A Repairer of the Breach

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Don Meeks and Jeff Krehbiel are curating “Can We Talk?”, a modest attempt at an uncommonly gracious conversation among colleagues who differ on matters of conscience. Can we bridge the theological differences that divide us? Can we even talk about them? Can we affirm the best in each other’s theological tradition while honestly confessing the weaknesses of our own? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by LeAnn Hodges

“We want to have our child baptized,” a visitor said to me after worship one Sunday. He held his son in his arms, and his wife stood back, looking a bit uncertain. “Well,” I responded, “how about we find a time to meet and see if this is the church you would like to join, and then we can go from there?” At that point, the wife chimed in that she would meet with me, but that she wasn’t sure she would join this church… or any church, for that matter.

leann-fontIn the coming days I met with the young couple and listened to their story. They were both from the same African country, but the wife was brought here at a young age through what her family thought was a chance for a western education. But it turned out to be a ticket into slavery in the metro-DC area. She was held captive until her late teens, when she was liberated by the help of a lesbian couple.

Given what she had experienced, it was no wonder that she hesitated when she stepped over the threshold into the church. The miracle is that she was able to set foot in a church at all!

In her upbringing the church was expected to be a safe space, and yet the church had provided a source of legitimacy for those who had forced her into slavery. In her upbringing, same-gender love was considered an unspeakable evil, and yet a same-gender couple became the agent of her liberation.

Over time, she watched as the congregation embraced her son with love and affection. She began to share her story with other members from the same region of Africa who had no idea of the scale of human trafficking that originated in their home region. And she shared her story with those who grew up in the metro-DC area who had no idea of the scale of human trafficking that enslaved people from all over the world here, in our own back yard.

In many ways, this incredible child of God has become a “repairer of the breach” in our congregation. She has opened our eyes to our own complicity in an unjust system that capitalizes on the abuse of human lives. This is no longer someone else’s problem. And through her powerful and gracious way of being, she has invited us into deeper conversation about what it means to be a congregation of uncommon diversity where African and gay sit at Christ’s table together.

We are a congregation that is all over the place in how we view the world, and how we understand the meaning of discipleship. Our individual moral absolutes are often at odds with the person in the next row on a Sunday morning. And yet, through the witness of this unlikely saint, some of those invisible walls that divide us have begun to crumble. The creation of safe space where we are able to testify to God’s work in our lives has confronted our easy assumptions of “the other” and required us to do the much more difficult and life-giving work of holy community.


leann-hodgesLeAnn Hodges is the pastor of Oaklands Presbyterian Church in Laurel, MD. As a pastor, her favorite part of her job is hanging out with people, learning their stories, and if possible getting in a good belly laugh at least once a day. And from those stories, she learns more and more about the depth of God’s love made known in Jesus Christ. In her free time… oh, wait… LeAnn has three sons, ages 12, 6, and 4… but when she used to have free time, she enjoyed gardening, knitting, reading mysteries, and watching sci-fi shows with her husband of 22 years (who happens to be a high school physics teacher). 

Choral Speaking for Advent Readings

This information about choral speaking came from Gerry Hendershot during our October 2016 roundtable on Advent and Christmas planning resources.


My contribution to the discussion of Advent planning was “choral speaking” of lectionary readings.  I learned about this liturgical practice in a course at Wesley Seminary in DC taught by Frederika Berger, then a professor of liturgical arts.  It was once very popular in schools and churches in the U.K., and is still popular in some parts of the world, such as Southeast Asia.

There are many styles of choral speaking, but all comprise scripted and rehearsed performance of a poetic text by multiple readers. Here is a short example:

As the example shows, a few readers with a little practice can create a dramatic effect.

We have done choral speaking of Advent scripture at Pilgrims (www.churchofthepilgrims.org) about eight times since 2001.  I have been the director during those years and have honed a process that works for us. Here is a script that illustrates how the lines of scripture passage can be divided, assigned to speakers, choreographed, and spoken.  The format is cryptic, but I explain it to the readers.

I have found that we can do successful choral speaking at Pilgrims with as few as four readers, and as few as two short rehearsals—one after worship the week before, and another before worship on the Sunday of performance.  If your congregation is small, like Pilgrims, it may be difficult to line up readers the first time.  But my experience is that once they do it, they are eager to come back.  After doing it a few years, we have a “stable” of willing readers.

Choral speaking is one way to include poetry in liturgy.  With my partner Nancy Arbuthnot at Western PC in DC, we promote use of poetry in liturgy, education, and spiritual formation.  Our web site is www.verseandvision.org and we have a Face Book page.

Can the Center Hold?

by Don Meeks

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

(The Second Coming – W.B Yeats)

These immortal lines, penned nearly a century ago in the tragic aftermath of the first world war, seem eerily prescient of our current moment in American culture. Things are falling apart in front of our very eyes. Or so it seems.

Racial injustice. Income inequality. Theological division. Political acrimony. The list could go on.

Can the center hold? Can we bend just a little further without breaking? Can we find our way through this wilderness? Can we bridge what divides us?

Or even more modestly, can we even talk about all this?

ncp-open-spaceA few of us in National Capital Presbytery have begun a project that is far easier said than done. Aware of the many divides that impact our churches, we have asked ourselves one simple question: Can we talk? That is to say, can we reach across one of the aisles that divides us – the theological aisle – and actually have a meaningful conversation as evangelicals and progressives?

Can we honor each other, in the name of Jesus Christ, as sisters and brothers? Can we listen deeply and attentively to one another? Can we affirm the best in each other’s theological tradition while honestly confessing the weaknesses of our own?

The catalyst for this conversation came from an event hosted by one of our sister churches in the presbytery during the run-up to the 2012 presidential election. The event featured a panel discussion on Christian civility between Richard Mouw, then president of Fuller Seminary, and Ross Douthat, columnist for the New York Times.

Mouw noted in passing the common practice in political conversation for one camp to put their very best up against the worst of their opponent. Naturally. This is how the game works. In short, demonize your opponent and you never need engage in substantive debate on the issues.

Driving away from that event, I wondered aloud to myself, “What would happen if we turned this thing on its head? What if I chose to openly acknowledge the worst of the evangelical tradition and practice, and chose to affirm the best of what I see in the progressive tradition? And…can I find a progressive to join me and do the same?”

I call this a “thought exercise,” for it requires a fair amount of thinking. Some hard thinking. Some counter-intuitive and counter-cultural thinking. (Trust me – it gets easier).

In time, I posed the thought exercise to one of my presbytery colleagues, Jeff Krehbiel, and thus began what we now call a modest attempt at an uncommonly gracious conversation among colleagues who differ on matters of conscience.

Jeff and I have co-moderated an on-going Open Space dialogue prior to presbytery meetings for the past two years. We modeled this conversation at the NEXT Church National Gathering in Atlanta last February. And most recently, we led a panel-discussion and officiated communion in presbytery plenary meeting.

Can the center hold? Can we find others to join us in this modest and gracious conversation?

Jeff and I have been asked to curate this month’s NEXT Church blog in hopes that we might widen the conversation and bend it toward reconciliation and bridge-building across the theological and other divides. We invite you to join us as conversation partners and ambassadors of reconciliation in Jesus’ name.


don-meeks-headshot-2Don Meeks is the senior pastor of Greenwich Presbyterian Church in Northern Virginia. He is active in the Fellowship Community within National Capital Presbytery.  His vision for ministry is to invite people to experience and express Christ-likeness in all of life. He is an avid golfer, psalmic intercessor and songwriter.