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Passing the Peace: A Daily Practice

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Katy Stenta is curating a series called “Worship Outside the Box” that looks at the elements of worship in new ways and contexts. Each post will focus on one particular part of worship, providing new insights about how we can gather to worship God. Today’s post serves as the passing of the peace. What are the ways you worship God in your own community? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Heidi Thompson

What does it mean to pass the peace?

What I know is that during Sunday worship, when it is time to pass the peace, I stand and greet those around me with a handshake, a smile, and a phrase that includes “peace.” When my heart is full, this is easy and a real joy to reach out to others with the peace and the love of God. On a day when I am not so full, or I am in a church I have never attended or surrounded by people I do not know, I may hesitate and hope others reach out to me, and feel disappointed if they don’t. I try to remember this when I see others hesitate.

When we pass the peace in worship, we don’t reach out only to those we know or feel comfortable with. We pass the peace to anyone seated near us. Many of us look for those we don’t know, and pass the peace that we may get to know them, and allow them to feel welcomed and connected to our congregation. What if, rather than seeing this as a part of worship on Sunday, we could see passing the peace as how we are in the world?

For me there are two levels for looking at this “simple” worship practice. One level is what actually happens when we reach out to another with a handshake and a smile and the word “peace.” We are making a connection with another; we are weaving the cloth of the church community. There is no greater human need than that of connection and belonging. When we make that effort, when we connect with another, we are doing our sacred work.

The deeper level is what is in our hearts that we communicate in our handshake, our smile, and our words. Are we really passing the peace of Christ?

I am saddened by the divide that is growing in our communities and nation, when I see fear and anger being used to keep us separate and to cast aside so many as having no value. It takes the threads of all of us to address the needs of today’s world. It takes differing viewpoints and an understanding of those we may not agree with. The 2019 NEXT Church National Gathering theme description reminds us that, “Our call is to recognize the value of each thread in all its complexity, each thread’s necessity to God’s design.” And yet, when divisions are deep how do we weave together with those we can barely tolerate?

For me, peace is the key. Jesus taught, “Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

I believe that peace is the opposite of fear. And I see fear as the basis of all that is being used to divide and limit us in today’s world. It is the fear we are different and separate and not good enough; and it is the fear that nothing is certain and we will not be okay. I contrast this with what I know of God’s love: that we are more than good enough, for we are the fully loved children of God, and that our needs are, and always will be, met by One who is capable of more than we can imagine. We are not separate; we are one with God, and vitally connected to one another. We know God’s divine peace.

What if everywhere we went, we went with an attitude of passing the peace. If everyone we found ourselves with, whether we knew them or not, whether we felt comfortable with them or not, we would pass the peace in whatever way seemed appropriate – with an extended hand or a hug or a smile, with either spoken or unspoken words, passing on the divine Spirit of peace and love. What if every time we took an extended hand, we in our hearts passed the peace, with love and non-judgment, allowing someone to feel welcome, if only for a moment, in a world that is angry, afraid and divided? Emotions are contagious. Just as fear can spread, so can love and peace.

Is it possible to make passing the peace our way of being in the world? It will take being grounded in our belief in God’s love for us and caring for us, so that we do not fear. And in that place, we will be peace, and our daily practice will be passing the peace and the love of God to all we meet. And this is how we will weave together differing viewpoints and build bridges across the divides.


Heidi Thompson is an elder who worships at Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian and Second Presbyterian in Baltimore, MD. For over 30 years Heidi has been a computer software consultant and adjunct faculty at Johns Hopkins University teaching financial modeling. She writes and teaches about the gifts of fear and the dark emotions, and other things that make us uncomfortable.

Treating Fear: Immunotherapy for Sessions

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Andrew Kukla is curating a series on officer training. We’ll hear from various perspectives about how churches might best equip those they call to the ministry of ruling elder for that service. How might we feed, encourage, and enable the imagination of our church officers? How can we balance the role of officers as discerners of the Spirit alongside church polity? How might we all learn how to fail — and learn from it? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Katherine Kussmaul

I am not an allergist. I am not a shot-room nurse. I am an immunotherapy patient.

