Autumn Leaves

What a wonderful morning! A small group of us gathered at the church to rake leaves. We had not planned this for today, but quickly pulled together a group when we found out that the city would be picking up leaves on our street on Sunday. It is one of those perfect blue sky autumn days. The yellow, orange, and red leaves that glowed in the trees just days ago, now cover the ground. In about an hour and half we had the church yard raked, and one of the flower beds mulched. Then we placed the new park benches given to the church by a generous member and garden lover!

As our lawn and garden area is still developing, the placement of the benches required an eye to the future as well as an value of the present. The church faces on a major busy street. In front of the church is a bus stop, where people wait and disembark all day. There is no shelter or seat at this bus stop. Therefore our benches may provide a place of rest in the shade when the summer heat is oppressive. We have had times of prayer and caring conversation outdoors. We want the garden to invite people out of the building and into natures and the sounds of the city around us. We wanted the benches to invite conversation. Therefore we placed them to create a conversation place, where people may not only sit side by side, but face each other in comfort to talk. Would the benches generally face the street or the church? Look out to the activity of the city or toward the church gardens and building? We ended up with a little of both, but more of a look toward the peaceful garden circle where the Peace Pole will stand.

Conversation this morning was wonderful and the church is a little more welcoming for the work done.

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WomenPriests – Ordination in St. Louis

As a minister in Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), I have the privilege of having been ordained for 25 years.  In this denomination women have been ordained for well over 100 years.  We look back to such women as Melissa Garrett Terrell ordained in 1867, Ellen Grant Gustin and  Emi B. Frank ordained in 1873,  and Clara Hale Babcock ordained in 1888, (often acknowledged as the first woman ordained to preach).  The ordinations of these women and many others did not mean that women were easily accepted and called by congregations.  Strong resistance based in a distortion of scripture has remained a barrier for women throughout the years.  Many congregations today will not call a woman as senior pastor.  Still we have watched the ministry of women strengthen and grow.  With that growth, the church is changing.  In 2005, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) was the first mainline denomination to call a woman (The Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins) as General Minister and President.

Last week, I had the privilege of participating the ordination of a woman who is truly a gift to the ministry of the church.  I was moved by the fact that both of her parents are ordained ministers and participated in the ordination.  We have reached the point to see and celebrate generations of women responding to God’s call to ministry.

This past Sunday, November 11, we in St. Louis celebrated the ordination of two women in the Womenpriest movement in the Roman Catholic Church.  I grieved that I was unable to attend, but I have several colleagues who did attend and I have followed closely the reflections and reports on this historic and controversial event. Many previous Womenpriest ordinations have taken place off-shore for the protection of those involved.  This ordination took place in synagogue of Reformed Judaism, Central Reformed.   This was a courageous act of faith and hospitality on the part of the Rabbi and the synagogue.  It was a decision made with prayer and intention.  What an amazing moment of interfaith relationship and connection in God’s vision for shalom, when the Mass took place and these two women were ordained in this synagogue.  Unfortunately, representatives of the St. Louis Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church have condemned the synagogue and threatened to break off inter-faith conversations if they proceeded to host the ordinations.  (The Archdiocese, on the one hand does not acknowledge these as ordinations, yet on the other hand threatens to break off dialogue if they are carried out.  Sounds to me like it is the Roman Catholic hierarchy that is threatened!)

In her reflection on the service, Mary Ann Reese, a co-member of the Loretto Community wrote:   “Before long, in front of the altar stood a petite woman with long, curly dark hair and a yarmulke.  She expressively recounted the story of Abraham and Sarah, who were standing at the door of their tent in the heat of the day when three strangers came.  From the act of welcoming these strangers sprang the Jewish tradition of hospitality.  “Brothers and sisters,” Rabbi Susan Talve proclaimed, “We  are standing in the heat of the day.”  With that, a thunderous applause broke out.  In news accounts, Rabbi Talve had explained that she and CRC’s board (which had voted unanimously to host these ordinations) were compelled by their tradition’s mandate to extend hospitality—even though it meant taking heat from the Archdiocese of St. Louis as well as some Jewish brethren.”

Then the 600 people in attendance celebrated with joy and tears the ordinations of Rose Marie Hudson and Elsie McGrath.  The Church is brighter today because of the courage of these women and the courage of the communities that surround and support them. Archbishop Raymond Burke has indicated that the two women will be excommunicated.  Yet, they will pastor a congregation in St. Louis. They will proclaim God’s abounding love and grace to those who gather in faith.  They will celebrate the Eucharist with joy and hope.  And nothing that the Archdiocese does will prevent that!

I celebrate that God’s call is more powerful than the limitations and prejudices of our institutions.

All Saints Sunday — Lift Every Voice …

All Saints Sunday is one of my favorite Sunday’s of the church year.  The power of Naming those who have gone before us in faith always moves me to depths I do not anticipate.  Though I know how significant All Saints worship is for me, I am still surprised each time at the power of Naming.  This morning, we began worship singing that beloved hymn “For All the Saints”  while members of the congregation came forward to light candles.  We had arranged about 15 pillar candles of differing heights and colors around the Christ Candle on the communion table.  The beauty of the light of all these candles was a lovely symbol throughout the service of the light of Christ and the light of that great company of saints.

In the sermon I talked about the power of naming; that when we stop speaking the names, we stop telling the stories.  I described my experience earlier in the week of writing the names of the saints who have touched my life — both those I have known personally and those I have known through the witness of others, through history.  Then I  invited the congregation to begin writing their own lists of names.  After a few moments, we began speaking the names aloud.  Voices throughout the congregation spoke the names of the saints of the church and the world.  Name upon name they came, rolling, at times speaking on top of one another.  They continued to come.  I don’t know how long it was; only that the names filled the sanctuary and God’s Spirit was in that place. (A gift of God was that my watch stopped this morning toward the beginning of the service. God has a way of curbing my control needs at just the right times!)

Following a prayer of thanksgiving for those who have gone before us in faith, in struggle, and in hope, we extended the Invitation to Discipleship and sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”  I had never before chosen this hymn for All Saints; for other Sundays, yes, but not for All Saints.  Now I wonder why!  I first saw the smile on the face of an African American Elder on the front row and then looked into the face of an African American man two rows behind her, who had just named several of those who had gone before him and now he sang with his whole being, never opening his hymnal — never needing to. (We who are European American and Asian needed our hymnals.)   But his entire body and soul seemed to move with the words.  As he sang them in this All Saints celebration, I heard them anew:

Lift every voice and sing, till earth and heaven ring,
ring with the harmonies of liberty; let our rejoicing rise
high as the listening skies, let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us;
sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
facing the rising sun of our new day begun, 
let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod,
felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet
come to the place for which our people sighed?

We have come over a way that with tears has been watered;
we have come, treading our path thru the blood of the slaughtered,
out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last
where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of the weary years, God of our silent tears,
thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
thou who hast by thy might led us into the light,
keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met thee;
lest our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee;
shadowed beneath thy hand, may we forever stand,
true to our God, true to our native land.

           (Words: James Weldon Johnson, 1921   Music: J. Rosamond Johnson, 1921)

All Saints indeed!  Thanks be to God.