Elizabeth Scripturient (the delinquent, ecumenical (hermionesviolin) wrote,
Elizabeth Scripturient (the delinquent, ecumenical

The Crossing [2009-07-02]

I got there about twenty minutes early (T-ing from Harvard right after work).  There was a table with supplies for namecards, only I didn't see any empty name cards, so I just plopped myself down in a pew while folks set up the worship space. 


Opening Chant
Take, O take me as I am.
Summon out what I shall be.
Set your seal upon my heart,
and live in me.

We chanted this like a bajillion times, which I wasn't really into.

Welcome & Sharing God's Peace

I appreciated that it was explicitly stated that we could share signs of peace with a handshake or a hug or etc.

What's Going on @ The Crossing?

Gathering Song
Three verses of "Come, thou fount of every blessing," printed in the bulletin -- no music, though, which I thought was exclusionary to folks who didn't grow up with that hymn, though the tempo didn't feel quite right to me, so maybe it was adjusted from the traditional and thus having the printed music wouldn't have helped anyone.  I also noticed that they didn't take out the "Lord" language, nor did they rewrite the "He to rescue me from danger interposed his precious blood" line.  Yes, I continue to be surprised that progressive congregations don't have someone like Tallessyn in their midst to problematize masculine and hierarchical language for God as well as substitutionary blood atonement theology.

Prayer of Reconciliation
We take a moment to breathe in silence and acknowledge the ways we've fallen away from God and each other, and hope to be reconciled. ...

Except that after the silent portion was over, the Leader just started, and I had to pick up my bulletin, having completely forgotten that there was a responsive following it (I had looked at the bulletin beforehand, but it was on the other side of the fold so I didn't notice it while we were actually moving through the service).

Leader: Gracious God...
Everybody: Our sins are too heavy to carry,
too real to hide, and too deep to undo.
Forgive what our lips tremble to name,
what our hearts can no longer bear,
and what has become for us a consuming fire. ...
Set us free from a past which we cannot change;
open us to a future in which we can be changed;
and grant us grace to grow more and more
in your likeness and image,
through Jesus Christ, the light of the world. Amen.


Spiritual Practice Praying with the Spirit

The Spiritual Practice this week was journalling.

The idea that one might have difficulty being honest with God is so foreign to me.  I'm not all that good at doing intentional sustained prayer, but I talk things out with God.  Arguably I'm really just talking things out with myself (I mean, I know I am), but I'm framing it as talking to God, and it certainly doesn't occur to me to try to hide things from God or anything.  I mean, I believe that God knows everything already (I'm not certain exactly what I believe about God's knowledge of the future, but God absolutely knows every detail of the present moment -- as well as all of the past).

Sue had us respond to two questions (she said the first one aloud and then after a substantial period of time had passed said the second one):
"What do you most deeply want for yourself and your life?  What would that look like, feel like?"
"What do you think God most deeply wants for you, and why?"

The first question I began: "As i have been telling you over and over recently, I want [...]"  I knew that I was writing about transitory wants rather than about what I think the question is really getting at, but she said the only rule about this practice is that you keep writing and not censor yourself, so I just wrote what I was thinking.

The second question was much harder to write because it seemed so simple that it was hard to come up with much to say.  This is literally all I wrote:
God wants me to be happy.
Because i am God's beloved :)
God wants me to live in to the the fullness of who God created me to be,
God wants me to treat all other people (and myself) as Beloved.

It only occurs to me a week later in writing this up that one might have thoughts about discerning God's Will for one's life in terms of vocational discernment or something, so one might be envisioning details of what God might want your life to look like, but I'm just so hesitant to think that I can discern a detailed plan God wants for my life -- it makes much more sense to me to think about guiding principles God would want me to focus on for steering the path ahead.

The Good News Mark 6:1-6

Following the reflection, we share brief responses.

Rev.Steph talked about having been in Grand Rapids recently and having seen a wordless church children's pageant, half of whose participants were mentally disabled.  Jesus was a child with Downs Syndrome.  She talked about how Jesus doesn't always look as we might imagine him.
She talked about how Jesus didn't have any power to do miracles, because of the people's unbelief.  I interrupted and said that he does do some, and she said yes he does some, but no more than any wandering healer of his day.  I was dissatisfied with this, but okay.  My bigger problem -- bigger than the idea of Jesus' power being constrained (we believe he's God Incarnate, right?) -- was the idea that his power was limited because of people's unbelief, that people couldn't be healed because they didn't believe ... because that implies that if only they did believe they would be healed.  Yes, these days I do hear all relevant exegesis through the lens of "how would this be heard by someone struggling with mental illness?"
She talked about how in the Scripture we heard, the people were really doubting themselves, doubting that anything good could come from their neighborhood.  She talked about how it is important to have faith in each other, and in ourselves.  I do like the idea of our being co-participants in bringing out God's Work (this is a big theme at CWM ... and the idea of our being God's hands and feet in the world is something that even Pastor Bill has preached on), but it makes me uncomfortable when we don't sufficiently problematize the idea that you will be healed if only you believe.

