Two weeks ago we blessed our trails, outside, with water and asperges and prayers, conversation and reflections, and dogs in tow (as it was our ‘every-second-Sunday-pet-friendly-Sunday’).
Some among us met us at strategic points along the way so that they could have access by way of the pavement.
Some among us went along on the pilgrimage by way of a hand-held labyrinth.
The labyrinth holds the truth that every journey outward is really a journey inward. And that every pilgrimage is made for the sacred truth that God is with us in every step, and that we embark on any and every pilgrimage for the deep and singular purpose, of going with God.
Beth Ellis is one among us who used the hand-held labyrinth (and we celebrate her recent trade-in of a therapeutic boot for ‘real’ shoes!). She shared with me that she had a surprisingly profound experience with this paper labyrinth. I asked if she would be willing to share the same with you.
She said yes, so here, in my parson’s letter, I have included her reflection.
Thank you ever so much Beth.
“It was a line on paper to wile away the time as Catherine Giel filled the sanctuary with musical fragrance.
Follow within the line was all you had to do to arrive at the center, the heart.
As the pen made it's way around curve after curve, my mind stopped controlling and I just focused on the path.
I wasn't expecting anything except passage of time, when, rounding a curve with my point, I had this thought: 'follow where You lead'.
Again, another bend or two and this came into my mind: 'honor things brought into my life'.
What was this?
What or where were these thoughts coming from?
When the very next thought relayed was: 'it's Your majesty'.
The next thought that came to me on the path was: ‘long periods of introspection yet nearness in fellowship with You'.
I continued following the course around another bend and then to another.
Once again I received the understanding that: 'this is a journey and a process'
And: 'I want to see Jesus in all of this and after life'.
Continuing on to the center I understood: 'continue to follow the path until I walk into the Holy Light of peace and joy'.
Amen! to this hand-held labyrinth walk.
Clergy often say, that Sunday morning is not their own worship time. Because they’re working. On the job.
I am not that clergy person. Yes, I am working, but I am deeply engaged with you in the Sunday morning experience of actual worship, even though I am 'the celebrant’.
And, as the celebrant, I am keenly aware of the moments, the energy, the movement, within the liturgy.
Last week I was ‘keenly aware’ of the water of baptism and the sacramental drama we engaged in, when we sang “Down to the River to Pray” and everyone processed to the font, encircled it, and stood together for the reading of the gospel and the story of Jesus’ baptism.
I know it’s a vulnerable thing, to do something like that as a congregation. Might make you a little uncomfortable, because its a vulnerable act.
Getting up from your seat, and moving out of the pew.
Singing and walking around and going somewhere.
Embodying the definition of Liturgy, which means in Greek: the work of the people.
Attempting to follow new rubrics (liturgical directions) gracefully, like Episcopalians are want to do.
But we gave it a whole-hearted try, and it was rugged and beautiful.
When I felt your nearness and gathering, your presence, your voices coming close, the movement of your feet, your circling around; It was powerful. The energy changed. The human element animated and transformed. It became a living symbol. I wanted to just stay right there, for a long time.
It’s not like the moment happened ‘by accident’, the Worship and Music team planned it that way.
And, although we cannot orchestrate spiritual experience for one another, the Worship and Music team thought about, talked about, mused and envisioned, what the season of Epiphany might mean for us and how we could create liturgy in just that purposeful way.
We chose the Font as a center-piece for the season, to move it front and center as a sacramental gesture, “an outward and visible sign for us, of inward and spiritual grace". We chose it because it is overt and obvious, as a symbol of gathering and becoming community.
We are born of this holy water. We’re kin.
We are born of God;
We are born, like Jesus was born, of Holy birth waters, Holy womb, Holy human flesh.
We gathered around the font, and then we saw Jesus, dip down into the water with John. And we got in, too. Down into the Jordan River.
And suddenly, there in the water with them, we realize our sameness.
We see Jesus in the water with us and realize that He is like us.
