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The Landscape of Liturgy: Blessing of the Plants in Worship

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During September, Leanne Pearce Reed is curating a month of blog posts exploring stewardship of all creation. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Ashley Goff

(Editor’s Note: This writing first appeared on Ashley’s blog God of the Sparrow, where she writes on adventures with liturgy, yoga, urban farming, and being inspired by the Planet and its radical, creative earthly creatures. Check it out!)

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.

plant communion
Table. Font. Cups. Plants.

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 thinking…me holding the pitcher for everyone. Thankfully Jeanne pushed me out of the way.

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

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

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.

 

Ashley Goff is a pastor at Church of the Pilgrims in Washington, DC and regular blogger at God of the Sparrow.

Change Rooted in Relationships

By Ashley Goff

children_youth_1Why do the same people do everything around here? Why do I feel burned out? Where are all the new people? Where can we find people to do all this work? Who can we get someone to fill “x” position?

I heard these questions a lot when I arrived on the scene at Church of the Pilgrims in 1999.

We were living in a “this-is-sucking-the-life-out-of-us-culture.” People were compartmentalized into committees, with tasks and identities cementing them into an endless cycle of administrative anxiety rather than relationships and community building.

Pilgrims became aware of this dynamic, acted upon this realization, and in a prophetic sweep blew apart the committee structure to make way for a more fluid, open, organic way that was grounded in process rather than mind-numbing bureaucracy.

When Jeff Krehbiel arrived, he introduced community organizing and the foundational organizing tool—the relational meeting.

Over time, with our process-oriented structure, we’ve shifted into a “culture of possibility” with the relational, 1-on-1 meetings.

What is a 1-on-1 meeting?

  • A 30-60 minute meeting of face-to-face conversation with another person
  • A conversation about what the person’s passions, hopes, and dreams.
  • An opportunity to go outside the bounds of traditional congregational meetings that usually have an “ask” at the end.
  • A way of creating space for new ideas and possibilities.
  • A way of identifying new leaders with the ability to create change.

A 1-on-1 meeting is not:

  • A chance to find someone to fit into long-standing tasks and preconceived agenda.
  • Therapy or pastoral counseling.
  • An intellectual conversation about politics and head-trippin’ theology.
  • An interview of non-stop questions and putting someone in the “hot seat.”

What Happens During a 1-on-1 meeting?

  • “Why” is woven throughout the conversation.
  • The person who initiated the 1-on-1 structures the beginning and end. The middle part is improvisation based on the story of the particular person.
  • Risks are taken to go deeper into one or two things about the person’s story, especially when the person says something like, “I thought about being a physicist but became a personal chef.” Huh. I wonder what that transition is about.
  • Have a conversation! Share about yourself in the back-and-forth.
  • Close by asking who else you should meet with.

Organizing in the Flesh:

When do I experience organizing in the flesh? What difference do these meetings make? What does a “culture of possibility” look like at Pilgrims?

I try to do relational meetings at least twice a month. I can feel it when my calendar runs low on these meetings. I feel more rooted in myself and my work when I am consistent with this discipline of organizing. When I do a 1-on-1 with someone new at Pilgrims the congregation feels even more alive. When I do a 1-on-1 with someone who has been at Pilgrims for 30 years, I cherish their story and commitment to this place with more fervor.

Several weeks ago, Hannah Webster, our Elder for Hospitality and Evangelism, led a meeting to organize for the annual Capital LBGTQ Pride parade in June. Neither I nor Jeff was at the meeting. I ran into Hannah at the conclusion of her gathering and asked how it went.

Hannah’s reply, “great, we are going to make our festival booth more “like us” this year. Meaning, they want our booth at the Pride Festival to be more participatory and experiential. That means handing out essential oils made from honey and herb from Pilgrims urban garden and getting a photo booth.

Eight people showed up to this meeting because Hannah had done the relational work. Long-time members, new members and non-members were at the meeting. Hannah led the meeting, allowing space for free flowing ideas to erupt. Hannah didn’t control the meeting. She let the relationships in the meeting drive the vision for Pride. The group realized our booth needed to fit into our “culture of possibility” with participatory, relational experiences.

