Posts

A New Vision of the Old, Old Story

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Rev. Ken D. Fuquay is curating a series featuring an eclectic group of voices responding to the question, “Does church matter? And if it matters, how, and if it does not, why?” Some of the voices speak from the center of the PC(USA); others stand on the periphery. One or two of the voices come from other denominations while some speak to us from the wilderness and barren places. “To every age, Christ dies anew and is resurrected within the imagination of humans.” These voices are stirring up that imagination in their own way. May your imagination be stirred as you consider their insight. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Jonathan Coppedge-Henley

On Maundy Thursday, I sat in the chapel of a seminary with about nine other people to remember Jesus’ last night before he was killed. The ten of us represented things that past generations of church might not have envisioned. I, a straight United Methodist pastor, shared leadership with a gay Presbyterian pastor. Our group was diverse in age, gender identity, denominational histories, and ethnicity, paying no mind to the old discriminations of too much of church life in America. We needed this service to demonstrate that we all belong to God. My friend made that real for me in a way that made me feel like we were part of something beyond just us.

The old “triumphal” version of Christianity was nowhere to be found as we tried to embody Jesus’ commandment to his disciples: love one another. Instead of getting a liturgy from a publishing house, I put the liturgy together myself, combining high doses of introspection and accountability with the Gospel readings and the Communion and foot/hand washing rituals. The guitar player from my friend’s congregation played music he had written, music that set the tone for something intimate and real, nothing packaged, nothing made for sale. We were small and decidedly not worried about attendance numbers or finances. I think we saw a new vision of the old, old story of Jesus.

In the late 1990s at the first parish I served, the postmaster in that town told me that she always asked new residents which denomination they claimed so that she could both give them directions to the church and also — get this! — send their contact information to the pastor of the “church of their choice.” That violation of privacy actually seemed normal to her! To her, churches still had a vague belief that newborns were the “future of the church,” that churches held a foundational part of the community, and that new folks were just out looking for a church to attend.

Denominations trusted these time-tested theories, so they built their new churches in high development suburbs having only slightly adapted to new cultural circumstances, believing that church was like cereal to people — everyone bought it so the only question was which one. Because those emerging generations had lots of questions, we created “seeker sensitive” worship services intended to address those questions by still funneling people towards the “right” answers. Church leadership learned to measure success by the numbers: attendance, contributions, staff size, square footage, number of programs, and the number of those who participated in programs.

By those standards, the Maundy Thursday service my friends and I put together would have been considered a failure, partly because it would have been desperately confusing to know which church got to claim the attendance numbers, and partly because in my misguided denomination my partner in leadership would not be allowed to fully respond to how grace has called him as a husband or as a minister.

Perhaps denominational fiefdoms, standardization of doctrine, segregation of worshipping communities, and the straightness, whiteness, and maleness of mainline Protestantism served some purpose (God only knows what). But while God has always been up to something new, the institutional American church has generally shown little capacity to do anything more than repackage the product — a product that in practice has often had little to do with Jesus the deliverer and more to do with Jesus the logo.

We are now learning that what we were doing, particularly in terms of our funding model, isn’t sustainable. We find ourselves staring at a different situation with less certain paths. This new frontier has the potential to reform the ways in which the people of Jesus practice what he taught, but it is clearly scary to many in the pews and many in the institutional offices. Hopefully the loss of our privileged stature in society will remind us to repent of how we’ve let go of our essential mission to love God, love everybody, and teach others to do the same. Jesus still speaks to people. People still need the love, accountability, honesty, and grace that Jesus expects and that Jesus people are called to offer. The difference is that people are now emboldened to admit that they don’t find those things in the institutional church any more. This is a chance for the church to recalibrate and let go of some idols.

For us the question now is what we should have been asking all along: what is God doing and how can we be part of it? From simply talking to people, you realize pretty quickly that many folks didn’t wait for the permission or vision of the church before setting out to meet the real needs of the world: caring for the poor and the migrants, actively combating racist systems, caring for the environment, searching for solutions to everything from homelessness to the re-segregation of schools to the cruelty of gentrification to the economic injustices that define too many workplaces. Many who don’t attend church long ago embraced that same-sex couples deserve the human dignity of a marriage ceremony. God didn’t wait on the church to get things done. In fact, I’ve come to believe that many of my non-church friends are better doers of the Word than the people who read it every Sunday morning.

