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,
There were several, but naturally I chose this one because it’s the one I remember playing with as a child. The tik-tik-tik, or the tik. . . .tik. . . .tik, depending on where you positioned the weight.
It's broken now, the weight slides but doesn’t hold, it just sinks back down to the bottom, but still the timing, the rhythm is a pleasant one, the sound of it, reminiscent. I enjoy the visual and the connection it holds for me with my dad, and to our music room, to his piano, even to the relentless piano students who came to the house for lessons and set the metronome for keeping time.
It’s funny to me now, to think that as a child I enjoyed playing with “time”, because I’ve said of myself a million times over, that I have no internal clock. It shrinks and expands and stands still at will. I thank God daily for the rising and setting of the sun and the assurance it gives me that I am always in God’s time and that he alone turns the darkness into the morning. He, my time keeper.
But really, we really do play with time. Time is a gift to us, for us, for our life. And like the piano students, we don’t always get it right nor always wrong, because really, it’s about the music, and music making, and playing~ the music.
I guess the point of keeping time is that it helps us stay together in something communal. It’s one thing if you’re a concert pianist and have the stage to yourself, then you get to decide just how you want the timing to play out.
Some of us set the weight high on the slide to slow it down a bit, and some would fix it low because it ticks super fast and makes us move, like the cha-cha.
Presto, allegro, adagio, largo. . .
We all have personal preference, and vantage point, and some kind of internal pace setting . . . but the beauty is the music. We play. Together.
As a community, we are all listening for the heartbeat of God in creation and we are depending on it’s rhythm to keep time for us. We are looking to sun and moon and their movement on the horizon as God’s invitation to expand and reach and live into the love. Both day and night are witness to God’s delight in our life together and where we might go as a faith community, because God has given us ~ more time.
When we use the word ‘remember’, at the liturgy of the table, we mean that the walls of time collapse and all are present at the table with us and we are caught up in the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection, and find ourselves at his Eucharistic feast. We are caught up in the mystery of God’s love and the Communion of Saints.
I count you among the saints in light and I rejoice in this crazy time keeping, beat skipping, note missing, occasionally harmonious music we are making, but we are playing, and in the family I grew up in, “playing” meant making music.
Cheers to a joyful noise!
“As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever, world without end. Amen.”
November 1st. All Saints Day.
We buried my mother on this day in 1961. In July, we opened the earth again and laid my father to rest at her side. He lived to be 95, she, just 33.
You know all that. But what you might not know is that when we lingered at the grave to see him through with chains and pulleys that lowered him in, we could see the edge of my mother’s crypt, the same kind of concrete chamber with a lid, and we could see it, aged and weathered for 57 years, but there still, with her bones inside.
I continue to ponder the strange mystery, that after 57 years it would give me a profound sense of peace and comfort to see what I once saw but can’t remember, to know that what I long for is there in the ground; to see that earth and matter has kept her body as both cradle and grave; and to realize, that by seeing this physical evidence of her existence, I know now that she was/is real, and then, for some odd reason, know myself to be real. Why would seeing her crypt matter so profoundly?
I’ll be working on that for awhile . . .but I wonder, does it matter, simply because we are matter? It’s how we know.
We are matter and substance, and it is our human life to be formed of clay and God-breathed. It is how we know and love and recognize as individual. It is how we keep community. Human form, material substance. Human being.
Our common life.
We will remember the saints in light by naming them out loud on Sunday, which is part All Saints, part All Souls ritual. Today, November 2nd, is All Souls’, the day we remember the dead. The dead who we know and love in sacred body and whose matter we share and keep as sacred.
The matter we know and love and call by name.
Lucille. “Cille”. Lucille Ruth. My mother’s name.
Our faith community. On Shabbat, they ‘walk in love’. We’ve been talking about that lately, walking in love.
How can we walk in love with our neighbors who suffered horrendous injustice and horrific violence? The News has been filled with images of mourners and processions and caskets being carried in love. Bodies massacred, sacred flesh gathered up in love and carried to cradle and grave.
