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At the Holy Cross Monastery in upstate New York, Episcopal monks have created a space of spirit & hospitality that draws people from all over. I met people from a wide variety of professions, many from “the City” (meaning NYC) wanting–no, needing, to get away. There were others from further south (like New Jersey) and one from Montreal. Multiple languages and colors and ages were present. Some took a train, others drove. Some came in groups, most seemed to have come alone desperate for the prayerful presence on the banks of the Hudson River since 1902. The brothers worship five times a day and visitors are welcome to join them–more people took them up on that for vespers (at 5p.m. or 9 a.m. communion) — very few made it up for the early morning or last of the day service.

Check out the ELUMC facebook page for photos. Here’s the poem I created after my morning walk down to the river.

A morning walk with poets

Who says a labyrinth has to spiral to the center?

When that one is snow covered and its path impossible to discern
the snowy walk to the water became my labyrinth meditation,

with each deliberate step, slowed by discipline and slippery conditions.

Feeling my way in the footsteps of others,
often finding ease in the careful placement of my own path.

The wind moans through the trees
sounds echo somewhere from a distance–human, maybe,
or perhaps a former generation of holy men who built this place in 1902.

Deer have been this way overnight
and a variety of woodland creatures too light to leave a mark
on the crunchy, icy surface sparkling
like the glitter of fairy dust catching the light
on what remains of winter
clinging to the ground after passing into spring.

Down, curve, over, down
choosing at times the safer path of sliding on my backside
despite its humiliations and appearances.

There is a bench but I do not need the rest
only the clarity of the journey,
the in and then out of the labyrinth.

Moving forward to that edge,
as David Whyte says poets do,
where rushing (water) meets (mountain) stillness
and another bench bids me pause,
reflect, consider, listen.
A seagull overhead does not call out harshly my place in the world
as Mary Oliver’s wild geese sometimes do.

An iron rose and mother’s symbolic presence
has spoken to others of the thinness of this place
and so I add my stone to theirs not because I must
but because the invitation is deep
Robert Francis proclaims it:

You who have meant to come, come now
With strangeness on the morning snow.
You who were meant to come, come now.
If you were meant to come, you’ll know.

The tidal river weaves by, one of two
the bishop’s widow said must be crossed to be here.
She named them sacred, blessing us in our travels.

The waves lick the land in endearing cadence
taking the place of Wagoner’s trees announcing “Here”
you are not lost.

Bells toll announcing the beginning of worship
the more formal, indoor variety
with words and voices–human–raised.

May the prayers of this natural cathedral,
my gratitude, mixed with cummings for this amazing day,
be woven into the generations of the faithful
whose witness names this place of holy cross.

Another trail beckons beyond, touching the edge
but I return the way I came,
choosing the way of the labyrinth, retracing my steps,
up, over, curve, up
to the place of retreat for three days
to the place within called home,
to know it again, with Eliot, for the first time.

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Our church community involves much more than just those folks who come to worship on the corner of Chestnut and Somers road in our askew sanctuary — which faces neither Chestnut nor Somers exactly. Rather, our building’s off-center orientation speaks to our wonky congregation. This Lent we’re studying “How to be a Bad Christian” by Dave Tomlinson. Lent is the time to lean into the unsteady exploration of our faith. It’s the time to reflect on what about our lives isn’t functioning correctly or is faulty. It’s the time to allow a Jesus whose parables often offered a slightly askew vision to speak to us of the wonky ways we are to act in the world (at least wonky by the world’s standards).

So tonight, before our study, we’ll join our community in an act of solidarity at the Jewish Community Center, who just this past week received a bomb threat — in what has become a disturbing trend to terrorize religious minorities, persons of color, and New Americans or immigrants.

Our work “to welcome the risks” involved in “raising the level of hope for those who cry out for love and justice” doesn’t just call our own members to action, it involves all of you — those reached by our on-line presence. We urge all of you to do what you can raise the level of our hope, so that our ministries take us well beyond our corner of the world and beyond the bounds of our town or nation. Here’s a Lenten calendar with daily devotional activities for healing racism. And here’s a prayer written by our member living in Ireland, Eileen Brogan, to accompany us in our Lenten series, the Key of Life. Thanks Eileen for continuing to be a part of our wonky community even across the pond.

