor had participated in allowed the doctor to sit, listen, feel, and notice the patient as the doctor delivered the news. Mirroring allowed the doctor to access empathy, and in turn, be present with the patient in her own grief, confusion, and questions.

    Here's a link to the podcast.

    Foundations of Improv Class

    I'm a big fan of improv, especially its connection with liturgy. I've taken several improv classes over the years, mostly 2-hour classes here and there.

    Casey Fitzgerald over at Faith and Wonder found a Foundations of Improv class through the Washington Improv Theater and we signed-up for the Monday afternoon, 8-week class. MaryAnn McKibben Dana is taking the same class at another time during the week. Looking forward to reflecting with my improv peeps.

    The class was advertised like this: Discover a new sense of freedom and play. Meet fun and other interesting people. Get away from the grind of the scripted city. Unleash your creativity and learn more about yourself.

    Thinking that could be a new PR language for Church of the Pilgrims.

    Our first class was this past Monday. Here are some my take-aways, including some insights from our teacher.

    • Mistakes are where the magic happens. 'nuff said.
    • We did a game called "Bid-did-it." It involved snapping fingers along with calling out one word that built upon the person next to us. Basically everyone is snapping and words are going around a circle. I found myself trying to plan ahead for my word. "When it gets to me, I'm going to say THIS WORD." Funny. Turns out it's hard to listen to people if I'm trying to control the crap out of my mind. Casey commented later that you can't listen to anyone else when you are thinking about your next step.
    • Our teacher added later in an email: If you are listening fully, you cannot be thinking ahead and therefore your response is almost guaranteed to be based on what you heard.
    • Snapping got my out of my head, used another part of my brain. Harder to obsess over my own thoughts when snapping.
    • In the spirit of listening, our teacher shared this: I am also a big fan of the adage someone else said of, "Listening is the enemy of anxiety." It is physically impossible for our brains to be anxious and to be listening at the same time. Truly. So if you find yourself ever freaking out or anxious, in any situation, try to gently remind yourself to listen to whatever is happening. You cannot freak out and listen at the same time. Suhweet! Instant anxiety cure! 
    • We did a game that invited us to call out something about ourselves, others either stood next to you if they had the same experience or stood at the other side of the room if didn't have that experience. Someone called out "I like processed cheese!" Most of us laughed. When we bring our personal experiences into the circle, and when we are specific, we bring our true selves to the space.
    • The work of improv involves dissolving the instinct to just waiting around in a conversation to have space to share your own thought. "Boy, can't wait for this person in from of me to stop talking so I can share my own shit."
    • Improv is training ourselves to have ideas and be ready to let them go.
    • We did some basic scene work. Our task in a scene is to listen and agree. And trust what our partner is going to bring to the scene.
    • Our teacher offered this up: If character 1 says, "The sky is orange," the sky IS orange. We cannot refute or argue this. However, that doesn't mean that we have to like that the sky is orange. For instance, it can make our character sad, or confused or scared. We can react to the sky being orange in any way, even with anger, but we just can't dismiss the idea or argue with the premise itself. This is agreement. 

    Did I mention our teacher, Lisa Kays, teaches improv AND is a therapist. Geez.

    Class #2 next week...

    Inviting Kids Into Biblical Storytelling

    Last spring, we killed of Sunday school at Church of the Pilgrims. That means we are being more intentional about how to form our kids around the faith within already existing structures at Pilgrims.

    Pilgrims already has stations set-up throughout our sanctuary for kids. These stations are based on our liturgical principles that in worship we tell stories, we see things in new ways, and we make connections. At each station are age appropriate books and quiet toys (even though kids can make anything loud) for kids to engage with during liturgy.

    The idea is that when kids need to move, because that what kids do....they move around, they can go to a station, and engage in what's happening in liturgy on their level.

    Some might think the kids aren't paying attention. But they are.

    And they are engaged in play which is a research driven vehicle for promoting self-regulation, language, social competence, and  cognitive learning. Meaning--play is essential for kids to learn about religious language, how to be in community, and how to learn and be formed around the faith.

    Pilgrims used to have a children's sermon--when we'd ask the kids to come forward and listen to one of us deconstruct the sermon. It worked. It was fine. Adults giggled when the kids were being themselves.  Eventually the children's sermon faded out of our liturgy.

    Now that we don't have Sunday school, parents are having conversations about how to be intentional about experiences for our kids. One comment was "how can we have more structure?" Structure is important for kids and what does intentional structure look like without Sunday school?

    Maybe we should pull the children's sermon back into the liturgy?