I delivered white roses and a card to the Synagogue yesterday on behalf of us all. We will name them among the Saints on Sunday. We will say 11 names of people we did not know who were slain in Pittsburgh as they worshipped the Holy One who breathed them into being.
This is just the beginning part of our falling in love with our neighborhood, our spiritual challenge to walk in love.
We name names. And somehow by the naming, we keep them, like earth keeping earth, their bones, their real matter; we remember them and it makes them real and by it, we know ourselves to be real.
Our common, sacred, material life.
Our Hallowed existence.
It came home to me in a profound sense on St. Francis’ Day, that people love, love, love their dogs.
They’re proud, they tell stories about them, they’re devoted and indebted, they’re companioned and by living a life with them, they walk in love.
They love. We love. We simply love.
I had a funny thought about one of the Offertory Sentences the other day. Not ‘funny’, like ‘haha’, but funny as in a joyful little thought that made me chuckle. The Offertory Sentence I’m thinking of is the one I use most often.
Most clergy use it most often. You know it, it goes like this:
“Walk in love as Christ loved us, and gave himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God.”
As I sat in my studio visiting with a parishioner, I could see out the window toward the woods in the front of the parish house. In the matter of a little over an hour,
I saw no less than 5 people walk through, at least 3 dogs and 2 strollers.
It tickled me to suddenly think, “Well there ya have it! That’s it! right in front of me: People ~ walking in love.”
. . . out there with dogs and babies, walking.
That’s what it means, that’s what it looks like, that’s how we do it.
We tend. We treat. We set aside our own comfort.
We take care. We delight. We put up with shenanigans.
We companion. We feed. We play.
We walk. . . in love.
And then I thought, with the view outside my studio window, that’s why the pet blessing was so much fun, that’s why everybody left happy and joyous because we had all been immersed in love!
We filled the room with it. We drank a deep draught.
We feasted on it! On love!
Sure, the animals are cute and everything, but it’s the love that’s so compelling.
So life changing.
Love keeps us alive!
The worship and music team and the outreach and community life team have been conspiring together ~ and roped in the building and grounds team, to plan another pet friendly Sunday.
This time, taking it a little bit further and planning a pet and people social after church.
Outside, with biscuits for both.
Dog biscuits and British biscuits, too.
Dog play and Coffee and Scones!
And so we will begin this adventure, this experiment in love, on November 18th!
Just 3 weeks time!
So we’ve got to pick up on the big efforts
Roger Loney has already begun and do some grounds work of our own, right along with him.
One of the “takeaways” from our study group for church growth (which was a word of advice given to Roy Wright by the national church representative for church growth) was about love.
When Roy asked, “Are there some immediate things we need to do right away?”, he answered, “Yes. Fall in love with your neighborhood.”
Talk about walking in love!
He recommended that we fall right in it!
We don’t have much money, but we have resources: beautiful wooded acreage (especially now that God gave it back to us, and we’re not trying to sell it).
Gently rolling hills, a splendid community garden, and spectacular sky-scraping trees.
A peaceful landscape in the middle of a cityscape (even 400 begins to sound like a stream worthy of the pacific northwest if you close your eyes and imagine it).
The Offertory Sentences are on p. 376 in the BCP. There is a list of sentences (all from scripture) with which the priest transitions the congregation from the ministry of the word to the ministry of the table, at which point we all make our ‘offering’; we bring ourselves, our souls and bodies, our God-given gifts.
So I’m thinking, what a beautiful theology of stewardship, to Offer our God given gifts our natural resources, to create a habitat of love.
To make our offering, of all that we have, to God, for the love of the world, an oasis of kindness,
And to walk in love, by the doing of it, to be in it, ourselves, to be in, the love.
We don’t have much money, but we have resources and a lot of love. And we can use our resources to fall in love with our neighborhood, by making this offering. We are already oriented toward neighborhood, always have been! That’s who we are ~ just like we will open our doors this afternoon for the Civic Association’s Fall Festival.