I was still processing my critique of the healing-belief connection, so I didn't say anything during the "talkback."  I was somewhat thrown by the fact that most people's responses weren't directly connected to the actual sermon.  (During Prayers, I did lift up, "People who have faith and have not been healed, people who are struggling to have faith, people who have no faith.")

Open Space
Take part in any of these practices: chant, giving, reflection in the back pews, prayer, the art table or quietly sitting with the Holy Words.

Open Space Chant

Our Prayers
Prayer chant: Abba Jesu Spiritus Spiritus

I thought someone said that after each prayer concern we would do the chant, but someone led the chant only after every, I dunno, five? prayers.  Which I didn't mind in and of itself, just that I never quite knew when to expect it.

The piano was playing the whole time, which I found not just potentially distracting (hi, I am not a background music person at all) but which also made it a struggle at times to hear prayers lifted up by people on the other end of the circle from me.

And there was some really facile theology (one person's prayer basically boiled down to: if only we could spread Christianity to everyone, then there would be peace and happiness ... which I didn't hear with a whole lot of problematic imperialist undertones) but that's gonna be true in most every congregation and I'm not holding that against the church (much).

God's Table

Sharing the Meal

We gathered in a circle, and Rev.Steph did, "blah blah blah ... Jesus with his friends ..." (I learned over dinner that she does extemp -- "what kind of Episcopalian are you?" I thought later).

I wasn't trying to zone out, but I had a lot on my mind distracting me (and I have a low theology of communion, so to some degree I just don't care), and then I hear her say: "We share Communion with each other, using simple words: The Body of Christ, The Blood of Christ."  Now, I know that more and more I'm assimilating to CWM, such that instead of just thinking, "I know lots of people who would have a problem with [x]," I actually feel troubled by [x].  But I was not expecting to absolutely freak out at "The Blood of Christ."  In processing out loud later, I was able to articulate that largely the problem was that I didn't have any context for it.  I told Rev.Steph that if I'd had to fill in any meaning, I would have put in the default "The body of Christ, broken for you; the blood of Christ, poured out for you."  (Ironically, when we talked over dinner afterward, she said she purposely doesn't say "broken for you" -- with its whole sounding almost like implying "broken by you.")

Anyway, I was totally freaking out internally.  I took the Bread and Cup from the neighbor serving me (though I intincted my scrap of pita bread -- what Rev.Steph modeled was drinking directly from the cup and then the server wipes it with the white cloth, but not only is that not what I'm used to but I was definitely not going to do it when I was already checking to make sure I didn't need to leave) and was really glad that Chris was standing next to me because when I served him I could say "The Body of Christ, The Bread of Heaven" and "The Blood of Christ, The Cup of Blessing" (I didn't feel right coming into someone else's space and refusing to do it their way, but I also was not going to say only their words) and know that he wouldn't mind.

Over dinner, she talked about how it's really important to her that this actually is Jesus' body (hi Episcopalians and your Real Presence), the life of Christ coursing through you.  I told her, "If you had said that during the service, I would have said: Communion, ur doin it right."

(On the theme of the importance of blood, I wanted to quote "I mean why couldn't it be, like, a lymph ritual?" / "Blood is life, lackbrain. [...] It's what keeps you going, makes you warm, makes you hard, makes you other than dead.")

Another parishioner who joined the conversation said that he grew up Catholic and doesn't consciously register what's being said, but he sometimes takes Communion here and sometimes doesn't, depending on how he's feeling about atonement, that he doesn't take it if he feels like he's got too much atonement in his life already at that moment, and he was at pains to say that he knows Rev.Steph isn't positing atonement and guilt in her liturgy, but that in listening to this conversation and thinking back, the times he doesn't take Communion have been the times that the presider has been really explicitly articulate about what Communion means.
I said, this is why I tell people "church: ur doin it wrong," because if something's is bothering me, it's probably bothering someone else and they're just not saying anything -- well that and because I'm a bitchy control freak.
(Chris commented that with different people presiding week to week, "even the available spectrum of eucharistic theology changes from week to week," which I find problematic.)
Chris said that's one benefit of using the canonical Words of Institution.  Someone pulled out a BCP -- and knew from memory exactly which page number the Communion Liturgy is on (crazy Episcopalians).