He is human.
The water ripples and parts and encircles us together with him in the water.
Our human form immersed with his human form.
You and me, in the water with the Holy Incarnate One.
We see Jesus in the water with us and realize that we are like him.
We are holy.
Even in our humanity. Even, born of a woman. Even, ordinary, physical, and earthbound.
We are holy.
He got in the water with us, so that we would know it.
That He is human, and that we are holy.
He got in the water with us, by way of his Incarnation, and by way of his Baptism.
Splashing about in the water with you, for the humanity of it, and for the holy.
One year ago, at this very time I wrote to you these words:
“A wind from Ghana has swept in
and we are filled with the Holy Spirit and the delight of God
in the face of his son, George Neequaye!”
A year ago, we stood in that liminal place that we talked about on Epiphany, the liminal place of a doorway and standing on both sides of the threshold; by nature, a vulnerable place; we stood in that place and extended Welcome and Hospitality.
And now, one year later, a wind from Ghana has swept in again:
George sent us a Christmas Card with that wonderful African symbol that means: Except for God
We are swept up into 2018’s hospitality journey with these Christmas greetings.
George is feeling nostalgic for our company as he keeps up with us in the parson’s letter. He loves us and sends us greetings of Merry Christmas, and at the mention of it, we well up with an international love held in mutuality from half way around the world.
And suddenly in our mind’s eye, we feel ourselves standing in the doorway again, on both sides of the threshold, reaching and loving, and calling out.
We can see his stature and playful grin,
and hear his laugh and wallow in his preaching words and clever accent.
And his singing. . .!! Oh his singing!
I can see him, now,
stepping out from his flat on a Sunday morning,
clad in his High Church vestments, ready to worship and greet. And love.
We have been changed, because we opened our doors to George.
We risked love,
loss, possibility, challenge.
We risked knowing and being known.
We did something that hasn’t been done before,
and it took the likes of everyone to pull it off!
And it paid off! A Wonderful experience!
But there was no way to know ahead of time. . . what it would be like.
And now we’ve said good-bye yet again, to our second seminarian in as many years. First there was Matt, and now, Bob.
Bob Farrow has graced our presence with class and sophistication,
his wholeheartedness and
gentle listening spirit,
and ever-ready sense of humor.
He stepped into the requisite vulnerability of being a student!
That was his risk.
We risked welcome and allowing another to know and be known.
Bob loves us and we love him.
We stepped into that liminal space again when we said good-bye and bade him well,
and we risk the loss of his going.
But we have written it on our doorposts,
that we love God with heart soul mind and strength,
and that’s how we get through it!
That’s how we endure a love that sustains a bit of sorrow.
And now, the wind of God sweeps in again,
this time with a -3*C chill,
because it comes from Helsinki, Finland!
We opened our doors and welcomed a holy family on Tuesday.
Toni and Katerina Makela, and their little 2 year old boy, Daniel, arrived.
They are delighted with their apartment and will be our guests for one semester as Toni begins his studies at Candler School of Theology at Emory University.
And don’t you know. . . here we are, still painting and carpeting and working with the fire marshal on ‘crash doors’ and emergency exits, and then last evening the thermostat went out, the room went cold, and the bathroom lights quit working!
But you know what?
Our faith community at Highpoint
keeps the love,
lives the love, and
walks in love,
and all is well. . . (space heaters, extra trips, phone calls, repairmen, ladders, patience, and paint rollers notwithstanding!)
Keeping, living, walking in love, with you,
That is what we are doing with this open door of hospitality.
We’re missing one essential piece: A Crib!
Of all the Christmas kinds of things to say,
“We have room in the inn and we need a crib for the infant child to lay his head. . .”
Yes, we’re having a baby!
Well, actually, we're having a toddler.
Daniel is 3 years old.
We will open our doors and welcome the holy family, on January 8th, this coming Tuesday. Toni and Katerina Makela, from Helsinki, Finland, will be our guests for one semester, from January to June, as Toni begins his studies at Candler School of Theology at Emory University.