God’s Key to Love

Christ is in my hands and feet, 
In the strangers that we meet,
Christ is in my heart and head 
It’s his words we’re meant to spread

God gives us all a special key,
So we can serve his family.
He teaches us to unlock doors
So others hear his word through yours. 

Let’s clap our hands and stamp our feet,
To show God that we won’t retreat.
We share his love with everyone,
From head to toe, c’mon it’s fun

The key is to unlock our hearts,
To serve the world and all its parts. 
God wants us to love everyone,
His key will help us get this done.

Now use your hands and feet to show,
God’s love is here so watch it grow.
God’s love is safe with us you see,
His key to love shared happily.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Eileen Brogan, 2017

Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann is always good to offer a word that clears the way forward. He sees the Lenten imperative as a

summons to come back to an original identity, an elemental discipline, a primal faith. . . . For I believe the crisis in the U.S. church has almost nothing to do with being liberal or conservative; it has everything to do with giving up on the faith and discipline of our Christian baptism and settling for a common, generic U.S. identity that is part patriotism, part consumerism, part violence, and part affluence.

We often think of Lent as a time of repentance of sin but Brueggemann reminds us that it is not generic repentance of generic sin, rather the sin to be addressed is the way the people of faith are “too eager to become Babylonians” (i.e. assimilate into the dominant culture). It is too easy to compromise our identity as beloved children of God, too easy to neglect our faith, our spiritual disciplines–in order to get along in an empire that has faith in other gods with other disciplines.

So how you will you observe a holy lent? We’re invited to be intentional in our practice –whatever it is. So why not adopt a habit of holiness that helps heal the division we experience in this country? To that end we’re offering a Lenten calendar for Healing Racism so you can fast from apathy. Each day brings an opportunity, a link to a way to educate yourself how to be a better advocate for equality. We’ve also posted a list of films to empower your efforts in having meaningful conversations about race and healing the soul of America.

We’ve had such fun in the Seussical world exploring the good news in the gospel and beyond. I’ve been grateful for the wisdom of Yertle the Turtle, the Lorax, and Sneetches–of scary green pants and sticky green goo. Grateful for the little ones–kids who question the futile actions of one-up-man-ship in The Butter Battle Book and those like Bartholomew Cubbins who stick close to those in charge, who dare to question executive actions and speak up, and warn those in power.

ELUMC has embraced the lessons and connections of Seuss and the gospel and I know we’ll take our rhyming into Lent.

Oh the places we’ve been
and the places we’ll go!
God’s presence is with us;
making love to flow.
We’ll encounter some things,
as people come near
we know little of and some
we may fear.
What if, we took time
to learn who they are,
what if, we sat down with them,
in from afar.
For when Jesus is followed,
love must be done,
the way we have chosen
makes enemies of none.
To stand up for the voiceless,
for the earth we must care,
creation is calling
we must do what we dare
And so together we join in prayer for us all,
for the journey is long
whatever befall.
Yes, we’re off to great places,
we’re in no disguise
for the splendiferous world
that’s right before our eyes
is weeping and wonderful
and it needs us to share
so we go with God’s blessing
and a calling to care!
God beside us, within us
and leading this day,
we have mountains to move,
so we’re on our way!

We’ll be off to great places, we’re off and away!
Welcoming the risks involved is in our DNA.
Our prayerful seeking will inspire us to more;
raising hope, and justice, and love, let it soar!

 

 

 

Extinction: [ik-stingk-shuh n] noun. Occurs when the surrounding conditions change more rapidly than a species can adapt to the changes.

This week the National Museum of African American History and Culture opens on the National mall in Washington, DC. It speaks of pride and the way in which the African-American community is absolutely integral to understanding the American identity. It has a striking silhouette — a triple inverted pyramid form, the shape mimics that of the crowns found in sacred commemorative spaces and African art. There’s this striking bronze lattice work on the outside and as sun shines through it and settles on the museum floor, it changes throughout the day. It evokes the feeling of hot summer under a giant tree with “sunlight dappling through.” On another level, there’s a window that perfectly frames the neighboring Washington monument. The way the museum is intended to be experienced is to start at the bottom, some 70 feet underground, in the history galleries and travel upward, literally rising through decades of history.