    After reading some stuff on children's sermon (like this) I had one of those A-ha moments--- there is no data that says children's sermons are an essential way to engage kids, teach them the faith, etc. Children's sermon definitely hit the nostalgia button and since bunches of churches do children's sermons that means they must be effective. Right?

    Casey Wait Fitzgerald is a master biblical storyteller plus a beloved friend.  Casey and I were chatting about storytelling one day, pondering the role of a sermon in light of biblical storytelling and Casey said something like, "I think telling the story by heart is enough."

    Pilgrims does Biblical storytelling. So.....

    What if our kids were invited forward for the telling of the Biblical story? What if they had this moment in the liturgy where they were together as a small community? What if they were invited up because a story is about to be told that is so important we want to make sure they are part of that telling?

    For the past few Sundays, the kids have been invited up practically sit at the feet of the storyteller.

    Story is told. Kids eyeballs are locked in on the storyteller. They listen. Some squirm. One little 2 year old eye spies the candles on the table and starts to chat about the idea of  blowing out the candles. The storyteller keeps telling the story.

    At the end of the story they head back to the pews with their parents or go back to a station.

    After we did this the first time, a child-free, kid-loving adult commented, "why haven't we thought of that before?" Jeff said, "I wonder what other parts of the service the kids can own....coming up and listening to the choir during the anthem?"

    Here is what the kids experience with Biblical storytelling:

    • Scripture in the ancient church was an oral tradition. As the kids participate in this storytelling moment, they are re-connecting to that oral tradition. As they sit at the feet of the storyteller, they are part of the tradition and how stories were passed down through the generations.
    • Storytelling builds relationships. As the story is told, those listening are connected to the storyteller. The storyteller is connected to those listening. Storytelling inherently involves intimacy, vulnerability, and connection. These are essential elements of faith formation and liturgy. The kids are part of these elements in the telling of the story.
    • Ownership. The kids have a moment to own in worship. This is one reason why we have stations---so the kids consistently experience ownership of the liturgical space. This space is for them just as much as the adults.
    • Creating storytellers.We can use the kids proximity and experience with the storyteller as a starting point to teach the kids how to tell stories.
    • Biblical storytelling is anti-gimmicky-crap. Lord have mercy there is so much awful shit out there that is supposed to make our kids become perfect Christians. The tradition, in it's imperfect ways, has given us a the gift of something like Biblical storytelling. When we engage kids in these ancient invitations of faith formation , we invite them into a sacred, communal experience that is thousands of years old. It is in the depth of the tradition, in the ancientness of the practices, that kids will be drawn into the radical nature of the Holy One and Her followers.

    Urban Farming: Creating An All Saints Day Memorial Garden

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

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

    Saints are not the model of Christian and human perfection.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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


    Let us go, plant, and remember.

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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

    Let us plant and name. Let us remember.  

    Rocks and Pansies
    Rocks and Pansies

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

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

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

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

    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.

    Podcasts on Story Divine and Presbyterians Today

    These were fun!

    I did a podcast with the amazing Casey Fitzgerald on her Story Divine of  Faith and Wonder podcast site. Focus: Emmaus Road and my own Emmaus Road story.

    [audio mp3=""][/audio]

    Next up is a podcast with Rocky Supinger for Presbyterians Today on liturgy, worship planning, and this liturgical die-in I created for the Forum for Theological Exploration.

    [soundcloud url="" params="color=ff5500" width="100%" height="166" iframe="true" /]

    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.

    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.

    Storytelling with Faith and Wonder

    My good buddy, Casey Fitzgerald, is a master Biblical storyteller and has started a blog called Faith and Wonder to explore more deeply personal storytelling in relationship to Biblical storytelling. Casey's tag line is "living and telling stories with Spirit." Being a Biblical storyteller means Casey learns the Biblical stories by heart and shares those stories with congregations and audiences of every interested sort. Casey's pretty bad-ass.

    Casey started a podcast not only for Biblical storytelling but to have others tell their personal story alongside a Biblical one.

    Casey asked me to jump on her podcast to share my own personal Emmaus Road experience. Here is our 25 minute podcast where I share my story of worshiping at the Open Door Community in Atlanta, Georgia and realizing I had a choice to make: Will I be a minister for Christ or a Minister for the Machine?

    Check out the podcast HERE.

    Check out Casey in storytelling mode here.

    The Holy Chaos of Holy Week at Pilgrims

    Ready to process, listening to Jeff tell the Palm Sunday story.
    Ready to process, listening to Jeff tell the Palm Sunday story.