They say that it's wine, which I appreciate, but I also thought, "What about people who are recovering alcoholics or whatever?  And what about making a sign to indicate you just want a blessing?"

On Saturday, I was telling Carolyn about the communion-fail, and she insisted that Communion is not Communion without the anamnesis [remembrance] and the epiclesis [invocation].

The Lord's Prayer

We were invited to take hands and THEN invited to join in saying the Lord's Prayer "which is printed in your bulletin, if you need it" (choreography fail).  The bulletin says, "We pray to God who is Mother and Father to us all," and Rev.Steph said something similar aloud (though what they actually pray aloud is "Our Father").  Rev.Steph said, "We use the traditional words," and I thought, "Which traditional words?" -- e.g., debts/trespasses/sins, since that actually throws off the rhythm if you say something different than everyone else, unlike the question of contemporary versus old-fashioned English.

Closing Song

Prayer After Communion

There's a responsive prayer printed in the bulletin, but I don't think we actually did that.  I feel like someone must have just said the whole thing or something.

Leader: Let us pray ...
Everybody: God of love, you've gathered us as one people,
and filled us with the life our brother and savior, Jesus.
Now send us out with joy, courage, hope and wisdom
to join your movement in the world.  Amen.


Leader: Go in peace to love & serve God.
Everyone: Thanks be to God!

Yup, we we were still in a circle, and I still didn't have my bulletin, and it was not at all intuitive to me that I was supposed to say "Thanks be to God" in response to that.


At one point, I was telling Sue about how CAUMC-Eric thinks I should be a Phantom ChurchGoer and blog about it.  She mentioned Ship Of Fools, which once she mentioned it I realized I think I'd heard of before (she said she thinks it's run by Methodists, so that makes sense that I might have heard of it before).  It's a very specific questionnaire, so definitely different than Ari's 6-axis scale (liturgy, music, welcome, preaching, communion, GLBT-affirming).


This is the email I sent the following Tuesday:
To: Rev.Steph, Chris, Keith N.
Subject: The Crossing, communion, etc.

As I told Rev.Steph and Sue before worship last Thursday, I tend to have a "church: ur doin it wrong" reaction whenever I go somewhere other than Cambridge Welcoming Ministries (and even CWM disappoints sometimes).  It's born out of a deep desire to have worship be both meaningful and accessible, though, so I hope that I'm able to articulate my critiques in a gracious and generous manner.

A friend of mine recently posted about Communion, and while I don't agree with all of his positions, I wanted to share it with Rev. Steph and Chris given the vigorous discussion we had about Communion following service.  (Which conversation I am, in case it was not already exceedingly obvious, more than happy to continue at any time.)

As I said after service, I want us to be really clear about what we're saying (and doing) and why.  This also extends beyond Communion, into making it really easy for parishioners (especially visitors) to be able to follow along in the service, even if they're not paying close attention to their bulletin (I'm That Girl who reads the entire bulletin before service even starts, but there were a number of times when I was thrown off-balance by what was going on).  So I also wanted to mention a few housekeeping notes (per the "getting connected" insert in the bulletin, I'm cc-ing Keith "worship arts").  One of the things I'm really sensitive to is how confusing it can be going to a new church.  I got to The Crossing about 20 minutes before service was scheduled to start, so I can't speak to how the official greeting happens since I was excessively early, and I'm honestly not wedded to there being any official such process, but I did notice that while there were supplies for name tags soon after one walks in (though despite the sign saying so, all I found were nametags made by previous visitors), the bulletins with the order of worship are way up at the front of the sanctuary, and are eminently missable on that little table even as one heads to a seat.

I really liked that before the Passing of the Peace it was explicitly stated that we could share signs of peace with a handshake or a hug or etc.

During the Prayers of the People, the piano was playing the whole time, which I found not just potentially distracting (I am not a background music person at all) but also made it difficult for me to hear the prayers lifted up by people at the other end of the circle from me.

There were also an assortment of choreography hiccups, like inviting people to join hands (gathered in a circle, away from our seats) and then saying, "The Lord's Prayer is printed in your bulletins if you need/want to read it."  Also, stating aloud that we use the traditional words for the Lord's Prayer is moderately helpful, but it doesn't answer the one question that actually throws off the rhythm if you say it differently than everyone else -- the debts vs. trespasses question.

I know folks are headed off to General Convention right now, but I just wanted to put down in writing, for whenever it's convenient for you to get to it, some of my concerns and suggestions so that you can do a better job of reaching out to and welcoming folks to worship with you.  And I'm happy to engage in continued conversations about any of the things I mentioned or anything else related to how we do church.

Tags: church: 6-axis scale, church: boston: the crossing, church: ecumenical summer: 2009, communion, future liturgical planner

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