The architect, David Adjaye, a British-Ghanaian, says that ideally, architecture is not about the building itself, it’s what it enables, it’s what it says. It’s not about explaining things, he says “the building really should talk to you.”NPR story

Which got me thinking about what does our building say?

Perhaps you’ve been asked by those outside the church about all the scaffolding this summer? As the new windows went in and the siding went up, I kept getting asked, “what are you doing over there?” As if we might be getting the building ready to sell it or something.

If our walls talks, I hope they say, This is a place committed to building today for tomorrow…. I hope people don’t hear these improvements saying we’re taking care of only ourselves – building a nice bunker for members as the world goes mad. I hope our new siding says, “We plan to be a vital part of this community for the foreseeable future.” “Come fly with us. We offer our good stewardship of this building as a space for the community’s needs.”

Our building has hosted Al-Anon and Recovery meetings, it’s had a Lyme-disease support group, a friends of Native American flute circle, a preschool, a counselor, and a wide variety of non-profit fund raisers. It provides parking space for church festivals (other church’s events), hosted a farmer’s market, and been the site of various concerts, training courses and district events.

For some SBNRs (spiritual-but-not-religious), I wonder if this investment in the physical space, of what is often seen as a dying institution, talks about our willingness to throw our money away. When every article about the institution of the church talks about its decline and impending extinction, might our investment say we’re counting our ability to adapt and adapt quickly.

I hope that 13-ft giant, colorful cross and flame, that denominational symbol of United Methodism doesn’t say, we’re locked into our own denominational identity, separate from all the other denominations and proud of it. I would love it if folks driving by saw the UM logo and thought, “there are those Christians who are willing to burn brightly and be a enthusiastic force for good. There are those people who are so skilled at disaster relief. There are those people who work in partnership with other denominations and faiths to respond to suffering.” I would love it if United Methodists who drove by saw those dual flames rising from a single source and were reminded of our history–when separate factions united even though we didn’t agree on everything we were willing to join forces… a time when unity didn’t mean uniformity. But I know better.
In our increasingly secular society, research shows that most non-churched people think of church as judgmental, irrelevant, hypocritical and even hateful. If the only thing you know about United Methodism is what’s in the national news every four years when General Conference tries to keep gays out of leadership and full participation in the church, then you might just wonder why a congregation would so boldly proclaim on the front of its building “we, here, are Methodists.” For me, it’s crucial that the cross and flame are right beside a sign even closer to the street with a rainbow saying we’re committed to a wide welcome for everybody, especially those LGBTQI folks the global church is persecuting. It speaks of our commitment to make the denomination live into what it says about itself: open hearts, open minds, open doors.

I hope when people come here, they hear the space speak of our commitment to being green, our efforts to recycle and support fair trade farmers, with programs to feed and rehabilitate and house those who are homeless, or returning from prison, or in need of affordable housing. I hope they hear the elevator say we care about accessibility for all, or hear the joyous noise of so many kids speak of our commitment to provide a safe space for children.

I wonder what visitors hear this sanctuary say when they enter. Maybe as they come down the hallway and pass through the smaller opening into this space of high ceilings with light seeping in front this tall bank of windows and they have a sense of grandeur and awe.

Someone said they were sad to see our outdoor summer services end where we sat in a circle under the shade of enormous tree. The smaller numbers in attendance and different configuration of worship space offered us the opportunity for so many stories to be shared–the movement of the spirit in the group was so obvious each Sunday that I began to see the summer as a blessing and not just a shameful failure in attendance. Someone else remarked on how much better we sounded as a congregation singing close to one another, sitting facing one another. I long for the day when our sanctuary space is flexible enough without pews that won’t move, to allow us to adapt to the rhythms of the season.

To be seated facing one another would speak much more of an ancient posture, familiar to those early followers, training themselves to see the spirit of Christ in each others’ faces. Our current arrangement, with the pulpit higher and set apart, speaks of a much later time when the church wanted to raise up the role of preaching and clergy as the only experts on the divine (the clergy robe and stole complete the effect).