    The structure of Church of the Pilgrims Holy Week services have stayed the same for many years.

    In the past couple of years, we nuanced things a bit to add more elements of participation. Some highlights of what we did this year:

    Palm/Passion Sunday: We did a repeat of last years public procession around the block. We gathered at 9:30am, armed with umbrellas and stuff from Oriental Trading, to decorate umbrellas. We also created signs with recycled cardboard that read, "Feed Your Neighbors," "Grow a Garden" and "Black Lives Matter." This is the ethic of our faith with words that are short, sweet, and to the point. Like Jesus and his followers, we walked with anti-Imperial words of the Jesus movement.

    We gathered on our front steps and heard Jeff tell the procession into Jerusalem story. Sang a song and off we went with the beat of a drum. We had one person up front (me) to make sure we stayed together. Jeff was in the back of the procession to try to keep chaos organized.

    We stopped at the steps inside the church to get organized with our processional song and into the sanctuary we processed. That's when utter chaos happened. We usually loop around the sanctuary a couple of times. For some reason, that didn't happen. People were everywhere with their signs and umbrellas.

    Jeff remarked later that chaos must have erupted at some point in Jesus' procession. After all, Jesus and his crew didn't take 2 months to plan his procession. It just happened.

    We ended our service with the arc towards the Passion narrative---so Palms---> Passion.

    Maundy Thursday: We had an agape meal in our Fellowship Hall and Pilgrim storytellers told the Passion story by-heart. At the end of each part of the story, the storyteller blew out candles on the tables. As we got closer to the end of the story, storytellers also blew out candles on our Lenten cross we used throughout Lent.

    Palm Sunday table. We recycled these elements for our Maundy Thursday tables.
    Palm Sunday table. We recycled these elements for our Maundy Thursday tables.

    Emily, our intern, created table-scapes with clear cylinder containers filled with water and one palm. Emily recycled this idea from her Palm Sunday communion table-scape. For Maundy Thursday, she added to each table a glass candle holder with white candle, a wooden, bark candle holder with a tea light, communion cups, a dried up palm from Palm Sunday,  and small glass juice pitchers  from Pilgrims circa 1950.

    One of my favorite moments of Maundy Thursday is observing the meal come together in our kitchen. Lots of food that needs organized into baskets and trays. People jump in and make it happen. Connects a bit with the chaos from Palm Sunday. (see picture in the gallery below).

    Thursday afternoon, Emily, Rachel, and I worked with Andy Wassenich, Pilgrim and actor/director and our voice building coach, on our stories. Funny. When we prepare your voice your storytelling is stronger. Noted.

    Good Friday: This year we carried our large wooden cross in like a coffin into our candle lit, dark, Taize infused sanctuary. We placed it down on the ground in the middle of our space. Near the end of the service, people came forward during the prayers to hit a nail into the cross three times. Emily, trusty intern, orchestrated this and CHOPS to Emily for pulling something off she had never seen/experienced.

    I'm pretty sure Emily had some internal chaos going on with this new-to-her leadership role. Emily had never been through a Holy Week before and we tossed this part of the service for her to lead. SHE PULLED IT OFF WITH GRACE AND LOVE. People then placed tea lights around the cross as we sang, Will You Remember Me When We Come Into Your Kingdom.

    Easter: More of our members is in event planning and gave us 60 tulips for folks to place on the cross during our opening  hymns. Pilgrims bring additional flowers to supplement. Some ideas work. Some don't.

    Around 10:15 we realized we  were about 40 flowers short of what we needed. Justin blazed off to Trader Joe's and pretty much saved the opening ritual action. Justin did this WITH GRACE AND LOVE. Usually people come down the center aisle to place their flowers on the cross while singing opening hymns. This time people came from all directions. Floral mash-up! More chaos!

    Then.....skipping ahead in the service....Emily told the Emmaus story as part of the invitation to the table. THEN....Rachel and Carol sang our invitation to the table. They did this WITH GRACE AND LOVE.

    As the gluten-free bread and cup were being shared, little Kate, age 3, walked into the middle of the space to check things out. I asked her if she wanted to help serve. She said yes. I paired her up with Karen. Karen welcomed Kate into the experience of serving. Both served WITH GRACE AND LOVE. Our last song had our kids jamming with Jeff as he played his guitar and they played random instruments. <chaos>

    Holy Week theme: CHAOS WITH GRACE AND LOVE. I know I could be more organized in some areas for Holy Week. There are some things for Holy Week we could talk through more with key leaders.