People need what we’ve always needed: spiritual and physical safety and nourishment; we’ve always needed places to belong. That Maundy Thursday service sure felt close to what God is doing, close to the kingdom Jesus dreamed about. We know he likes to challenge our assumptions about what it means to follow him — a service led by a gay pastor and a straight pastor, a Presbyterian and a United Methodist, might challenge some assumptions. But what I know is that the willingness to belong to one another in that one hour helped us belong to Jesus in ways previously unimagined. God did and is doing a brand new thing.


Having grown up in the North Carolina mountains, Jonathan Coppedge-Henley has a deep appreciation for folks whose voices are ignored, under represented, or misunderstood. He has been a United Methodist pastor for 23 years in urban, suburban, and rural churches, He has been a church planter and has served historic congregations. He has some extraordinary worship experiences and tripped all over himself in some others. He has held numerous leadership positions in the United Methodist Church, particularly in campus ministry, but he also has an extensive background in community development. For five years he was the host of the Road Signs radio show on the alternative rock station in Charlotte in which he highlighted alternative rock songs as ways to make sense of life. He is a clergy coach to residents in ordained ministry and he writes weekly columns for the Morganton News Herald. As his current side gig, he is preparing to launch Neighborhood Table, a non-profit coffee shop, pub, and co-working space that will host community-building story-telling, artist collaboration, conversation, and peacemaking. Jonathan and his wife Elizabeth, also a United Methodist pastor, have two wonderfully sarcastic children, Owen and Lora, and vicious watch dog, their Berne-doodle, Homer.

2019 National Gathering Tuesday Worship

Call to Worship

The things of our hearts, our society and our world do not sit nicely together.
They don’t well fit into the small compartments we imagine.
Sometimes, the dissonant chords we strike are the only thing that will shock us and wake us up.
These holy sounds will remind us that all is not well, and God desires to work through us.
May we allow the notes to strike without rushing to find resolution.
May we understand the gift of being uncomfortable,
And know that though the valley seems unbearable,
God does God’s best work in the dark, and cultivates seeds of healing in lament.
May the essence of our being be enough, and
May we see the glinting of possibility along our journey.

Hymn: Lead Me, Guide Me

Prayer of Confession

For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice

who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
futures
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours;

For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.

And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning

when our stomachs are full we are afraid
of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again

when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return

and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid…

Assurance of Grace

Our lives are full in the hands of a tender God,
The One who is more concerned with the thriving of God’s people than their surviving.
So it is better to speak
remembering
we were never meant to survive.

Wild Geese

by Mary Oliver

Scripture: Matthew 15:21-28 (MSG)

From there Jesus took a trip to Tyre and Sidon. They had hardly arrived when a Canaanite woman came down from the hills and pleaded, “Mercy, sir, Son of David! My daughter is cruelly afflicted by an evil spirit.” Jesus ignored her. The disciples came and complained, “Now she’s bothering us. Would you please take care of her? She’s driving us crazy.” Jesus refused, telling them, “I’ve got my hands full dealing with the lost sheep of Israel.” Then the woman came back to Jesus, went to her knees, and begged. “Sir, help me.” He said, “It’s not right to take bread out of children’s mouths and throw it to dogs.” She was quick: “You’re right, sir, but beggar dogs do get scraps from the provider’s table.” Jesus gave in. “Oh, woman, your faith is something else. What you want is what you get!” Right then her daughter became well.

Contemporary Voice: Rev. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon

Video 1: 0 to min. 1; 9:17 to 9:37
Video 2: all

Scripture: Ruth 1: 19-22 (MSG)

And so the two of them traveled on together to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem the whole town was soon buzzing: “Is this really our Naomi? And after all this time!” But she said, “Don’t call me Naomi; call me Bitter. The Strong One has dealt me a bitter blow. I left here full of life, and God has brought me back with nothing but the clothes on my back. Why would you call me Naomi? God certainly doesn’t. The Strong One ruined me.” And so Naomi was back, and Ruth the foreigner with her, back from the country of Moab. They arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.

Anthem: Total Praise

Sermon: Bitter

Song: Joyful Joyful

Communion

Invitation to the Table

#SayHerName is a justice movement to increase awareness for Black womxn victims of police brutality and anti-Black violence in the United States. The movement exists to address the consistent invisibilization of Black womxn within mainstream media.