Of course, nowadays, that notion of clergy as the only divine spokesperson is almost extinct. Today there’s an understanding that knowledge and authority and divine experience are the shared function of the people more than the exclusive possession of one person. And so now you see high pulpits go unused, sanctuaries being remodeled, clergy who walk about or who use transparent lecterns (like the new one at Wesley Springfield) –those speak much more to the fragile nature of the word preached. The physical arrangement of things can remind us of what has always been true, that it is the community of faith gathered, on a particular Sunday, and the greater community over time, who has the authority to interpret the word for the themselves.

So I wonder, what does this sanctuary say to visitors about who we are?

The new siding and windows is the first project of the Growing Today for Tomorrow campaign – several more changes are coming as we try to adapt and upgrade our surroundings to serve our current environment. But I hope you will remember as we invest funds in this building, we are also pushing money and ministry out of this space. We just sent the tithe of the money we’ve received so far (15K) to New Hope Regional ministries.

And some of important ministries we do, do not actually happen in our building:
The Justice for our Neighbors legal help for immigrants clinic, mission trips, building a Habitat for Humanity house, helping to re-settle a refugee family, the Pioneer Valley Free Health Services (this one actually began in our building but has long since outgrown us). All of these happen beyond our walls. We come together here to form ourselves as the body of Christ to go out to “raise the level of hope for those who cry out for love and justice.” (From the ELUMC mission statement)

When the surrounding conditions change more rapidly than a species can adapt, it’s cause for extinction. May we be willing to adapt. May we continue to listen to what the spirit says through our building as we grow today for tomorrow.

When a colleague does such a good job of reflecting on the events and process of Annual Conference, why re-invent the wheel, just re-post and go on vacation. See you in July. Thanks Becca for your fine work here and at General Conference

From Becca Girrell’s blog:

The New England Annual (regional) Conference of The United Methodist Church experienced a watershed moment this week– so many watershed moments that it’s clear this is not a moment, but a movement. I speak not only of the passage of an Action of Non-Conformity with the General Conference of our denomination, but of the whole way of doing Conference. Our agenda took significant hits, with some important presentations and actions cut and some significantly restricted and rushed, but this was because we took time to listen to one another, to tell stories and hold pain.

Most of the time at Conference was spent in out-of-order witnessing and truth-telling, circle process conversations about our identity as Methodists (and for some of us, about ways forward we could imagine for the church), discussion as a Committee of the Whole* without the pressure of a binding vote, and many instances before session was called to order, in clergy session, and in the full session, where people stood at the microphone surrounded by allies and voiced pain and hope and called the church to greater justice.

It’s beautiful and powerful, and I feel like I’m part of a real Conference body again, one that puts relationships over power, and process over outcome. But how did we get here?

Like so many watershed moments, this moment arises out of deep pain. The devastation that progressive Methodists felt and feel in the wake of General Conference cannot be ignored. Some held out, waiting to see if this GC would be different (and it was; it was worse). Some have slender hope in the Bishops’ Commission bringing a proposal that will structurally allow flexibility (in a minimum of two years). But for most, May 21 found us with aching hearts and spirits, wondering if there was a place, with integrity, for us in a denomination where delegates advocated for abusing children for the disobedience of being gay, used false information from the podium to withdraw from protecting women’s access to comprehensive health care, committed to making sure the denomination followed the Bible alone (a profound rejection of Wesleyan lenses of tradition, reason, and experience mediating the scripture), and proposed that the church endorse curriculum that only teaches creationism.

But that pain and confusion paled in comparison to the agony for queer and/or Latina/o/x Methodists the morning of June 12. And like many religious bodies, The UMC was forced to admit that there is a connection, a direct correlation, between institutions like ours that dehumanize queer people and people of color, that call homosexuality “incompatible” with Christian teaching, that have legacies of segregation and oppression of people of color… and the festering hatred that would motivate the shooter in the Pulse nightclub. With the blood of fifty people (that we know about, because there are so many more) on our hands as the Conference session began, we could not even repent, because we had not begun to stop the harm we ourselves create.

So we interrupted it. And that broke something open. And it can’t be the same anymore.

Once broken open, relationships, listening, love took over, and like toothpaste from the proverbial tube, couldn’t be put back away. Not only was the harm to LGBTQIA persons named, and the Conference asked to hold that pain and take action to stop that harm, but likewise the harm to people of color, to specific groups and caucuses and bodies like the Asian Commission, to women, to people based on age, to folks in the theological minority, to individuals. It was a sacred gathering, and a prophetic one.