    And....there will still be chaos. Just as there was with Jesus and his followers with this incredible, restless, less-than-relaxing story. I can't even imagine the chaos going on with Jesus' followers during the last week of his life. Can you?

    Talking through details with folks would be helpful not to eliminate chaos but to help folks be more present in the chaos. Trying to minimize chaos feels, on some level, like I'd be trying to sterilize the story. Trying to think through some additional details with folks for the sake of being more mindful, aware-we-are-in-the-midst-of-a-chaotic-story, cognizant that as we feel the chaos of Holy Week, we are, in essence, feeling the nature of Jesus and his followers during those final days.


    Freeing the Natural Voice

    Freedom Sculpture in Phily. Breaking through with the whole body.
    Freedom Sculpture in Phily. Breaking through with the whole body.

    It's exhausting chasing down one's authentic self. Takes a lifetime. Might as well get started. -Kristin Linklater

    I got started, again, this past Thursday in a voice building class led by Andy Wassenich, a member at Church of the Pilgrims and an all-around theater guy. Andy is leading a 2-hour, 3 week class for myself and 2 of my co-workers, Rachel Pacheco and Emily Wilkes.

    I approached Andy for a class in order to circle back around to the experience of freeing the natural voice. When I'm in worship, how does the sensation of my voice connect with the sensations I'm feeling in the rest of my body? How does my voice embody anxiety or stress? Joy and community? How does my voice impact the invitation to take risks in liturgy and how is that invitation to risk  expressed through my voice?

    How do we as worship leaders at Pilgrims use our voice as a means of expressing the Holy intention that a sacred space is a place of transformation? How do we get out of our heads and into our voice/body while leading?

    Andy started off with a reading from Kristin Linklater from her book, Freeing Shakespeare: The Actor's Guide to Talking the Text. Here are some highlights from the reading plus some of my thoughts:

    • The basis of Linklater's work is this---the belief that voice and language belong to the whole body rather than the head alone and that the function of the voice is to reveal the self. This hits home that worship leadership is embodied leadership.
    • Linklater's work book isn't a verse-speaking manual. She aims to recondition the body and mind so that the voice can express visceral and spiritual urgency. What could be more urgent than expressing the Gospel belief that some have food, some have none and God bless the revolution?! (Thanks, Bev Harrison).
    • The breathing musculature is woven around the rib cage, underneath the lungs in the diaphragm, connected to spinal column and roots itself in the pelvic floor. It is  not metaphorical to say "the body breathes." Improvisation is used a lot in Pilgrims worship. How do we let our bodies breathe as we say yes to new beginnings and radical ways of living?
    • When a baby is born, breath is its life. A baby's voice communicate essential information long before words are learnt. So....when a baby cries it worship, my thought need not be "be quiet!" but baby is expression emotion via wordless message.
    • The adult voice is conditioned to talk about feelings rather than reveal them. That's downright yummy.

    Andy led us through some breath work that involved being on our backs and creating (creating!) a primordial sound "huh." We did that over and over. And over. Being mindful of where the sound is located in the throat and building intensity with the "huh" sound. Primordial, like the murmuring deep that the order of life came out of in Genesis. We moved on to other exercises to stretch the sound of our voices.

    The work of freeing the natural voice is an act of liturgy/chasing one's authentic self--it takes risks, vulnerability, and getting out of my own way. How do I free my voice from social expectations? Break through personal habits? How do I engage mindfulness with my voice while I'm preaching, storytelling, communion-ing?

    Two more weeks of voice building. Looking forward to giving space to the authentic self.

    The Art of Worship Planning


    This article was published by Alban at Duke Divinity here. Below is a copy and paste of the article.

    Worship planning is an art. It’s a discipline. It must be done over and over and over again in community order to get worship “under our skin.” How we plan worship reflects what we believe worship should be — a transformative, communal experience of observing, trusting, trying, reflecting, and taking chances for the sake of experiencing the Holy One. At Church of the Pilgrims (PCUSA) in Washington, DC where I am Minister for Spiritual Formation, we have created a process that has cultivated our skills for planning worship.

    Worship at Pilgrims has been called a “wild mess” by Andy Wassenich, a church member at Pilgrims. While working well within the boundaries and framework of the Reformed Tradition, our worship changes liturgical season after season, with nuances each week. Walking meditations? Check. Pilgrims singing in three-part harmony? Check. Prayer stations, compost pile as communion table, Biblical storytelling, and bubble machine for Pride and Pentecost? Check, check, check. Over a decade, we’ve opened ourselves up to improvisation and spontaneity in worship allowing ourselves, at the same time, to be cracked open by the Holy Spirit and her empowering and prophetic ways. How did we get to this point? Of course, it wasn’t always like this.