Words of Institution

Sharing of the Bread and Cup

Prayer of Thanksgiving

Out of your great abundance and grace you have fed us, Holy One, sparing none the delight of your gifts and presence in Jesus Christ. Thank you, O God, for one more time! One more time to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with you. Now, may we live as you taught us to pray:

Our Parent, who is among us, blessed be your Creation.
May your loving presence be a reality here on earth.
May we become more interested in building your kin-dom here and now than in waiting for it to come down from above.
Let us share our bread with those who hunger.
Let us learn to forgive as well as to receive forgiveness.
Help us through the time of temptation, delivering us from all evil.
For ours are the eternal blessings that you pour upon the earth.
Amen.

Closing Song: Great Is Your Faithfulness

2019 National Gathering Monday Worship Kriah

Led by Rev. Tasha Hicks McCray.

Kriah is a Hebrew word meaning “tearing.” It refers to the act of tearing one’s clothes or cutting a black ribbon worn on one’s clothes. This rending is a striking expression of grief and anger at the loss of a loved one. Kriah is an ancient tradition.

Sent Out into the World

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 benediction. What are the ways you worship God in your own community? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Andy Kort

The benediction. It is usually the last spoken piece in worship and is spared the distinction of being the last piece only by the inclusion of a postlude. The benediction is perhaps the shortest element in the worship service, usually only a few seconds to complete. Maybe that’s why people often love it. It is a blessing offered at the end, a simple and wonderful way to remember that God’s help, guidance, and grace goes with us as we leave the sanctuary. I hope that’s actually the real reason why people love it. But in my mind, the benediction and the accompanying charge serves as more than a blessing. I also see it as a line of demarcation, with a before and an after.

What happens before shapes what comes after. Think about the typical Sunday morning and all that happens before the benediction. There is an education hour complete with Bible studies, conversations about faith, kids in Sunday school, prayer in the chapel, and people catching up about their lives from the last week. Before the benediction there are all the other elements of a worship service. We are called together, we praise God, we confess our sins and hear we are forgiven, we pass the peace, and we read God’s Word and then proclaim it in sermon and song. We share our gifts as we are called to generosity, we pray, we sing, and on really good days we celebrate the sacraments. In all of this we hear about God’s reconciling and liberating work in Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. We hear about love, justice, mercy, compassion, and more. We cannot help but be shaped by this. And in turn this shapes what happens after the benediction.

What usually happens after the benediction? In the congregation I serve, the pastors recess from the chancel and position themselves to greet worshipers at the doors. The worshipers either stay seated for the postlude or get up and begin to disperse. Eventually we all go into our fellowship hall for coffee hour. Then what? Do we all just go home until next week? No. We go into the world as people shaped by all that happens before the benediction, ready to do the work after the benediction. For many of us, that involves mission activity that has been informed and interpreted through our worship, Christian education, fellowship, and even committee meetings during the week.

Many of us love to quote St. Teresa of Avila, “Christ has no body on earth now but yours, no hands…no feet…no eyes…but yours.” To that I would also add ears. Maybe even before we are the hands and feet, we are the eyes and ears, looking and listening, witnessing and watching what is going on in worship, but also in our neighborhood, community, and world. Once we learn more about what is going on around us, we are in a better position to engage while responding to being sent into our communities to work with our neighbors. This can also save us from imposing on our neighbors what we assume they need, or helping them with things they don’t really need or even want.

I recently spent time listening to church members through surveys and ethnographic interviews to understand what is important to them as it relates to mission, how they understand mission, and feelings on what we have been doing. I also listened to community agencies to hear more about their needs. The results were informative and led us to adjust what we were doing. Some things changed, others were dropped, and a few new things began. One example of a new initiative is our “pop up missions” where we learn of an immediate need and try to help. But we also strengthened relationships with existing mission partners like Montgomery, West Virginia (15 years), a Catholic church in Nicaragua (20 years), and many local groups.

After the benediction we don’t just get coffee in fellowship hall. We are sent out into the world, our neighborhoods, our communities, and our homes to participate in what God is doing. What is God doing? A whole lot. Christian education, the elements of worship help us to understand “who is our neighbor?” it informs our understanding and biblical best practices. We get a reminder that we are called, equipped, and sent out by God. And as we are sent out, we receive a blessing to send us on our way. It’s absolutely beautiful.


Andy Kort is senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Bloomington, Indiana.

Stewardship in Today’s Culture

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 offering. What are the ways you worship God in your own community? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Larissa Kwong Abazia

Let’s be honest: It’s either stewardship season or the congregation’s own sustainability that get our fiscal attention in the church. The act has been expanded to include “time, talent, and treasure” but is this simply a strategy to make people give more, feel good about what they decided to give, or calm anxieties about “the ask” rather than embrace a fuller understanding of what offering is meant to be?