On the specifically pro-inclusion actions of the Annual Conference: 

For almost two full hours Thursday morning, before the session could be called to order, LGBTQ Methodists and allies held the floor and poured out grief and agony and anger, and listened to one another, and came out fearfully and yet to thundering applause, and wept, and demanded of one another action. Later that same day, a time for circle-process conversation, which had been previously planned, allowed space for a group to form outside the main hall and have another conversation. That group also followed the circle process, passing a cross as a talking stick, naming what we were feeling and listening to one another. And then we discussed what we could offer to the Conference. The whole body was crying out for action, but what action could we take? We discussed actions that would equate to schism, and decided not to propose those actions. Instead, offered an opportunity to share with the Bishop and Conference leadership our way forward, we focused on four points:

  1. non-conformity with the specific sections of The United Methodist Book of Discipline that discriminate against people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity
  2. refusal to hold or participate in church judicial procedures related to the above
  3. insisting that all clergy and employee couples/families receive the medical/retirement benefits for which they are eligible, regardless of the sexes or genders of the partners
  4. committing funds away from the discrimination named in 1 and 2 and into cultural competency training and advocacy to dismantle racism and homophobia

A small group met with the Bishop and named these four points, and came up with the process of using the Roberts Rules Easter Egg, “Committee of the Whole” to proceed. This particular process was proposed by my partner, Sean, and he shared some fascinating ways it had been used, including in the old New Hampshire Conference, to facilitate the discussion and eventual passage of a resolution for abolition. Meanwhile, another small group drafted language for the resolution itself, which I, ever the secretary to the revolution, wrote out in a shared document, and then other fast-acting folks arranged to have copied for the plenary.

The process allowed us to discuss the resulting resolution without the pressure of a binding vote on Thursday night, where it was overwhelmingly recommended back to the Annual Conference. Friday morning and into the afternoon it was debated and amended before its final passage.

What comes next is that this watershed moment has impact across The United Methodist connection. It’s not just those here in New England who will never be the same.

—With the caveat that I can’t remember everyone ad don’t want to offend, I’ll try to give shout out to the vast team that worked on these pieces (let me know if i left you out):
Thursday morning action: Lindsay F, Johnathan R-C, Steve D, and countless speakers like Allen, Sara, Justin, Cherlyn, Val…, with special props to Vicki W, Casey C, Rachael F, Sean D, and others for their truth-telling. Cynthia G, Kim K and others for the burlap stoles.
Circle process team: Dodie S and gasp i can’t remember facilitating, about 15-20 people participating.
Process planning with conference leadership: Will G, Sean D, Kevin N, Julie T, Vicki W.
Resolution writing team: me, Kathryn J, Kevin N, Stuart L.

* Asked on Facebook why we used the Committee of the Whole process, my friend Will Green explained it well:

We could have done this in session. We could have immediately suspended the rules and gone for it right away. I’ll share a few reasons I thought the approach we took was a good idea… Becoming a Committee of the Whole allowed us to 1) protect the Bishop from having to preside over our Conference discussing whether or not to follow the Discipline (instead he was presiding over debate on the recommendation of a committee) 2) have a discussion during which people could not amend the resolution, thus creating space for a cleaner conversation 3) have conversation prior to having a binding vote 4) take the closest thing to a straw poll that Robert’s Rules will allow 5) keep us from having to limit the number of speeches (which again could have been done with suspension of rules), 6) on a symbolic level, make a tribute to our forebears in the New Hampshire Annual Conference who used this same procedure to find a way to debate the abolition of slavery when a Bishop would not allow it (not that OUR Bishop was saying this, but there is precedent for past Bishops blocking us from acting on resolutions that they feel go against the Discipline)… That was my general thinking anyway, but there were many other ways we could have handled this.

 

We Your People, Ours the Journey

ashes Beloved friends and colleagues (Jamie Michaels and Cynthia Good) gift me with sackcloth and ashes in an act of repentance Thursday morning. Photo by Beth DiCoco, NEAC Communications

The New England Annual (regional) Conference of The United Methodist Church experienced a watershed moment this week– so many watershed moments that it’s clear this is not a moment, but a movement. I speak not only of the passage of an Action of Non-Conformity with the General Conference of our denomination, but of the whole way of doing Conference. Our agenda took significant hits, with some important presentations and actions cut and some significantly restricted and rushed, but this was because we took time to listen to one another, to tell stories and hold pain.