    I arrived on the Pilgrims scene in January 1999 after graduating from Union Theological Seminary in NYC where on a daily basis I experienced profoundly creative and ever-changing worship. Pilgrims’ was in dire straits in the late 1990’s: crumbling building, shaky finances, lack of identity and purpose, and existing without a called pastor. The congregation was small, getting smaller, and depressed.

    Their worship reflected their existence—it was deathly, put-me-to-sleep boring.

    A year and a half later, Pilgrims called Jeff Krehbiel who is still serving. Pilgrims re-grouped, started getting involved in community organizing, became a More Light congregation, and re-designed our administrative structure (good-bye standing committees!). While revitalizing worship incorporated many of the same principles of those endeavors, it was a different task altogether. Instead of consulting worship planning books or creating more rules on how to run an efficient worship meeting, we accessed ourselves, harnessed our own creativity, and started planning and creating worship together.

    Over time, we developed an art of worship planning that has transformed our Sunday liturgical landscape and the entire eco-system at Pilgrims, the interconnected processes and structures that make up our life together.

    The Process of Our Worship Planning

    In worship planning we begin the process of sharing responsibility for worship as broadly as possible, shifting the dynamics of “worship leader” and “worship participant” in order to break down the barriers between “provider” and “receiver,” so that worship truly becomes “the work of the people.” –Jeff Krehbiel, pastor at Church of the Pilgrims

    Four to six weeks prior to the upcoming liturgical season, Jeff, myself, Rob Passow, our music director and Lauren Dwyer, our Elder for Worship, along with interns, currently Jess Fisher and Dana Olson, brainstorm names of four to six Pilgrims to invite to worship planning. Invitees could be folks who have been at Pilgrims fifty years or five months.

    We send an email that includes a link to the lectionary texts to the upcoming season and any other relevant links or an article. We are clear in the email we are asking them for a one-time commitment of brainstorming on a specific evening. We ask invitees to read the texts prior to the evening and choose one that stands out to them for any reason. We’ve realized that is all the prep work that’s needed. Less is more.

    Before the meeting, Jeff, Rob, and I divide up the responsibilities of who is going to lead what part of the gathering. At the start of the meeting, we give an overview of the planning process, liturgical season and the texts. Then we move into liturgical storytelling, sharing stories of worship from the past season that have stuck with each person. This creates a shared, collective experience right from the get-go and lifts up experiences of worship that have hits our hearts for one reason or another. We’ve moved away from the “I like” and “I didn’t like” evaluative response of worship experience. In the storytelling, we are asking people to dig deeper into an experience that challenged their participation or disrupted their own thoughts and patterns of living.

    After the storytelling, Rob teaches us a new song that he envisions could be used somewhere in the service based on the texts. We sing as a small group, a cappella, feeling the music more than performing it at that point.. From there we jump into the texts, offering people time to look over the texts again and identify something that stands out to them because of an image, word, phrase, or social context. Then it’s time to go deeper either through a short, exploratory Bible study having individual time to ponder some questions or break into groups of two to three to explore.

    After the reflection time, the group shares thoughts on the texts, taking time to identify patterns, connections, and contradictions and scribbling it all down on newsprint. When we’ve exhausted our wonderings, we start another piece of newsprint and share about on what’s going on in the life of Pilgrims, in DC, in our culture, and the world-at-large. How do these texts speak to our life right now? Soon, all the papers are up around the room, surrounding us.

    We stand back and take a look. We ask, “how can worship make these experiences come alive?” We consider if there are sparks from recent Sundays that we want to continue, and whether there are things we want to stop doing for now.

    With the doors of creativity opened, the Holy Spirit starts to flurry around the room, and improv, the artistic methodology of saying “yes…and” comes front and center. Ideas get tossed into the air, each affirmed and clustered to form a foundation from which we work. During the recent planning for Lent our intern Jess Fisher created a map of the sanctuary, distinguishing its moveable and stationary parts. When it came to placement of the liturgical furniture, the map facilitated an explosion of ideas related to our chosen theme of “The Body.” I sat in awe, listening to people give critical analysis in the weaving together of liturgical space, Christian ethics, and theology.

    We leave the gathering with a pretty good sense of where the upcoming season of worship is headed. We’ve primarily spent time sitting with the macro-image of worship; we haven’t struggled with the nitty-gritty details of the service that can bog down creativity and create power struggles. But the big picture is all that Jeff, Rob, and I need establish our own marching orders to give life to participants’ ideas. We take the ideas, cycle through a number of more detailed conversations about responsibilities and delegations, and then toss the whole enterprise up into the sky and let the Holy Spirit continue on with her work.

