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.


Capital Pride as PROOF People Seek Creativity

Pilgrims tower behind these fabulous human beings.
Pilgrims tower behind these fabulous human beings.

The month of June is "Pride Month" as cities throughout the U.S. pick weekends throughout the four weeks to celebrate their own queer community. The month of June is important because on the early morning hours of June 28th, 1969, "Stonewall" took place. The Stonewall riots were a series of spontaneous, violent push-back ("Hey, NYC cops. Stop beating the shit out of gay folks") demonstrations by members of the gay community against a police raid on the Stonewall Inn in the West Village of NYC. Stonewall is considered a pivotal moment in the movement for LGBTQ rights.

Washington D.C.'s Pride Week is the first week in June, culminating with the Pride Parade and Festival.

The Pride parade starts at the steps of Church of the Pilgrims. The parade literally surrounds our building as the start-off.

For me, Pride confirms people seek public spaces that are alive with color, sound, joy, hospitality, and creativity.

Here's my "data":

1) Open the Damn Doors! Pilgrims opened it's doors for bathrooms, water, and cooling off with the A.C. for the clothed, barely clothed, and basically no clothed parade goers. Our resident statistician, Gerry Hendershot, estimated 1,800 people came through our doors that Saturday afternoon, with 20 people PER MINUTE coming through the 3:15-4:15 hour (parade started at 4:30pm). Toilet paper, bathrooms, lots and lots of water and cups. Basic stuff, folks. Memorable hospitality.

2) Gender Neutral Bathrooms: We made all 3 of our bathrooms gender neutral with Carol Huls, one of our members, directly urinal and stall traffic. "Two urinals in this bathroom, two stalls in this decide!"

3) More Light Presbyterians stepped it up with simple t-shirts: rainbow colored, easy to read words on the front and back. We looked like a human rainbow as we gathered and marched in the parade together.

4) Drag Queens, Drag Kings---my favorites. I love those who bust up the gender binary and social construction of gender.

Same float but burrito rider had on underwear. Clothes? So boring!
Same float but burrito rider had on underwear. Clothes? So boring!

5) Floats! Here comes the wild creativity. Best float in my view goes to Chipotle. A guy, in his underwear, was riding not a

mechanical bull but a mechanical BURRITO! 3 cheers to that creative staff meeting!

6) Color, color and more color: Dupont Circle turns into a rainbow-palooza with restaurants, hotels, row houses alive with their version of the rainbow in fabric and streamers.  Clearly people take an enormous amount of time in the planning and presentation of their rainbow.

7) The Parade Watchers: I can't really call folks "watchers" because the energy, yelling, screaming with joy coming out of the folks lined-up to watch blurs the boundaries between who is in the parade and who is watching. People are their own human "float" in how they dress for Pride, move their bodies to touch those marching, and the profound expression of joy.

8) Pilgrims Unleashed More Creativity: Who knew if we gave Rob Nelb, Elder for Congregational Care, a bunch of flowers he would flutter his way through the parade route--THE ENTIRE PARADE ROUTE--in a rainbow cape. Our booth at the Festival became more interactive--let's make our booth this year more "like us" was the mantra.

Church with closed doors? Gender specific bathrooms? Church without color, sound, joy, and glee? Neighborhood without color, sound, and joy? Nope. Sorry. Pride shows me that people are seeking Something Else.


Blessing of the Plants in Worship

plant communion
plant communion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We did something similar with our "recognitions."

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

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

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

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

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

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

Analysis of Pilgrims Lent, part 3 of 3.

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

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

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

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

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

Our body takes shape in space.

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

One writer of LMA says:

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

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

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

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

Time to blow that shit up.

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

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

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

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

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

Analysis of Pilgrims Lent 2014, part 3 of 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lent 2014 at Pilgrims, Part 1

Now that we are nearing the end of Lent, I've got a handle on our Lenten liturgy and know what the hell is happening each week.... This Lent we are focusing on "the body." I wrote out our initial planning stage in this blog post, lifting up our playful and intentional exploration of our liturgical space and it's relationship to the body, our bodies, all bodies, preacher's body, liturgist's body....all these thoughts have been incorporated into our Wednesday night Lenten series that focuses on the body and Adult Ed on Sunday's that is focusing on death, dying and final rituals.

After our planning session and several weeks of tossing ideas into the air and lots of back and forth between me, Jeff, and Rob Passow, our music director, this is what we've come up.  We sub-themed each Sunday: hunger, vulnerability, movement, touch, and dying.

We begin by singing "Somos el cuerpo de Christo."

Somos el cuerpo, we are the body of Christ, Hemos oido el llamado; we've answered "yes" to the call of the Lord. 

Somos el cuerpo de Christo. We are the body of Christ. Traemos su santo mensaje. We come to bring Good News to the World. 

The music dims and the first part of the call to worship is read at the font. This was written by our intern, Jess Fisher.

When the time was right, Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem. Today, the time is right for us, so we set our faces towards the cross. Our journey begins with water. Like the deep water that the breathe of God swept over in the very beginning, like the overflowing water that sustains us in the earliest of moments of our vulnerable lives, like the living water that connects us in Baptism as we join the Body of Christ. 

The person saying the words moves forward to the table with a second person, carrying a THURIBLE. Yes! We are using a thurible to "mark the path" from font, table, and cross and to give a visibility to the Holy Spirit. While these people are moving forward, we sing the "El Cuerpo" song again.

At the table, these words are read: In between birth and death, we answer God's call, as we come to the table and meet at God who became human and moved amongst the broken, learn what we hunger for in our stomachs and our hearts, and reach out to touch our neighbor in the midst of life.


The two people move towards the crosses (thurible kicking out incense) and we sing the song again.

At the cross, these words are said: The journey leads us to death, at the foot of the cross, we bring an offering to God, one of incense and oil, which in life reminds us of the presence of God's Spirit and in death prepare our bodies to be returned to the earth. But even here we find Good News: our God goes before us in birth, in suffering, in death, and in new life. 

The thurible is placed at the bottom of the crosses where compost and remnants of wood rest--showing from dust and compost we come and return and executions are a human creation.

Pilgrim Matt Webster in Mountain Pose, with Dana  Olson guiding us through a meditation.
Pilgrim Matt Webster in Mountain Pose, with Dana Olson guiding us through a meditation.

We sing the song again, and when the song is finished, everyone is still standing.

Folks are then invited to stand in mountain pose, taking on the place where Jesus looked out over the horizon on the first Sunday in Lent. A guided meditation is used in this moment to connect with body, and the primary working theme of the liturgy (hunger, etc).

We gently sit after this, and sing another song.

Someone tells the very long Gospel story by heart. Phew!

Creating the story of the Woman at the Well.
Creating the story of the Woman at the Well.

Jeff then invites people to name an part of the story that stands out to them. A moment in the story is called out and people are invited to create a "tableau" of the story with their bodies. One requirement---you have to be touching someone in the tableau. This is an improv game we've adapted for worship.

Below are more pictures of our sanctuary. In my next blog post, I'll share what we are doing with the sermon and communion + my analysis of the liturgy.

Breakfast at Pilgrims Beach

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

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

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

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

This is what I came up with:

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

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

People shared beautiful testimonies. Really beautiful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Here is a clip of communion at Pilgrims beach.