Jesus said the Greatest Commandment is this:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength”.
It’s called: the Shema.
It is from Deuteronomy chapter six.
Deuteronomy cradles that commandment with an initiative:
It says to write the love on the doorposts of the house, to strap it to our foreheads, and to twist it around our hands, wrists, and up our arms. In other words: an initiative to live the love with our full being.
It says to talk about the love of God as we’re sitting down and rising up, when we eat and when we lie down, and when we walk out the door and onto the lane and into the world!
In other words: Words! Love language. Think it, say it, speak it.
Fill up, bubble up, overflow with love!
And that is what we are doing with this open door of hospitality. A second opportunity to be home for some from a faraway land, to welcome in, to love, to offer respite. To be a place to live in love with God.
We’ve done it before, and we are good at it!
God delights in our big hearts. Our generosity. Our vulnerability.
Our entrepreneurial spirits. Our willingness to risk.
Here we go! For another experiment in love!
God inhabits our house,
and even you and I, in our very bodies, are his holy habitation.
Keep the love.
Live the love.
Keeping and living, with you,
I received some joyful words from Roy Wright on Christmas morning that served as a balm for my soul after a wild and woolly Christmas Eve.
It was his description of our Christmas Eve Service laced with endearing humor and the sense of God’s presence in it with us, embracing our human frailties.
I thought you would enjoy reflecting on the Christmas Eve Service with his lightheartedness, which creates quite a pleasant soulful vignette! For those of you who missed this Christmas Eve with us, let this fuel your imagination as you will! For those who were also there, may we lift a ‘cheers’ to deciding how it is we choose to tell our stories.
Roy’s letter lightened my spirit and as I read and reread it, I am finding that it keeps Christmas for me. Fortunately, Christmas lasts for 12 days! (and is not all spent in one quizzical night)
So here’s this, from Roy:
“Good Morning, Ruth......
What a wonderful Christmas Eve service at Highpoint!
Thank you and all the members for the team effort to make the service a success.
Yes, as I pondered the service afterwards it seemed like parts of it were from a scene from a Fellini movie - pianist has flat tire, arrives late wearing a Christmas cap, sort of stumbles through the hymns, but is probably a wonderful improvisational jazz pianist, John with his wonderful baritone voice pitching in to help move along a hymn, Mike’s occasional vocals and the lady, who was a guest, had her small dog regaled in his special Christmas outfit. It was all good and God was in the midst of it all accepting and forgiving our human frailties.”
Roy’s greeting, that “The New Year for Highpoint will be a good year!”,
is mine as well, to you.
In Merriment and Love,
The Church is not dying.
We are being born.
The season of Advent surrenders us to birth pangs and the Nativity breaks loose upon us,
and God will be born.
Mary said yes to the Angel Gabriel in passion, boldness and reckless abandon, not knowing what birthing would be like, but saying yes all the same.
Like her, we have lived with mystery and unknowing while we waited for the Holy Spirit to overshadow us, without knowing what this new life would be like, what it would bring, what it would mean for us.
Months and months ago, in fact more than a year ago, it was in the fall of 2017, we gathered for a town hall with our Canon, Lang Lowrey, to consider both sustainability and vision for our life together.
We took a swipe at assessing our resources and our reserves, and personal energies. Lang talked about his experience with church planting, and St. Benedict’s.
He talked about being a ‘door knocker’ and the prayer cards he would give to people at the pharmacy as they waited for prescriptions.
He said he and Julie were exhausted, and did this work on their own.
He said we needed a ‘door knocker’ in order to grow, and that the door knocker wouldn’t be him, and that it wouldn’t be me.
Someone asked me that day, if I saw myself as a ‘door knocker’. . .