I’m just going to cut to the chase and share these knowledgeable words from Walter Brueggemann: “We live in a society that would like to bracket out money and possessions (politics and economics) from ultimate questions. The Bible insists otherwise. It insists that the issues of ultimacy are questions about money and possessions. Biblical testimony invites a serious reconsideration of the ways in which our society engages or does not engage questions of money and possessions as carriers of social possibility.” As long as we continue to engage in the offering as merely a financial ask for the church’s vitality, we disregard the call to discipleship that requires us to see money and possessions as a disruptive force for change in ourselves and the world.

We must rid ourselves of a few myths:

Myth #1: What you possess is due to the success of the work of your own hands. Need we be reminded who created each one of us, who claimed us in our mother’s womb before we drew our first breaths? We cannot celebrate being created and called by God, yet avoid the required response to give back what was never ours in the first place.

Myth #2: Offering and stewardship are primarily about maintaining, sustaining, or building a legacy. A budget should neither define the life of the church nor its endowments or investments be solely about its own future. It ultimately reflects what we value and where we place our trust (consider looking at the church budget through this lens at the next meeting!). Withholding the money and possessions of the congregation risks keeping us from the exact neighborhoods in which our faith communities reside. We must stop utilizing the first fruits of what we collect for the church, giving only scraps out after our needs are determined.

Myth #3: Offering is what we give inside the walls of the church. We need to act as though what we do inside the church has the power to transform how we live outside of the walls; the concept of giving does not stop at the offering plate but involves every way that we choose to use or cling to our money and possessions.

Myth #4: Offering is just about money and finances. Racism, sexism, other-ing, assumptions, and hierarchies impact our engagement with and participation in Christian life together. We are called to a different kind of community: a diverse gathering of people who create a new lifestyle together. So when our churches say, “All are welcome,” it means that the visitor and stranger transform us, not the other way around. It also means that those who have power, privilege, and authority must share and/or utilize these possessions for the good of the whole.

What would happen if money and possessions were seen as disruptive forces of change for the church and people of faith? We would see Christ in every face and respond with hospitality, generosity, and love. We would acknowledge the truth that, if the marginalized remain in our midst, our money and possessions continue to oppress the exact neighbors we are called to care for and love.

American culture encourages us to clench our fists, take care of ourselves and those we love for first, and celebrate the freedom of individualism. Instead, our faith calls us to challenge these assumptions and live in a community where everyone’s needs are met and all contributions are celebrated, no matter the size. We need to witness to and embody Christian communities where the binary structures of this world (insider/outsider, foreigner/citizen, us/them, have/have nots) are replaced with a true reflection of the body of Christ.


Larissa Kwong Abazia is a pastor, speaker, writer, and consultant with the Vandersall Collective. She is also the project manager and a team member for the Collective Foundation, a non-profit organization supporting research into fundraising practices in Christian communities of color. Larissa was the Vice Moderator of the 221st General Assembly and has served churches in Chicago, New York City, and throughout New Jersey.

Contemplation in a Status Quo World

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 prayers of the people. What are the ways you worship God in your own community? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Mary Beene

Yesterday was a very busy day. I had several projects with looming deadlines and an evening gathering at my office. At 8:30 am I still had parts and pieces of an unfinished DIY bookshelf scattered across the office floor and little bits of Styrofoam packing stuck to every surface in the room. So I settled into my still cold room, sat on the hard floor screwdriver in hand, and finished the bookcase. Then I gathered my cleaning supplies, ran the vacuum and by 10:30 am everything was ready for the night’s event.

That’s when I sat on the couch in the corner of the now cozy office and admired my handiwork. I read a psalm and pondered the Lord’s judgment and the Earth’s joy. And then I sat for a few minutes more. Of course, the urgency of the day fell upon my spirit once my hands and mind were free to wander. I almost jumped up to begin the next phase of the day’s work.

But something stilled me, and I sat for many minutes more in silence, admiring the room, marveling at how God has guided me and uplifted me as I started my own spiritual direction practice, and thanking the Spirit for this blissful moment of quiet before the next thing.

When was the last time you let yourself take a moment of stillness in the midst of a busy day and a busy life? We are taught to admire people who rush through the day, accomplishing so much more than seems humanly possible. If we are wage workers, we know that there is no grace from our employers if we are caught staring into space, even if we know that in our hearts we are glorifying God.