    The Method of Our “Wild Mess” Madness

    We collaborate. We think outside of the box. We touch. We listen. We share. We’re vulnerable.

    Sometimes we cry. We incorporate our experiences, our lives and our personal work into worship planning. We brainstorm and then make it come alive. We’re interconnected. We taste, touch, smell, listen, feel. We do all of the above in worship planning and I think that this process makes it all happen in worship itself as well. –Lauren Dwyer, Elder for Worship at Church of the Pilgrims.

    What does our worship planning create? What kind of culture has it created at Pilgrims? How does it impact worship?

    Worship planning has let Pilgrims find its own unique voice not just in our expression of Sunday liturgy but also in Pilgrims eco-system at-large. How we brainstorm and “do” liturgy has impacted the web of life and interconnectedness at Pilgrims. Indeed, the intentionality of our worship planning method is not isolated to those evening planning sessions. Our methodology has now infused itself throughout the congregation, impacting how we run meetings, share meals at Open Table (our Sunday lunch for hungry neighbors), welcome first time worshippers, and plan our Capital GLBT Pride events.

    Improvisation: Improv is a state and being of creativity that involves saying “yes….and….” Improv involves structure (like the structure in our worship planning and order of worship) and that structure creates safety to say “yes” to new ideas. The “yes…and” results in the creation of new patterns, behaviors, actions, and structures. There are no mistakes in improv; only risk-taking. We say “yes” to new ideas in worship planning and beyond all the time at Pilgrims. This doesn’t mean that all ideas are used. It means all ideas are welcome, noodled around with, explored, and honored.

    Improv has also taken us “off script” more often than not in liturgy. We use the “call and response” model a lot; use an improv communion liturgy when it fits the service; and if the liturgist “messes” up like sharing a prayer of dedication before the offering has been taken, it’s not a mess-up. It’s liturgy. It’s life. It’s human. We stop what we are doing, re-group, and move forward without judgment or evil looks from the pew.

    Safe, Welcoming Space: Improv is almost impossible without safe space. Improv connects to creating a safe space whether in the sanctuary, coffee hour, or a planning meeting for the Capital Gay Pride parade. Cultivating a safe space where ideas, bodies, spirits, stories, life histories are valued is crucial to taking risks that take us beyond our edge as individuals and a community. A safe place lets us find our edge, that emotional, sensory place within us that tells us we are moving beyond our comfort zone. It isn’t a place of pain or suffering; it’s a place where we move beyond our own, personal norms and socially constructed ways when we can die to our old ways, and rise to the new. Caitlin Bousquet, a recent member at Pilgrims, “in the couple of planning meetings I’ve attended, the people leading and participating have been very open to listening to, validating, and considering all input, no matter how out there it has been.  This openness has led to some really creative practices and experiences in worship.”

    We can say “yes…and’’’ because we’ve created a safe, permission-giving environment to plan worship. This doesn’t mean we are void of discomfort, tension, or anxiety in our planning process. But we learn to live with these feelings as we come face-to-face to express our trust in the stories of faith.

    Power:This is huge. Power and liturgy go hand-in-hand. Our worship planning has deconstructed power and constructed power in new ways. First, as clergy and a music director, we see it as our job to get out of the way. Deconstructing power means dismantling constructed sources of power—clergy, in particular, are socially constructed sources of power in a congregation. We provide a certain type of leadership and guidance in worship planning and then make sure our egos and any power tripping are taking a nap. The center of worship planning isn’t us as clergy, it’s the Biblical narratives which exist to agitate and heal our lives. Worship planning lets the texts do the work needed on us.

    Power in worship planning is then centered on the texts and community, as the Spirit moves, does her thing, and creates a “wild mess” of a liturgical season.   Liturgy can affirm hierarchical, dominating, and life-sucking-can’t-afford-rent-because-minimum-wage-is-so-low kind of power. Liturgy demands relational power–the kind that creates space for people to connect and feel their own capacity to create Holy change. This means having a worship planning process that reflects the kind of worship we want to experience.

    Impermanence:Each Sunday, eighty impermanent beings sit in Pilgrims sanctuary. That’s eighty human beings. We are born. We die. We are impermanent. As the scriptures and those around us show us, we are soil, and to soil we shall return. If we are impermanent, then why do we try so damn hard to keep worship the same week after week? Why do we bolt down with all our might the pulpit, pews, organ and whatever else when we ourselves will be released into the great, swirling energy of the universe? Why do we hunker down with nostalgia, like it’s been guerrilla glued to our DNA? Why do we have liturgy that works against our human nature of transformation?