I said something along the lines of “well, yes actually, I do. . . but I don’t know yet in what way…I just know it won’t be to pray with people in the pharmacy line. . . “
It’s been a journey with you since then, revving up the ‘apartment project’ last November, and hosting Fr. George Neequaye from Africa for 8 months, re-establishing Gallery 4945, the initiative of the study group for church growth through spring and summer. We developed teams for ministry in recent autumn months to include each and every one of us, focusing our efforts toward the key take-a-ways *(listed below).
I could go on and on enumerating the ways in which we’ve been joyfully at work in all of these, but in particular I’m thinking of the one that says:
“Fall in love with your Neighborhood”
As I went about to the shops in Sandy Springs with Christmas Eve fliers promoting our Dog-friendly Candlelight Christmas Eve service, (and passed some along to all of you to do the same), it hit me:
we’ve become ‘door knockers’ in our own right
It felt wonderful to me to see the facial expressions change as I handed out fliers to merchants, as they realized we were doing this fun welcoming thing of including them “as they are”, in their want to do everything they do, with their dogs in tow.
This is how the
functions ‘now-a-days’. It has become our culture. I’ve noticed it more and more since we’ve taken up this initiative. I used to quote (still do) that the fastest growing demographic in our society is the person: without community. My guess is, that’s why the passionate love for pets is raging, because pets make us know we’re loved and give us connection. We, at Highpoint Church, are ‘falling in love with this neighborhood’, and we are welcoming them.
We are knocking on doors.
Some of our door knocking is simply to open the six flanking doors of our nave to the outside world. We are going out, connecting our worship life with our woodlands and trails, because the new community of the American Neighborhood, wants to be outside, to commune with nature, to seek peace, and quiet contemplation. Our American Neighborhood wants to find God in the elements and not just behind the sanctuary walls of what we call ‘church’.
Our ‘American Neighborhood’ is looking for what we have to offer
To use Christmas Story language, the fullness of time has come.
The labor of our common life is birthing new life, even now, the incarnate love of God in human form.
This is our time
All of the pieces are in perfect order:
The way our building is configured, the way our land lays, the perfect geography of urban chic, woodlands, and neighborhood. We are a ‘gem’ perched in the 5-prong setting of 75/85/285/400 and Roswell Road. Aaaand, we walk in love. That’s who we are. That’s our Human Resource.
We are being born into an incarnate life of love and spirituality in this urban wilderness we call Highpoint Episcopal Community Church.
We have all the resources.
We have lived into a vision.
We simply, have begun walking it. The Love.
Walking in love, with you,
It was the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Hispanic congregation was due to have an overflow crowd for their 4:00 service and again at 7:30.
They were preparing a beautiful light filled shrine for the statue of The Virgin and I wandered in to behold the wonder, when I realized that our 20 lovely Advent three-inch-candle-light-pillar-votives-in-their-sconces had melted and dripped from 7’ up during church that morning to create amazing mounds of wax on the floor, the splatter effect of which looked like someone had spilled uncooked grits everywhere!
We’ve been praying the light.
Prayer on the hoof and on the ladder and the stepstool, in the store and on the phone, and on our knees
with scrapers in hand. . . we pray the light, play with the light, worship the light. And love it.
With the wax cleaned up, it was back to the drawing board this week for the devoted altar guild enthusiasts, for a second round of scouring the town for just the right candles. Trips to the wholesale florist and various shops, and the test drive of new candles with glass sleeves. Nope: too big, too formal, too hard to light, too hard to snuff out, a hunt on-line and out again to Michael’s for small votives pre-poured in glass cups, very inexpensive, very lovely, very light giving, very easy to light and snuff, and NO DRIPS!
I’ve always felt a kindred spirit with church “Guilds” (Altar guild, flower guild, linen guild. . .any and all of the Guilds). I adore their passion for beauty, their desire for the Holy, their instinctive sense of awe, and the want to create holy space and holy experience for others, and but of course, their attention to detail!
My penchant for all these things means I tend to rope guilds into shenanigans. Always have. Always will. Even if it means Advent candlelight that creates a big fat mess! Because, oooh, isn’t it beautiful!