Sometimes I even deny myself stillness at the end of a long day. I try to get in that last bit of housework, watch that program everyone is watching, catch up on Facebook, or even play a game on my phone. If I sit there doing “nothing” someone is bound to come and fill that time for me; but no one bothers me if I am still “busy” with anything that looks demanding.

As a spiritual director I teach contemplative prayer. And it is very important, because quieting our minds and opening our hearts to God is a skill that must be learned. It sounds like it should be simple, but even if I close my eyes right now, I can feel the urge well up to run in circles.

I recently learned of a Presbyterian church in Colorado that started an experiment 20 years ago to do contemplative/centering prayer as a part of their everyday church life. Now, two decades later, spiritual practices are a part of every dimension of the congregation’s life: time for deep prayer in worship, session meetings, Bible study, fellowship and mission. It wasn’t an overnight transformation, but it grew organically from the mustard seed of an experiment: what would happen if we took time for stillness?

This morning my office is in a shambles again. It’s not just the glasses and plates that need washing, the regular remains of a lovely party. Unfortunately, one leg of my cute but ancient loveseat choose last night to shatter and crash my poor guests to the floor.

Though I smiled, apologized for the unexpected dumping, and assured everyone that it was no big deal, my heart sank and my mind started racing again. I really love that couch, though it looks this morning like last night was its final party. It helped make the office cozy. And, of course, there’s no money in the budget to replace it.

After the guests left, I jumped into action. The computer came out – how much would it cost to replace a loveseat; is there any money in the bank, are there local stores I can visit in the morning, is there any chance at all there’s a youtube video on fixing ancient couch legs that are probably well past the “fixing” stage?

But this morning I realize there’s one thing I need to do before I rush into action, before the dishes are cleared, the floor is swept again, and the arduous process of replacing the loveseat begins. I am going to sit in the corner of my still cozy office, read a psalm, ponder the wonder of God’s grace and stay for as long as the Lord can hold me fast in a strong embrace. But I suppose today I’ll do it from a chair.


Mary Beene is a spiritual director, retreat leader and facilitator in Savannah, GA for Openings: Let the Spirit In (www.letthespiritin.com). She has her Masters in Public Administration from American University, her M.Div. from Boston University and is a graduate of the Shalem Institute’s Spiritual Direction Program. Her special interests include contemplative discernment for individuals and congregations and writing spiritual memoir as a tool for resiliency.

What Do We Bring From the Table?

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 Lord’s Supper. What are the ways you worship God in your own community? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Barb Hedges-Goettl

It’s commonplace to talk about what one person or another “brings to the table” as a reflection of the desire increase the available gifts and skills. However, since at the Lord’s Table, God does most of the bringing and we partake of and participate in what God gives, the question could be turned around to ask: what do we receive and take from the Table?

Historic practices of the Lord’s Supper have attended to the past actions of Christ Jesus in the crucifixion; to the spiritual more than to the physical; to fencing rather than opening. While they have not clearly signified bounty, the loaf is bigger, the cup deeper, and the Table wider than these practices would imply.

Our past, present, and future lie in God. We celebrate what — by the power of the Holy Spirit — God has done, is doing, and will do. The Supper signals not only Jesus’ crucifixion but his resurrected presence today. Christ Jesus is present, incarnate in and for the world, not imprisoned in the past or in the rite. Thus, from the Table we receive and take the present presence of Christ Jesus.

The Supper forecasts our eternal presence together with Christ Jesus in the joyful feast, the great banquet, the marriage supper of the Lamb. It participates in the “Not Yet” as well as in the “Now.” From the Table, we receive and take part in God’s ongoing work in the world, proclaiming the good news of God’s grace and love.

The meal is not ours. It doesn’t belong to this particular church, this particular community, or this denomination. Since it belongs to Christ Jesus, the lost, the suffering, the different, the “Other,” and sinners (even Judas!) are at the Table. Everyone brings who they are and what they have, and from this God makes a potluck dinner party. And so from the Table we receive and take being present with and for one another.

At this Table, we are offered what is central to life. In Jesus’ time, this was bread. As a Korean friend of mine has suggested, in Asian countries it could be rice. In the USA, it might be meat and potatoes. From the Table we receive and take the “meat” of life: God incarnate shared with all people as made in God’s image.

