Finding Church

I went to Oregon this past weekend to be present for my grandson, Austin’s, Black Belt graduation. When my son picked me up at the airport on Thursday, he asked me if there was anything else special I wanted to do this weekend, and I said that I’d like to go to church.

When I went to seminary over thirty years ago, I found studying about God and theology and the Bible and liturgy really messed with my relationship with God. How to find the Holy One when God was a test to be taken, a paper to be written, and another chapter to be read? I found my way, thankfully, to a deeper relationship with God.

I find myself in a similar place after serving as a priest on the Diocesan staff. This time, God and I are really good, but I have my struggles with the church.

Worshipping nearly every week in a different church, I find myself without a church community or home. When I am at church, I am usually there to problem solve and listen. I do my very best to worship, but all too often I am present to work. It’s messing with finding Church (the gathered body of Christ)when I am at church (a building with people gathered).

I am craving the Holy in the gathered community.

Sunday when my Bend family got up, my son announced we were all going to church (the grandboys doing the nooooooo! that greets so many Sunday morning families). They aren’t attending church on a regular basis, so I got to choose where we would go. I had worshipped in a local mainline Protestant church on another visit, so I chose that.

The worship space was nearly filled with people whose hair color was the same as mine. The ushers expressed delight at seeing a young family (tip: I don’t think it’s a best practice to welcome with the words, “Oh! Young people!” It may only point out that the congregation is of riper years, and the words can have a feel of desperation rather welcome).

Disappointingly, I could not move myself from work-mode to worship. I did find a Holy center in the music and the pastor’s prayer at communion. But in the post-pandemic search for who the church is to be in this new world, almost everything else in the service, for me, could have been experienced at any other well-intentioned gathering. It was too safe.

I know that we receive what we put into worship, so I take my own responsibility for my experience. I will say that the things I missed helped me in my own discernment of what is Church. I need to hear Scripture read with respect and a little awe; I need corporate prayer that is not words read but prayed; I need times to pause to let words sink in.

I know that worship is not about what we feel but about our presence. I was present and my family was, too, and I know that whether we feel or know it or not, God blessed us.

Which leads me to karate.

But I’m thinking about how we are Church when most people won’t ever walk through church doors.

On the occasions when I took my grandboys to karate and had the gift to watch their classes, I had been impressed with the values that were being taught. I told Mr. White, that although God is never mentioned, there was a glimpse into God’s hope for the world in what I see happen there.

After Black Belt graduation, I had a rich conversation with Mr. White, the karate instructor. I knew that he had been a youth pastor before he began to teach karate. He told me about his journey from ministry in the church to (my words) ministry in the world.

I told Mr. White the Christian values I saw in the karate studio even when Jesus’ name was never mentioned. I saw people who would never enter a church for one reason or another be respected and welcomed.

I told him I saw an amazing diversity of people who are challenged to rise to their very best. I saw the gift of discipline; encouragement when encouragement was needed; correction when that was necessary. I saw an unlikely group of people working together in community as they worked through their own individual program. There were intentional opportunities for the karate students to serve outside of class. These are some of the characteristics of church.

Mr. White told me about a vision someone had had about God’s call on his life. Mr. White understood the vision to mean that he would be a senior pastor in a church. He told me about the day in the karate studio that he realized that he had misunderstood; that this was exactly “the church” where God wanted him.

In the sermon yesterday, the pastor said this (more or less):

In the 1960s, a Japanese theologian, Kosuke Koyama, wrote a book, Three Mile an Hour God (SCM Press). He noticed that the average speed that human beings walk at is three miles per hour. Jesus, who is God, walked at three miles per hour. God, who is love, walks at three miles per hour. Love has a speed, Koyama says, and that speed is slow. That speed is gentle. That speed is tender.

I keep thinking and praying about church. I keep thinking and praying about Church.

Knowing that God is slow and gentle and tender, how am I to be church wherever Church may be?

I guess I did find Church this weekend. And the Holy, too.

Triduum 2023: Good Friday

Packed and dressed in my clergy collar, I spent Good Friday morning flying to Dallas to be with my family.

I’m always interested to hear how men in clergy garb get lots of attention when they travel. For women clergy, at least in my experience, we are invisible.

