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,
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,
Reverend Ruth Pattison
The Rev. Ruth Pattison was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the third of four children, to Bill and Lucille Lindberg. Although young Ruth was raised in the Baptist church, her father was an organist and choirmaster in the Episcopal Church, which is where she discovered her love for liturgy and music.