But honestly, I’m craving the big love.
The walking in love.
The falling in love. Maybe it’s a little selfish to think that if we open our space, our parish house and home and backyard too; open our land in a big way, to the people who walk in love, because then we will be continually immersed in it!
Surrounded by love.
Out around the whole circumference of our property, just burning with love.
Out from the nave and onto the wooded hilltop, one fork leading to the community garden, the other to the sidewalk trellis that marks the trail head,
and leads through the wooded trail from west to east, across the grass land over the pipeline, around the dumpster and the pig roast flat lands, up and into the fenced woods,
and through the half hitch gate into the memorial garden.
All of it like a wrap, a mantle of love, us, garmented in love.
All of the neighborhood and people in condominiums and apartments, coming out for a breath of fresh air and green space, and to find love and human community, and
Walking in love all over our property, and surrounding us in love, because that’s what they do:
They walk, in love.
They walk their dogs, for love
They stroll their babies, for love,
They hike around with companions and partners, for love.
They walk. . .
I want the big love.
Love is a good thing, so I’m absolving myself of the selfish want of it.
“God is love, and where true love is, God himself is there.” (I John 4)
Think of it, even the vagabonds with spray paint will be blessed by it. And maybe they too, will fall in love.
18 months ago, I said to you in a playful sermon:
“I see that you have clear glass windows”, and I shared things that I deduced about you because of the clear glass.
Rather than stained glass that removes us from the world and cloisters and protects us,
I was wondering and guessing, because I didn’t know you well.
I surmised that you were free thinking and not cloistered.
Not afraid to look.
Not afraid to look out onto the world
to embrace the world,
to stay connected to the world
because you are brave and full of love.
And that to be connected to the Creation was intrinsic to your spirituality.
During worship you gaze with holy sight and contemplation on bare branches in winter,
Rain, wind, lightening and dark cloud,
Or bird life on the window ledge on the cross beam of the cross.
Your clear glass windows suggested to me, that you are always ready.
Expectant to find God, through all matter, every bit of creation,and in the human form and all of humanity.
18 months ago, I said that you are outward facing and that I would have to think a congregation with clear glass windows is a congregation with vision and courage.
Because as they look out on the beauty of the world, they also see its brokenness.
And know themselves to be called out, into that brokenness with love.
That’s what I said 18 months ago, just as an outside chance, a guess.
I think those things are more true, than ever.
At the essence and heart of who you are:you want to see
The younger you, an earlier generation of yourself, said these things about you by designing this place with clear glass windows, which are actually doors that open the nave in six places!
The younger you wanted to see.
I hear in today’s gospel, Jesus asking you if it is still true for you now, in this day. The gospel today is the healing of a blind man.
Jesus asked him, ‘what do you want me to do for you?’ He said
‘Teacher, Let me see again.’
I think we’re on the brink of something. And that Jesus is saying to us, what he said to him:
“Go. Your faith has made you well.”
Our guide, an African warrior.
He said we could ask for something
First he said that he had a gift for us. I wanted this gift, whatever it was. Maybe he looked at everyone but I felt and look at me when he said it. Maybe because I was staring.
We went to this water called “the last bath“ where the captives were scrubbed before their purchase.
It turned out that we could ask for something of the river and the ancients.
I want something from Africa. From the heavy earth there and the bloodshed and sweat that seeps into the earth and makes it human. Alive. Life producing and fertile.
I told the river and the heavy sodden earth of Africa, “I want what you have“.
What he said you have.
What I know you have.
You have a song and a dance in the drum beat in your soul you have joy and love. It’s what makes you able to live in community. He said that slavery takes that away.
He said you were hunters and farmers and artisans. And you can sing and you can dance.
But slavery makes you run and hide and enter the caves in deep forest Because when you go to carry water and do your chores, you were ambushed and carried into captivity.
Africa. African ancestors of humanity. I want your song and dance and drum beat in my soul so that I can live in community with joy. Trust without fear of ambush.
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.