    We are born. We die. Our worship planning and the ever changing nature of participants is an impermanent experience. We can’t get too tightly wedded to the group because within an hour, the group will cease to exist. People from the group might take on leadership in the liturgies they’ve helped plan but the group dies at the end of the night. The nature of our planning and liturgy mirrors our human impermanence.

    Janet Walton, my Professor of Worship at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, has remarked if worship is the same week-after-week, if worship never changes, it reflects our view on the world. We don’t want the world to change. If we seek transformation, connection, fluidity, and social change for the world then our worship must be of that same nature. When people experience their own individual and collective power and grace in worship planning, worship is an ever-changing for the sake of the ever-present need for justice and liberation for the planet which is the body of God.


    People who are not “professional” worship planners frequently approach the planning with a more open mind—or at least with fewer pre-conceived ideas. Their response to worship is usually more visceral (and less intellectual/analytical) than those of us with formal seminary and/or conservatory backgrounds; and they often ask better (or at least more straightforward) questions.—Rob Passow, Music Director at Pilgrims

    The questions we ask near the end of worship planning: “how do we make these experiences come alive in worship?” followed by “what have we experienced lately in worship that we want to keep, what do we want to stop doing for now?” are crucial to our creativity. The questions focus on keeping actions in worship that are meaningful to us right now, breaking through unquestioned habits done in the name of nostalgia rather than connection and relevancy.

    Our worship planning has evolved in participant’s confidence and questioning. Both confidence and questioning involve risk-taking. Do the Advent candles have to be purple? Can we build a wailing wall for the sanctuary? Can we worship without the lights? Can “non-ordained” people be at the communion table? Do we need a communion table? Can we have a compost pile as a communion table?

    David Gauntlett, in his book, Making Is Connecting: The Social Meaning of Creativity, from DIY and knitting to Youtube and Web 2.0 writes that creativity “helps us to build resilience….and the creative capacity to deal with significant challenges.” The discipline of worship planning, and the experience of Pilgrims liturgy, builds layers upon layers of creative experiences. Not only is creativity part of resiliency, “creativity is an act of defiance,” says dancer Twyla Tharp, as creativity breaks through the status quo and pushes our imaginations to explore, dream, and imagine a world made new.

    Congregants-as-Liturgical Artists

    The connection I see between our worship planning and our worship services is the inclusiveness and participatory nature of it. Through our many open and collaborative parts of our services the entire congregation is given the opportunity to add to the experience and the service.” Andy Wassenich, member at Pilgrims

    With Pilgrims “liturgical ecology” or the connections, relationships and systems that reflect our methodology of liturgy, we’ve created congregants-as-liturgists. News flash! Liturgy isn’t about the clergy. It really isn’t about those participating either. It’s about taking the Biblical narratives and the Reformed Tradition that’s been passed down to us and, as a community, seek to interact with it in order to recognize the Holy One in life and the organizing of justice.

    The ownership and participation in planning and liturgy that’s been cultivated through our process means we have particularized our liturgy, found our unique voice to enable us to deepen and nourish the continued wrestling of faith. Congregants-as-liturgists means those participating substantially infuse themselves into the liturgical experience. Pilgrims have learned to design the liturgical experience and greatly impact the content of the liturgy.

    When we improve our Prayer for Great Thanksgiving, those at the table offer prompts that create space for thanksgivings. “What aspects of creation do we need to give thanks for? “What acts of Jesus do we live with gratitude?” Those gathered around the table call out their responses, moved by their own experiences and the Spirit at work.

    Recently we’ve been using two questions to reflect on worship: “What did you notice in worship” and “what do you wonder about?” Both get away from the “it’s all about me” attitude about worship, and pushes us to reflect critically within an artistic framework. In this type of reflection process, Pilgrims are thinking critically and imaginatively about their experience. We also get insights into how to nuance upcoming services.

    Liturgy as a “Wild Mess”

    When we create a “wild mess” in worship, we experience what change feels like, looks like, smells like, and tastes like. We learn to take risks for the sake of justice. We push through age-old, conventional, status quo driven boundaries of worship. We sing new songs, we engage the Biblical stories in multi-sensory ways, and the sacraments are authentic, ancient expressions of grace within. “Wild mess” of a worship service breaks through social and ecclesiastical norms so we can embrace the hope and possibilities of the Commonwealth of God. We learn what it looks and feels like to take a stand.