On this Good Friday, the snafus of travel were active, and I had more often than not to refocus myself to kindness and patience. I had to remind myself over and over the contrast with what Jesus experienced going through the hours of that long ago Friday. And me? A delay? A long line? And then another? Cranky people?

Armed with my collar (even if no one else recognized that I was clergy or even a nun), I had to especially remember kindness and patience. I tried to turn my irritation to prayer, and even remembered to ask a few people how I could pray for them.

Two of the women working at Hertz had specific requests. I suspected that when one of them asked me to “pray for our country which is in such crisis,” that within the context which she asked, she and I might disagree about what to pray for if we were to give God our specific list.

This is why I love the prayer of simply lifting to God and knowing that God is and will tend to things. We might both be surprised at how God is working God’s purpose out.

The cross as God glorified as an example.

I had two options for noon day services, and the glitches of the day narrowed me to one on time possibility. I arrived at St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields, Keller, with mere moments to spare.

Worshipping with my friend, Alan+, I was once again struck by what the solo pastor carries during Holy Week. Once again, I hope my presence let him know that I carried his responsibilities with him with my prayers.

Triduum 2023: Maundy Thursday

The rhythm of over thirty years of serving in congregational leadership is nowhere more imprinted in my soul and spirit than during Holy Week. No matter where I am in my faith walk or relationship with God, Palm Sunday calls me to the daily walk of Holy Week.

Prayers and readings for Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday, and Holy Wednesday set the stage for the great culminating activity of the Triduum.

I am aware of how all of the years of serving in a church—planning liturgy, proofing worship booklets, and writing sermons—leaves a bit of an empty spot in my ministry as priest on a diocesan staff because I no longer “belong” to a place.

That makes it easy to rationalize “worship at home” rather than the steps of making sure I am worshipping in community.

Maundy Thursday, I was planning to go the church that I call my sorta home when I’m not serving a congregation. As I moved through the day, I felt a tug to worship with the church nearest my home, Hope Episcopal. I had a heart pull to worship with that small congregation and to support the lone priest, a woman I respect very much. I remember the extra responsibility single clergy have walking with their congregation during Holy Week, and I didn’t want her to be alone. So I put on my collar and drove in the rain to church.

The worship was lovely and well thought through. My feet were washed by a woman of color, and I washed the feet of a heavily masked man.

We were all invited to participate in the stripping of the altar, and as we few gathered silently removing hangings, palms, and accoutrements, the musician sang, “Stay with me. Stay here with me. Watch and pray.” Having the whole congregation work reverently in community to prepare the church for Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion, and death was prayer in motion.

As my sister priest left at the conclusion of the liturgy, she stopped beside me and took my hand as we shared, for a moment, our connection as priests.

The night was long. We had one of those horrific spring storms with pounding rain, bellowing thunder, and continuing lightening keeping the sky bright. I could not sleep. So I joined the millions through out the world in vigil with Christ. I decided not to be anxious about the memories the storm nudged or that I needed to be on the road early to go to Dallas.

I watched. I stayed. I prayed.

Percy Jackson: Chapters 2–13 or 2 Planes, 4 Trains, and 5 Automobiles

Wednesday we were up early to replicate, sort of, Percy’s trip to Camp Half Blood in Montauk, at the far end of Long Island.

Ubering and train-ing, we rented a car and began the two and one half hour drive to Montauk. The trip through woods and towns with glimpses of the ocean, was even more delightful as we listened to The Lightening Thief in the car. As we heard the words, we could reminisce about places seen and places ahead. Thankfully, we were not attacked by a Minotaur.

Imagining Percy’s adventure, we ended up at the very tip of Long Island by the Montauk lighthouse where Austin had a zen moment building a cairn.

We took brief hikes around Fort Hero and drove around the Montauk area, listening to The Lightning Thief and picturing Percy’s adventures.

We ended our cold and windy day with a walk for local ice cream.

We were up very early Thursday morning for the drive back to Jamaica (the train station, not the country), with more Lightening Thief listening.

Three trains later, we were in New Jersey, thankfully without an encounter with Medusa or being turned into stone. Not needing the aid of rescuing a cat to buy our ticket, we were on our way back to Redmond.

Hopefully, we’ll meet up with Percy again in St. Louis next trip. After all, we only got Percy to Denver in our book listening. Austin may be able to fly us there.