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,
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.