Friday, March 4, 2011

We Are One...

Dear Friends of First Congregational Church,

As your senior minister, I’m asked each year to pray and prepare for our Lenten experience.  How will we prepare for Holy Week and Easter?  Are there barriers in place, attitudes that divide rather than unite us?  How might the gospel open our hearts to new possibilities?  And most importantly, will we be ready—radically ready—for God’s new revelation on Easter Sunday?

With these questions in mind, I’ve proposed to the Vision Team and Church Council that we do a quick ‘course correction’ in our spring worship experiment.  Together, we’ve agreed to call the ‘united’ congregation together—throughout Lent and Easter—for a single Sunday worship service, each week at 10:30 am.  We imagine a spirited gathering—from all walks of life, from varied musical sensibilities, from across our diverse church—exploring the heart of our faith, the shared values of our unique congregation.  We imagine a new vision, a new sense of what it means to be “First Congregational Church, the United Church of Christ.”

In part, this ‘course correction’ addresses many of your concerns (and many of mine) about our two-month experiment in new worship times.  That schedule has been exhausting for your pastors, and also for many of you.  Many have felt somewhat divided—not aware of the ‘other’ half, not connected to the ‘other’ service.  And this has not served our vision of a relational culture, a united church, a community of loving spirit.

So why now?   Why Lent?

During the six weeks of Lent, we turn, with Jesus, toward Jeru-shalom (‘city of peace’).  Along the way, we yearn for peace; we weep for all that prevents peace; and we learn the practice of peacemaking together.  Our traveling band comes together from many points of compass, from all walks of life, from various sensibilities and affections.  What we find in worship, here, is common ground—a holy table set graciously for all.  We learn to love one another.  We learn to share signs of peace.  We learn to embody the reconciling gospel.

This journey will take us at last to Jeru-shalom—where Jesus prepares to wash the dusty feet of friends and strangers.  We too will gather—during Holy Week, Maundy Thursday—to do as Jesus does: to break bread and kneel before new friends, to risk connection and serve one another.

In a sense, these six weeks of Lent are preparation for that moment.  Can we trust one another?  Are we curious enough?  What gets in the way?  Will we build bridges and make connections and learn to serve?  If so, we become the New Jeru-shalom, the New Jerusalem, the church of Jesus the Christ.

And then—and only then—Easter!  Resurrection!  A community is reborn in the Holy Spirit of a Loving Christ.  A church is united for service and praise.

Next Sunday, then, I invite you to join a congregation ‘united in worship’ for the Season of Lent.  We’ll all be here, together, at 10:30.  In addition, we’ve planned a restful Sunday with other spiritual growth opportunities:

            + 8:30 am in the sanctuary:  A MEDITATION CIRCLE
                        30 minutes of silent prayer and contemplation
                        Hosted and facilitated by Dave Grishaw-Jones
            + 10:30 am in the sanctuary:  UNITED IN WORSHIP
                        Dave Grishaw-Jones preaching on Jesus in the desert
                        Chancel Choir, Jazz Band, and Vlada Moran on the organ
            + 12:00 pm in the hall:  SOUP CAFÉ and FELLOWSHIP HOUR
                        Soup and salad prepared by our own Sondra Ziegler (throughout Lent!)
                        $5 donation for lunch
                        A great chance for you to sit down with a new friend: get curious!
            + 12:30 pm in the lounge:  THE LIVING CHRIST: THREE VIEWS
                        Cordelia Strandskov leads the first in a Lenten series:
                        Three key writers (Marcus Borg, Thomas Moore, Thich Nhat Hanh)
                        tackle the meaning of Jesus in their lives.

They tell me that, in New Orleans, locals have a special way of talking about going to the supermarket.  Instead of saying “goin’ grocery-shoppin’,” they like to say: “I’m goin’ to make groceries.”  Make groceries!  It strikes me that our own Lenten practice might be something like “making” communion.  Can we actively—creatively, tenderly, bravely—“make” communion of our great diversity?  Will we seek out those whose stories we’ve yet to hear—and sit down for a cup of soup?  Might we learn the ways of peace at such a deep level that we welcome the opportunity to wash one another’s feet during those final days before Easter?

I have a hunch, just a hunch, that we’re going to see something precious here.  Something that’s perhaps been hidden among us for some time.  Something that’s rare and dynamic in the Christian church.  I have a hunch that we’re going to see a wildly diverse congregation: gay and straight, young families and octogenarians, all kinds of people with all kinds of abilities and passions.  It’s a just a hunch.  But I’m thinking Easter’s going to be something very special this year.

See you in worship, our united service of worship, next week!
Dave Grishaw-Jones
Senior Pastor