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.