I am allergic to many things: dogs, cats, dust mites, molds, and a whole slew of grasses, trees, and pollens. I receive three injections per week: injections of the very things to which I am allergic. The hope is that, over time and with steady increases in the amount and concentration of serum, my immune system will adjust in a way that reduces the allergic response. I will still be allergic, but my allergies will not compromise my life and actions to the same degree.

So how does immunotherapy relate to governing bodies, particularly sessions?

When I think about the sessions with whom I have served and consulted, I see two shared traits: sessions, congregations and pastors are allergic to fear. Addressing this fear with principles from immunotherapy is effective in “treating” this allergy.

Fear, like my allergies, exists. Acknowledge its presence and impact.

  • Recognize symptoms: are we stuck, avoiding or side-stepping conversations, or continually postponing decisions? Symptoms of fear can present as a silent minority or as a silencing majority, they can be found in parking lot meetings, flurries of post-meeting emails, and in “people are saying” statements. Notice the symptoms.
  • Ask questions. “What are we not talking about?” “Whose voices are we not hearing?” “What other conversations are happening about _____?” “What is preventing us from taking action?” “Why does it feel like we are tip-toeing?”
  • Be direct: “Of what are we afraid?

Fear, like my allergies, can be identified. Be precise.

  • Identify the fears. There are probably more than one. Listing the fears provides clarity and facilitates movement. Listing the fears sparks conversation and feeds meaningful dialogue. The list becomes a starting place and a tool for reflection and assessment.
  • Be precise. It’s not enough to say “tree pollen.” We have to know if it is birch or cedar or pecan. It’s the same with an allergy to fear. It’s not enough to say “We are afraid of change.” Figure out the specifics. Drill down. Are we afraid of offending or disappointing someone? Afraid someone will leave? Afraid of taking a stand or being labeled the ______ church? Afraid we will decline beyond sustainability? Afraid of making a “bad” decision?

Fear, like my allergies, can be addressed. Take action.

  • Acknowledge the truth of inaction: there’s no such thing as “doing nothing” because “doing nothing” results in something. Gather information, discuss, discern, and do something. Action is almost always better than inaction. And when you discover a better way, simply regroup and head in that direction.
  • Speak for yourself. Practice, facilitate, and expect direct communication from others. Try “I am interested in your thoughts” when you hear “People are saying…” Or “To whom are you referring? I will speak with them directly.”
  • Agree on common language. Create a shared glossary (mental or actual) of words and phrases to explain the action, set expectations, and communicate the process. Be consistent. Establish an alternative narrative. Think about changing “We’ve always ______” to “In the past, we ____and now we ____.”

“Treating” fear, like my allergies, requires consistency and persistence.

  • Immunotherapy is most effective when you receive injections for three to five years. Even when ministry is busy or after reactions that require ice packs, hydrocortisone cream, and extra medicine. In those moments, I have to recall where I started, assess my improvement, celebrate my progress and remember: it takes time for an immune system to adjust how it reacts. It is the same with sessions, congregations, and pastors. “Treating” fear requires consistency and persistence. Even during Advent and Lent. Especially during times of heightened congregational anxiety.
  • Notice where you have responded to fear more effectively. Look at that original list of fears and celebrate the progress you are making. Embrace your role as pastor-encourager. Highlight success. Point to growth. Remember: it takes time for a session, congregation, or pastor to adjust how they respond to fear.

Fear, like my allergies, will never completely go away.