Change is happening all the time in our permission-giving space from creativity in worship, how we run meetings, who leads the meetings, and how new ideas are embraced and rise-up. Leaders at Pilgrims are cultivated through passion and interests, rather than inserting folks into long-standing, nostalgia based “to-do” lists and “this is what we’ve always done” repetitious activity.

We know names and stories. We know how to make our culture intentional. We appreciate each other and know that we are in this Jesus movement together. We take risks. We trust each other. We know we have something to offer to those who walk through our door—it’s a Story of transformation and change rooted in relationships.

worship3Ashley Goff is Associate Pastor at Church of the Pilgrims in Washington, DC. She blogs at God of the Sparrow.

5 Questions with Ashley Goff

We are launching a new series this month that highlights participants at the national gathering in Charlotte, North Carolina on March 4 – 5th, 2013. Presenters, preachers, teachers, and leaders were asked the same five questions and their thoughtful responses may be found here every week. The goal is to introduce you to people you’ll hear from in Charlotte and prime the pump for our time together. Hopefully, something here will spark an idea, thought, or question for you. We encourage you to reach out and initiate conversations that you can later continue in person. So without further ado … 

Ashley Goff is Minister for Spiritual Formation at Church of the Pilgrims (PCUSA) and ordained in the United Church of Christ. Ashley graduated from Union Theological Seminary in NYC where she fell in love with the art of liturgy.  She lives with deep gratitude for several communities which have formed her along the way: Denison University, the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, the Open Door Community, and Rikers Island NYC Jail. Ashley also finds life in Springsteen music, beekeeping, urban farming, vinyasa yoga, and her three kids and loveable spouse.

1.Tell us about your ministry context

I am Minister for Spiritual Formation at Church of the Pilgrims, a More Light, urban, progressive, “we-drink-beer-during-Bible-study-at-the-bar-across-the-street” PCUSA congregation in Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C. I have been at Pilgrims 14 years and ordained in the United Church of Christ. When I arrived at Pilgrims in 1999, right out of Union Seminary in NYC, the congregation was at rock bottom in every way possible. Now, we have transformed ourselves into a lively, mutli-age/gender/race/denominational-history congregation. We thrive on innovative worship, community organizing, urban gardening, Biblical stories, and sharing food with hungry people.

2. Where have you seen glimpses of “the church that is becoming”?

At Pilgrims, I experience a community that is and becoming an innovative, creative, collective body when we worship together, particularly when we take ancient practices and make them new to us. We are becoming when we roast marshmallows before a winter solstice service, walk in meditation before communion, learn new songs together, anoint each other after sharing the bread, and baptize with a thunderous voice that peace and justice are the Ways of God. We are becoming when I experience liturgy at Pilgrims and realize someone could see what we did in two ways: “what you did was profoundly Christian or barely Christian.” When we risk and take ourselves to an edge for the sake of Jesus we are becoming.

3. What are your passions in ministry? (And/or what keeps you up at night?)

My passion is this creative edge for liturgy that creates space for us to experience the transformative nature of the Spirit. I have been most influenced by the ancient liturgical expressions of the Open Door Community in Atlanta, Georgia, James Chapel at Union Seminary in NYC, and St. Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco, and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. These communities transformed me through their improvisational, liturgical ways, opening us space for God to be known to me. I’m passionate about carrying the methods of these communities into my work. I’m passionate how the revolutionary methods of the arts hold the most power for me in planning liturgy. I’m passionate about the intersection of urban gardening, liturgy, sharing food and how an Earth-Honoring faith pushes Pilgrims to tether itself to God whose unrelenting imperative is justice.

4. What is one thing you are looking forward to at the NEXT Gathering?

I’m looking forward to sharing Pilgrims story of liturgy and being with people, especially Laura Cunningham, who is a dear friend and whom I don’t get to see very often.

5. Describe NEXT in seven words or less.

Collective. Imagination. Newness. Imperative. Must. Yes. Innovation.