From the Table we receive and take the sanctification of the physical stuff of life. Going beyond even the best language for worship (as described by the Directory for Worship), what we receive and take is more expressive than rationalistic; a matter of affect rather than just thought; a building up and persuading as well as an informing and describing; ardor as well as order. It is an expressing of the whole community’s utterance, as well as the individual’s devotion. This eucharistic experience of faith is visceral as well as intellectual; active as well as contemplative; embodied as well as inspirited; enacted as well as verbalized. (Like Calvin, we experience it more than we understand it.) And so from the Table we receive and take an experience of faith that encompasses all that we are and have.

The Lord’s Supper is not to be scarfed up by those who get to the Table first so that others have nothing. That’s not how the body of Christ works. The koinonia, the body of Christ, is shared. It includes weak and strong, prominent and lowly, not just as distinct categories, but as the mixture found within each person. And so from this Table of koinonia, we receive and take the body of Christ for all of us.

Like at the meals Jesus shared with the thousands for whom he also “blessed, broke, and gave” bread, there is more than enough for all. All eat their fill with basketsful leftover. Maybe the Table should bear a cornucopia. Maybe the cup — whether little individual cups or the large communal cup — should sometimes overflow, brimming over in wild abandon, for from the Table we receive and take plentitude, wild provisioning, Abundanza, God’s uncontainable overflowingness.

[Receive.]
Take.
Eat.
This is Christ’s body, broken for you.
Thanks be to God.
Amen.


Barb Hedges-Goettl is a Presbyterian pastor and worship geek who loves delving into the Word to find words for work of liturgy. She live in the Philadelphia area and currently uses her writing and teaching (and pastoring) skills with inner-city middle school special ed students.

Youth and the Lord’s Table in the Real World

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 invitation to the table. What are the ways you worship God in your own community? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Cheryl Carson

How enthusiastic are you about coming to the Lord’s Table for communion? That was a question I posed to 16 high school students as part of my recent doctoral research. What emerged was an interesting tension between their passion for the sacrament and their boredom with the ritual.

The good news was that nearly two-thirds said they were very or extremely enthusiastic. John, an 18-year old high school senior, who was one of two who were extremely enthusiastic said, “It’s a way of connecting to God… I’m more of a hands-on person (rather) than just listening, so I think that’s part of what I enjoy.” Matt, a 15-year-old 10th grader said he was moderately to very enthusiastic “because I realize it’s important, and it’s necessary to take part in. But, I’ve done it a lot and it’s special but not very exciting.”

The celebration of the Lord’s Supper is a practice of corporate worship where we join with the risen Christ in a meal of remembrance and thanksgiving. But as the youth discovered during our focus group discussions, there are many additional meanings that are rarely lifted up.

In the book, Growing Young: 6 Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church, the authors proclaim that youth are trying to answer three questions: “Who am I? Where do I fit? What difference do I make?” Where can students better explore and discover their identity, belonging, and purpose as disciples of Christ than through the celebration of the Lord’s Supper?

The youth shared stories of their most memorable experiences of communion. They also, in two focus group discussions, offered their suggestions for making the Lord’s Supper more meaningful. They watched a video available through the PC(USA) entitled, “Communion: A Feast of Grace.” As they watched, they wrote down meanings of communion they heard. The one meaning upon which both groups wanted to build their Lord’s Supper liturgy was the theme of all being welcome. It was important to them to convey that everyone has a place at the table.

The scripture passage both groups selected, unbeknownst to one another, was the feeding of the 5,000. It spoke powerfully to them of the welcome offered by all being fed. They chose to follow the basic liturgical ritual found in the Book of Common Worship. They did not want to dispose of tradition. They wanted to build on it by making communion a full-bodied, sensory experience within that liturgical structure. We need not simply stick to a rote recitation of the Invitation, Great Prayer of Thanksgiving, and Words of Institution. The youth want to engage all the senses — sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. And when we offer a multi-sensory experience, research tells us the memory of the experience is more lasting.

Here is a sampling of the students’ liturgical ideas:

Intinction was identified as a more intimate experience for a number of youth. They felt a greater sense of Christ’s presence by coming forward to be served. And they got a deeper feeling of Christ’s love when the server said, “The body of Christ given for you,” as they pulled a piece of bread from the loaf.

Adding visual elements was suggested by a student based on an experience at a youth conference. Everyone had placed their handprints on a cloth. The cloth was later used on the communion table to symbolize the community gathered at the Table.

One person recalled World Communion Sunday at their church when a variety of breads were served. The different breads provided a representational nod to people around the world who were also participating in communion that day.

It requires some creative thought and extra planning to celebrate the Lord’s Supper with more verve. But, it is effort well spent in order to engage our youth in communion and to potentially reveal Christ in new ways.