  • I will never be free of allergies. Particular seasons of the year will always be more challenging. While I hope I progress to the point of not needing daily medicine, I feel certain my medicine cabinet will always contain Zyrtec, Singular, and Benadryl for the times I need extra support.
  • There will always be particular topics about which sessions, congregations, and pastors will need extra support. This support may look like reconnecting with all or part of this process. It may look like inviting a colleague or consultant to watch, listen, and offer input. And it may be as simple as reading Scripture: Joshua 1:1-9, Psalm 27, Isaiah 41:1-20 & 43 or any of the countless occurrences of the phrase “Fear not!”

Last week was an easy immunotherapy week: no reaction. This week required an ice pack. This is the reality of immunotherapy. Treating allergies, whether dust-mites or fear, is a process. It takes time. And as my favorite shot-room nurse says, “Slow and steady wins the allergy race.”


Katherine Kussmaul is the pastor of St Giles Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, NC and is a graduate of The Aquinas Institute of Theology, Duke Divinity School and The College of Wooster.

When Creativity Saves You from the “F” Word in Ministry

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This fall we’ve asked a number of leaders to respond to the question, “What is saving your ministry right now?” Lisle Gwynn Garrity is one of our workshop presenters for the 2016 National Gathering. Learn more about the workshop at the end of this post. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Lisle Gwynn Garrity

We all know the feeling.  You’re neck-deep in sermonizing, lesson-planning, worship designing, or any venture that requires you to put your blood, sweat, and tears into creating something as an offering to others, and then the “F” word starts to rear its ugly head. FEAR is creativity’s brute oppressor; it shows up right when we’re in the thick of imagining or creating something new, and whispers not-so-sweet nothings in our ears.

“This is the WORST sermon ever written–even Calvin will be snoring from his grave.”

“We can’t possibly try this new youth activity–the youth will mock it and laugh in my face.”

“Members will certainly LEAVE THE CHURCH if I suggest we do something different for the prayers of the people this Sunday.”

Fear has this way of gripping us by the throat, choking us of any God-breathed inspiration for which we are gasping. And, too often, the “F” word wins out, shutting down the whole creative operation.  God forbid, the “F” word may even have something to do with that dreaded and familiar moniker, the frozen chosen.

Lisle Gwynn Garrity1

As a liturgical artist, retreat leader, and worship consultant, my ministry is constantly butting heads with the “F” word. When leading worship arts retreats, where I invite anyone and everyone (artist and “non-artist” alike) to create art in community, I talk a lot about the “F” word. There’s something about a blank canvas and a paintbrush that tend to strike fear into the hearts of most grown adults. So we talk about that fear. I declare that, if the “F” word shows up, we can acknowledge it, observe it, and then move right past it. That is the gospel promise, after all–fear and death will not have the last word.

When creating live visual art during worship, I am forced to practice what I preach. Being a self-proclaimed “artist” offers no protection from the “F” word, believe me. Painting for an audience to witness and scrutinize any mistake is vulnerability at its finest. But, when I step past the “F” word, I can fully offer myself as a vessel to be shaped and molded by God. Giving my whole self to the creative process is a full-body prayer; in those moments of fearlessness, I am most open, most willing, and most able to offer my gifts to others and to God.

Lisle Gwynn Garrity

So, what’s your fear-stomping creative practice? What’s one way you can regularly practice creativity (perhaps through painting, singing, cooking, gardening, wood-working, etc.) to strengthen your capacity to confront the “F” word? What’s one way you can offer your whole self to a creative process and to God? Most importantly, how can tapping into your unique, God-given creativity open yourself to that wild and restless divine Spirit that is so ready to do good work through and in you?

Lisle Gwynn Garrity2

 


Lisle Gwynn Garrity HeadshotLisle Gwynn Garrity is a Pastorist (pastor + artist) diving into ministry with a creative and entrepreneurial drive. A recent graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary, she holds master’s degrees in divinity and practical theology. If you’re interested in pushing past the “F” word to create art in community, sign up for her workshop, “Arts & Worship” at the 2016 National Gathering. See more of Lisle’s work at www.sanctifiedart.com or on Facebook at A Sanctified Art.