    Liturgy as a “wild mess” means critiquing Empire, the powers-that-be, and the social structures that oppress, defile, and disfigure who we are as created in the image of God. It means offering a liberating way of being together, practicing in-the-moment ways of being equal, compassionate, vulnerable, and powerful. When we started this type of worship planning at Pilgrims, we had no idea what kind of liturgical journey we were embarking on, that it would impact our congregational eco-system like it has. We are inherently experimenting with our life stories and the story of the movement of God. With this type of planning, you can’t expect what will come at the end, you can’t predict. One of our long time members, Gerry Hendershot, puts it, “Every time something is added to our already symbol-laden worship, I think, ‘That’s it, we can’t add anything else.’  Then we do.” As in the process of creating social change, we engage in a process of creativity and critique with an outcome yet-to-be seen or experienced. It’s wild, messy worship full of integrity, intentionality, and experiences of change. It’s also a hell of a lot of work. And we love it.

    Pop-Up Protests as Advent Disruption

    Radical: Acts that question or re-envision ingrained social arrangements of power.

    Street: Signals theatrics that take place in public by-ways with minimal constraints on access.

    Performance: Expressive behavior intended for public viewing.

    From Radical Street Performances, editor Jan Cohen-Cruz


    On November 29th, The Washington Post used the term "pop-up protests" to describe the wave of protests since a grand jury failed to indict Darren  Wilson in the murder of Michael Brown. After a grand jury in Staten Island failed to indict Daniel Pantaleo in the murder of Eric Garner pop-up protests have morphed into "die-ins" with people placing their bodies on sidewalks, streets, intersections, and highways in mass as a means of public witness to white supremacy and a police culture that kills black men.

    These die-ins/pop-up protests are radical street performances. In an improvisational, twitter-driven way, these pop-up protests pull people together who comprise a contested reality, with the prophetic hope  the social script that a black man is killed by a police officer every 2 to 3 days will be dismantled (statistic heard on the Diane Rehm show on December 8th).

    Street performances like the die-ins usually take place at the very location that the performers or protesters want transformed. The public spaces like the street where Michael Brown walked and sidewalk where Eric Garner stood need transformed.

    And public streets are symbolic-- that a whole culture needs transformed.

    Streets are a gateway to life. They are  a passageway from one place to another, a place where people don't want to stop.  Streets are a means to work and school. Streets are home to thousands. While a street is public space it is controlled by the state or local jurisdiction.

    The streets have a long history and relationship with the state as a public space to display and reassert power---think of a Presidential inaugural procession or dictators marching armies through public streets. Streets can also have the feel of belonging to nobody and belonging to everybody and streets have their own rules.

    This is what I find powerful about these pop-up protests:

    • Bodies becoming a social sculpture on the ground. People intentionally place themselves  next to each other, creating a visual of death, dying and the absurdity of almost every other day public executions of black men.
    • In blocking that traffic, pop-up protests have altered the code of urban movement---protesters have blocked traffic on 395, a major highway that leads in and out of D.C. from Virginia.
    •  Bodies have traversed  lines on the road that regulate traffic (see in particular the Arlington, VA picture). Lines are going one direction, bodies are going another. Protesters bodies are re-arranging the marks that regulate urban and social landscape, bodies are disrupting the linear system of urban transportation. This has profound symbolic meaning--pop-up protests are disobedient, acts of dissidence and re-articulate meaning "we aren't going to act the way society/white supremacy demands....we are creating new forms of interaction and power."
    • The die-in on the sidewalk in D.C. subverted the accepted notion of what a sidewalk is for . This subversion creates a reaction--just ask a tourist trying to get to the White House. Being inconvenienced becomes the over-riding viewpoint.
    • The die-ins are porous, offering invitation to all who walk or drive-by.

    Serene Jones, the President of Union Theological Seminary in NYC, was on the Melissa Harris-Perry show with the Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis. Dr. Jones had this to say: "When we think about the central story of Christianity, it's the story of a black body being executed by the most powerful nation in the world."

    In Advent, we prepare ourselves to welcome that same black body into the world, a child whose mom was a teenager herself and whose birth scared the violent shit out of Imperial Rome.

    Seeing these protests as radical street performances connect me more deeply to the Advent world view---that an in-breaking of radicality is in the here and now, white privilege and supremacy are being dismantled with each body stretched across a traffic line on the street, and that black bodies aren't a threat and menacing as Mr. Wilson would like to believe but, rather, bodies are powerful, creative forces of social change that in an instant can create revolution on the streets.