Suffice it to say, I am always gloriously beholden to the silent, behind the scenes, hard work of liturgists who do their unsung work as ‘guilds’, so that the rest of us can lift our voices in corporate praise and get caught up in the rapture of worship.
In this season of sitting in darkness,
waiting and watching for Messiah to be born to us,
In this season of nuanced flickering flame, holy shadow dance and increasing light,
In this season of trimming wicks and tending the fire,
Remember this important thing that Jesus said:
“You. . . are the light of the world.”
Mindful of light,
and ever vigilant,
This is the trail map of our beautiful wooded acreage. Approximately. Drawn by yours truly. I made it in hopes that we would use it for the trail blessing on Sunday. The weather forecast is foreboding, but we will see. In the meantime, isn't it fun to see a birds-eye view of our 'Walking in Love'?!
Worker bees arrived early last Sunday morning to brew a hot pot in our new coffee urn and to set up the labyrinth in the parish hall, so that we could all start our Advent journey of love 'on the right foot’. I was comforted to see Duffy out sweeping the front porte-cache when I drove up, thinking something like “Oh look, everything’s ready to go with a little extra time for a finishing touch, sweeping the walk. How lovely. He looks like a little shop-keeper in Greece.”
Much to my surprise (and dismay, with a huge douse of shock), the parish hall had been set up on Saturday for a formal dinner: wineglasses on tables, silverware wrapped in napkins next to china plates, gold lame’ table runners atop floor length white table clothes, and white slipcovers for chairs throughout.. you get the picture. . .
I wish I had recorded the bunch of us scurrying about lifting tables and chairs, in all their array, whisking them to the perimeter of the room to set up the 35’ diameter labyrinth in the middle, only to roll it all up and crate it before the 1:00 dinner party arrived, then zipping around to restore the formal dining room arrangements, everything in place!
I felt like we were church mice playing tricks!
So utterly comical in HINDSIGHT.
Now this week, the worship and music team planned that we would continue our Advent Journey of Love on foot, and go outside for a blessing of the trails (on pet Sunday, get it? A dog walk too?), and we would walk through the woods with meditations and prayers and holy water to splash. . . and as it turns out, it promises to be 39’ and raining. If only it would snow instead.
Just as an added bonus to things going berserk. . . it seems that Seagraves plumbing is going to have to dig up our front lawn to find the roots or crushed pipe or whatever dinosaur bones might be had, that are backing up the commodes.
(notice: please use the bathrooms in the back hall on Sunday!)
Someone mentioned that it might be the Mercury Retrograde causing all of this. . .
Ultimately, it’s just the true nature of the Journey of Love.
Calendar conflicts, faulty communication, elbow grease, cross purposes, tons of heave hoeing, generous attitudes, humor, camaraderie, creative problem solving, emergency problem solving, errand running, expertise in plumbing, . . .need I say more?
The true nature of the journey of love is that we love our way through it all. Through every step of it. It’s love in the trenches, the rubber meeting the road, the in-situ opportunity to live the love.
We said “yes” to the journey with Mary last week. When she, alone at the well in Nazareth, engaged the Angel Gabriel and said “yes” to the love and the overwhelming fire of the Holy Spirit, with a certain unknowing about where it would take her.
So, we said yes, too, and look where we are in our certain unknowing, but journeying and loving, nonetheless.
Mary ropes us into another risky step of the Journey of Love this week. She visits her cousin Elizabeth who is pregnant in her old age, and tells her story. She sings it, as a matter of fact, and we call it: Magnificat. ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior . . .
So, we will go too, into the vulnerable place of loving and being loved, and not being alone at a well, but in community where our yeses ~ together ~ magnify the greatness and glory and joy of Love come down.
This is the essence of faith community. It is this journey in and with community that moves us out of loneliness and into relationship. Out of our despair, into hope; fear into joy; darkness into light. As Isaiah would have it, it is a journey that delivers “A Garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning”.