If you would like the article length summary of the research project which includes the Lord’s Supper liturgy developed by the youth, please email me at ccarson@cfpresbytery.org.


Cheryl Carson is the Associate Executive Presbyter for Central Florida Presbytery. She advises the Presbytery’s Youth Council, serves as staff liaison to the Leadership Development Committee, resources congregations and their members, and oversees the presbytery’s communications. Cheryl has a Doctor of Educational Ministries degree from Columbia Theological Seminary. She also has her Masters of Christian Education from Union-PSCE (now Union Presbyterian Seminary) in Richmond and a Masters of Mass Communication from the University of Florida. (Go Gators!) She is also a Certified Christian Educator in the PC(USA). Cheryl and her husband, Bill, live in Merritt Island, FL with their dog and four cats.

Public Art as Prophetic Word

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 sermon. What are the ways you worship God in your own community? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Shawna Bowman

When we consider the sermon moment we often think first of the spoken word, whether an extemporaneous litany or carefully crafted prose. In the predominately white and western Christian communities I’ve been formed by, we have historically privileged the voice of a single preacher and depended upon the auditory (and hopefully eager) listening and learning of a gathered community in worship. This method of preaching and proclamation is beautiful, rooted in tradition, and has the capacity to inspire, form, and stretch the theological and spiritual imagination of our people.

And… and… it is only one of so many ways we human beings can engage with God’s dream for us and with God’s dream for the world. Rather than use words alone to demonstrate what I’m suggesting, I will invite you on a multi-sensory journey. Let us move for a moment from a stationary pulpit into the streets and look with fresh eyes and open hearts for a prophetic word preached in the visuals of street arts, graffiti and public installations.

As an artist/preacher, I am interested in cultivating an honesty about our own power and perceptions as we approach either the task of preaching or receiving a prophetic word. I invite you to carry these questions with you as we begin our journey into the streets:

Who decides what is acceptable “street art” and what qualifies as graffiti or even vandalism? Who and what artists are commissioned for particular and planned pieces of art and when does an artist risk a prophetic word or statement over and against the institutions who “own” public space? When is it the right time to break the rules, even the law, to risk a prophetic word or piece of visual proclamation?

YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL

Chicago based artist and designer Matthew Hoffman has been the custodian of a public art project that began in Chicago but has expanded across the globe in recent years. The project began as stickers and now includes public installations with the simple statement: you are beautiful in all kinds of shapes and sizes. It has turned up on the sides of buildings, in parks, along Lake Shore Drive, and has been re-created and imagined by kid artists in public school students and public artists around the world.

You can visit versions of the work here. Take a moment and soak them in! While the artists may not have set out to offer a sermon, take a moment to imagine how prophetic a word this truly is. How does the message “you are beautiful” resonate with our biblical story? How does God’s own voice shine through this particular invitation to embrace our beauty?

WHAT WE DO IN LIFE…

One of the most famous and yet anonymous street artists currently creating and curating work across the globe, known only as Bansky, calls their self a “quality vandal,” and their work appeared first in the UK and recently in Bethlehem, Palestine. The artist offers critiques on the status quo, and observations on systems of oppression and violence often revealing the way human beings in positions of power are complicit in upholding them. I love this because it reminds me of some of Jesus’ best parables. Simple yet prophetic, offered in a way that catches us off guard and invites us to see ourselves and the world through a fresh and potentially liberating lens.

You can visit more of Banksy’s work here. Take a moment to absorb each piece as it moves across your screen. Can you see God’s prophetic words peeking through these installations? How is this artist offering an alternative narrative to what many of us experience and put our faith in, in our day-to-day lives?

LARGER THAN LIFE

We know a prophetic word can change our thinking and can move whole communities towards hope and transformation. Chicago public artist Max Sansing creates public murals that are works of reclamation and representation in his community and across the city. He painted this particular mural in the neighborhood where he grew up. Sansing says, “I know a lot of times we get portrayed as certain things, and I wanted to reinforce we could be larger than life.” Isn’t that often the role of a prophetic word? To give voice, worth and hope to a particular people and in a particular context? To hold God’s dream up for the people to see, not only as a beacon but as a mirror? To say, “look, we have all we need, right here.”

You can learn more about this particular mural here, and explore here how Sansing and another street artist, Sydney James from Detroit, use their artwork to impact culture, encourage diversity, and engage youth in their communities. Can you hear and see God’s invitation to embrace the fullness of our human experience in their work? Do they disrupt, confirm, or challenge your assumptions about God’s dream the world?