Most of the time at Conference was spent in out-of-order witnessing and truth-telling, circle process conversations about our identity as Methodists (and for some of us, about…

View original post 1,273 more words

Queer Voices @GC

It all started with a tweet

“Let’s play a game: how often can #UMCGC

sing songs and lift prayers written by queer folks,

while silencing us otherwise? #itstime #calledout”

We were singing and clapping and stomping

(because the rhythm of the song really requires it)

Mark Miller’s kicked up version of “O for a thousand tongues to sing”

in opening worship Tuesday morning when I wondered, out loud,

how many of the thousands of tongues singing were in queer heads?

My mathematical partner would answer 400

and then remind me that such calculations are “arithmetic”–

not quite rising to the level of mathematics.

 

What would the body of Christ be, I wondered,

without those LGBTQI tongues to sing?

I tried to imagine, adapting John Lennon’s lyrics:

“Imagine, there’s no gays in UMC,”

At least the self-avowed, practicing kind,

(cause the so-called “Good News” folks say they don’t object to the celibate kind)

But it wasn’t easy, even though I tried.

Wouldn’t the body be so diminished without those tongues

as to no longer be a body worthy of the body of Christ?

No longer worthy of praise?

Without the diversity of parts, once celebrated by Paul,

wouldn’t the body return to the dust from which we came?

IF we managed, through parliamentary procedure of course,

to cut out those LGBTQI tongues,

we might be left with a denomination in name, the UMC,

But it would not be the body of Christ.

That body would be elsewhere, enjoying the gifts of those

like Grace Cox-Johnson whose beautiful stoles enlivened opening worship,

or the colorful, out, trans, non-binary, youthful fabulousness of Aaron Pazan,

or the incredibly creative, detail work of a mind-reader,

worship team planner and floor manager like David Bone,

or the emotional lyrics and toccata rumblings of Mark Miller,

or the prayerful movement of a Randall Miller,

or the inspiring words of liturgical artists like Marcia McFee,

or the global musical sounds of Jorge Lockward,

or the ones whose full witness is shielded from view by our discrimination.

And that says nothing of all the other ways LGBTQI people are integral

to the denominational body,

like the powerful story I heard today of the woman, her orientation unknown to most,

who created a celebrated UMC ministry.

Then there’s the prophetic, poetic voices of the Indigo Girls,

Emily Saliers, a preacher’s kid, daughter of Don Saliers,

whose sung responses grace the UM Hymnal and

whose reading of psalms brings them to life.

And Amy Ray, in church 3x a week growing up,

who loved her clergy-magician-uncle using tricks

to illuminate Bible passages

(see these 3 ropes, poof, they’re really 1, a symbol of the Trinity).

Indigo songs sooth the souls of weary delegates,

volunteers and Bishops Friday night.

The concert became church, albeit in a UCC sanctuary,

with voices of belief, witness, prayer

and the struggle to hold the system accountable to the gospel good news.

Should the body UMC look in the mirror, reflected there are beautiful parts–

racial, ethnic, gender identity, sexual orientation–

not enough, but some, all integral gifts of the whole.

And what of allies, those cut out of the body by mandatory penalties,

or silenced in their welcome?

And young people (can I get an amen for the youth delegates report?)

If those queer voices, who form the body of Christ,

leave the church that uses their gifts while excluding their bodies,

I fear what would be left is not a body,

more of a shell of our former selves,

(and here I can imagine Voldermort’s twisted shadowy,

parasitic existence, before his return).

 

Because, if they go, the body goes with them.

And so I can imagine that I don’t do this work

of witnessing to the inclusion of the gospel,

of insisting the UMC live into its motto

of open hearts and minds and doors for “them”

but for myself–

because I want to imagine myself as part of the body of Christ.

 

Today, I joined the body singing, “I won’t harm you with words from my mouth.

I love you, I need you to survive.”

No need to strain to hear all those tongues to sing.

So I do commit to be part of the body of Christ,

wherever it goes.

Therefore, I go.