This Advent Journey of Love, is Isaiah 61 in promise, it is Highpoint Episcopal Community Church, in practice.
In it with you, for the Journey of Love,
Don’t you love it when a plan comes together?!
Advent is upon us, and we are ready!
The Worship and Music team is working hand in glove with the Spiritual Formation team to create a wonderful Advent "Journey of Love"!
Read on to hear what we have in store.
Advent One (this Sunday):
Labyrinth Walking and Spiritual Formation series
We have secured the labyrinth from the Cathedral and are making it available in the parish hall both before and after church, for a meditative walk. A way to physically engage the soul’s journey of love, which we will begin together in Spiritual Formation at 9:30. A labyrinth is an ancient way for pilgrims to observe the practice of journey and pilgrimage of the soul. One might want to journey hundreds of miles on a pilgrim’s path set out around the globe, or set a socked-foot on a labyrinth and never leave home, yet all the same, finding the journey inward to be the journey of love.
Advent Two: (which coincides with our pet friendly Sunday for December)
Blessing of the Trails
During the Sermon and ‘Prayers of the People’ segment of the liturgy we will take our Journey of Love outdoors. Setting out from the nave, we will cross the driveway onto the ‘Walk of Wisdom’ (as marked out years ago by Bill Sunderland), and proceed to walk the woodland trails around the perimeter, circumnavigating the parking lot and the parish house. With thoughtful meditations along the way, and Blessings with Holy Water, the journey will lead us on through the recently reclaimed land from our November work day (the bigger pet enclosure which Roger Loney affectionately dubbed ‘the back 40’), and back into the nave through the memorial garden.
Advent One, Two, Three and Four:
Lighting of the Advent Wreath
(by members of the Spiritual Formation Team) and
A Eucharistic Prayer from “Enriching our Worship”
The Eucharistic Prayer, also known as The Great Thanksgiving, is a biblically based liturgy for celebrating communion. There are 4 different forms in the prayer book. You know these. We use them all. (Think ‘interstellar space’ or ‘in your infinite love you made us for yourself’. . . )
Well, about 20 years ago, the Standing Committee for the national church approved some supplemental resources to the Prayer Book, which include several other approved Eucharistic Prayers. The seasons of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany center the heart on the Incarnation. The Eucharistic Prayer we chose, with the worship and music team, uses language, imagery and metaphor which are rooted in the Luke stories and the prophets, which inspired the ‘Journey of Love’ curriculum we’re using for spiritual formation.
We're in for a beautiful and deeply spiritual Advent.
Keeping company with all of you in the waiting hours,
They say it was the coldest Thanksgiving morning on record, somewhere between 18* and 23*, this morning, when we ran the Turkey Trot, to feed the hungry.
I was born on a Thanksgiving morning (too many years ago). I claim it as my 'birth day', even though it's date changes every year and I will be at home in Atlanta with Benno by the time the date turns the page.
We don't actually know what the temperature was, for sure. But we ran anyways. After all, it has become our tradition! So, we ran. It makes a better story to say it was 18*, doesn't it? That 's how stories are told: approximates, drama, passion and intrigue, selected details.
Either way, I wasn't cold at all while I ran. The energy, the excitement, the community, the over heard conversations between runners, parents and children, the dogs with their delighted owners, and the scenery of city scapes and the bridges, Andy Warhol the Clemente, over the Allegheny River. . . all distractions from the discomforts.
That's how I feel about our life together and the journey we are making. I am thankful for it. I am distracted from the discomforts by the thrill of the community and conversations, the excitement of what we're doing together as a worshiping community, the fiery imagination that keeps us warm.
From the bottom of my heart, Praise and Thanksgiving to our gracious God, for you.
and Love, always love,
Reverend Ruth Pattison
Rev. Pattison serves the people of Highpoint Episcopal Community Church as the Parson, exercising her gifts for collaborative leadership through preaching, liturgy, and the pastoral arts.