AN INVITATION

Next time you encounter public art in the form of murals, installations, or graffiti take a holy moment. Breathe in the color, the imagery, the form and shape and listen for the prophetic word speaking through the work. Let the work wash over you like liturgy and let God’s dream for the world bubble up in your imagination!


Shawna Bowman is an artist and pastor doing ministry with the creative and justice-seeking folks at Friendship Presbyterian Church in Chicago. Shawna is co-founder of Creation Lab, an arts incubator and working studio space at the intersection of creativity, spirituality, and prophetic imagination, also in Chicago. Shawna is also Associate Director of Field Ed & Experiential Education at McCormick Theological Seminary.

The Intentional Practice of Imago Scriptura

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 scripture reading. What are the ways you worship God in your own community? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Edward Goode

“You need to pray the Psalms.”

Those were the words of a prayer partner friend after I had been sharing about some of the most difficult challenges I had faced both personally and in my pastoral ministry. My response was something like, “yeah yeah” because he said once again…

“Ed…You NEED to pray the Psalms.”

That night, he texted me asking if I had prayed Psalm 1. So I opened up my Bible app and read it so that I could reply back that I had. But something stirred as I read “…but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by steams of water…”

What stirred in me was a picture I had taken a few months earlier of a tree that looked to be growing out of a lake. As I opened up my photos on my computer and found a picture of it and I felt like I was looking at Psalm 1. It may not have been the way that my friend intended it, but I prayed Psalm 1 at that moment. (Side note – I later found out that the tree is actually dead…oops.)

I copied that photo into my journaling app and wrote a few words about it and what stirred in me. The next day, I read Psalm 2 about taking refuge in God and thought of the overhanging branches of a row of live oaks in South Carolina I had seen. The next day came images for Psalm 3, then 4, and several months later I had gone through all 150 Psalms both in my own personal journal and posting them to my blog. As I did, I began to hear from others about how the images helped them to “see” the Psalms in new ways.

Through this new practice, the Holy Spirit transformed my experience of Scripture. As I read the passage in the morning, I started to make it my practice to take a picture of something from that day that reflected the Scripture. As a result, the words stayed with me and truly dwelt in me throughout. I wasn’t just reading to say I had read it but it was reading it to see it became incarnate in my life. It moved Scripture from being an intellectual exercise to something that engaged me more fully – intellect, body, emotions, time.

One of the struggles that people have with the Bible is finding the places where it intersects with “real life.” This practice helped me to find those intersections. Simply put, it is the practice of intentional looking for where God is all around us. Over the years this practice has grown where I am seeing Scripture around me even when I am not intentionally looking for it. Sometimes it has been a sunrise or sunset and sometimes it has been a cup of tea on my desk or a broken branch on a tree.

In the years that have followed, I have continued this practice in my own personal life but also have begun to find ways to integrate it into the worship life of the congregations I’ve served, to lead people in visual devotional practices, youth group activities with kids and their phones, and so forth.

Within worship, this practice can widen the experience of Scripture for a congregation. Scriptures can be shared with the congregation in advance and members are invited to respond in prior to Sunday or during the service itself with their own pictures of how they’ve “seen” those Scriptures around them during the week. Sermons could be crafted out of the images that are shared by the congregation as well. Congregational members can also share their images on their own social media feeds as a way to share their faith and be invitational to others. Like my own personal experience of it, this practice can allow Scripture to be experienced more fully by a congregation – engaging not simply the intellect but the emotions – engaging not just in an hour on Sunday but throughout the week between the Sundays.

I was asked a few months ago about what this practice has done for me and simply put, it is helped me “see more.” My physical vision hasn’t changed but my spiritual vision has. This, I believe, is one of the core desires God has for us – to widen our vision… to see the beauty and wonder of God all around us, to see Scripture come to life within and through each of us, to help us to see more of the opportunities that God places around us to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world, and to draw upon the life-giving movement of the Holy Spirit.


Edward Goode is one of those PCUSA pastors enjoying the blessing of our denomination’s full communion relationships as he serves as interim pastor at Christ Church UCC in Ft Thomas, Kentucky. He and his wife Amy (also a PCUSA pastor) have three teenagers who keep them humble, busy, and continually in prayer. In addition to being a husband, father, and pastor, he loves to be outdoors with their dog, Scout, and his camera (currently unnamed). You can follow him at imagoscriptura.com, @revdarth on Instagram and @edwardgoode on Twitter.