Family Reunion

ranch oneMy extended family – parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, first cousins once removed, first cousins twice removed – owns property together.  It’s land that my grandparents bought over seventy years ago, land that they have passed down to their children which they, in turn, are passing down to their children.  It’s home to me, in a way; it’s the place we went to every summer, whether my address was in California or New Jersey or Texas.

Because we own this property together, we have an annual meeting to talk about the management of the place.  Some years the annual meeting goes well, and some years there is contention, as happens when more than one person is involved in making a decision.  But always after the meeting, we gather for a potluck lunch.  Some of the family stays around for a few days afterwards; others go back home, promising to see us the next year.  Because we own this property together, we know each other. We’re spread out from New Jersey to Wisconsin to West Virgiania to Washington but I know my cousins; I know the names of their spouses and kids.  My kid will know her second cousins and her great aunts and uncles.

My grandparents left us a treasure.  Sure, the land would be worth something if we ever sold it, but it’s a different kind of treasure. I know my family; I know their joys and quirks.  I have shared their heartaches, and so often they make me laugh out loud.  That’s priceless.

This last week I’ve been at a different kind of family reunion.  The General Assembly (national gathering) of the denomination in which I minister (the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.) has met, as we do ever other year.  We are not bound because of a piece of property.  Rather, we are bound by faith.  We are each other’s beloved because we are all God’s beloved and we know this because of Jesus.  We get together to talk about our mission and ministry and our rules.  Sometimes the meeting goes well; usually there is contention.  Actually, always there is contention.  But that’s okay, because we talk about things that we feel passionate about, things we believe deeply about, things that have called us together and things that threaten to tear us apart.

I’ve had such a sense of reunion this week, seeing old friends from so many times of my life.  My internship buddy.  A guy I dated in seminary.  A woman who moderated the presbytery when I was examined for ordination.  Seminary mentors and classmates.  Former members of my pastor’s group (all of whom absolutely shone this week.)  Friends who challenge me to act beyond the role society has proscribed for me.  Friends who inspire me to love Jesus more.  Friends who irk me into speaking up.  Friends who took a taxi with me because my hip hurt too much.  Friends who laughed at my bad jokes.  Friends who walk the walk of faith and ministry and Presbyteriana with me.

We are family, in the best and worst sense of that word.  We are bound by love, but thank God it’s not our love doing the binding but God’s love.  And we fight the way families fight.  Sometimes we fight and make up.  Sometimes we let ourselves get rent apart.  I know for some the metaphor of family describing church doesn’t work because their own families are so messed up and a source of deep pain. I know there are some in the Presbyterian family that feel that way, especially after some of the decisions made this week about marriage equality and Israel/Palestine relations.  I think about that with my own family experience, and I hope they will be willing to come back to the table after the meeting, and I’ll be as gracious as I can be if they choose to find another table.

But I’m feeling so grateful at this moment.  I am so grateful to remember the cloud of witnesses, friends who weren’t at this Assembly because they are with God, earthly witnesses with whom I broke bread and raised a glass.  I’ll be at the next reunion, too, and so the goodbyes didn’t really seem like goodbyes as much as see-you-soons.

 

Tomorrow night I get to have dinner with my family, my husband and child, for the first time in ten days.  I can’t wait for that family reunion – it’s been too long without them.  Sometimes you have to be apart to appreciate the good of being together.  May that be true for Presbyterians in the next two years.

ranch 2

There is an “I” in “Worship”

groovy jesusA few Sundays ago, as the deacons brought the offering up to the table and the congregation sang the Old 100th doxology, I found myself doing what I always do when singing that doxology: changing the words to make the God-language more inclusive.  It’s just a thing I do, week after week, my little stab at feminism in the midst of a tradition that is slowly, but perceptibly, moving away from patriarchy.

And then I felt like David when Nathan said to him, “You are the man.”  Not in the “you da man” way, but in the “you yourself do what you’ve been critiquing others for doing” way.  It all started with the Apostles’ Creed.

Our Presbyterian Rules of How To Do Things, otherwise known as the Book of Order, says that the Apostles’ Creed shall be said as part of the baptism liturgy, so when my husband and I arrived at the church we serve as co-pastors, we put the creed (which had been taken out at some point) back in the liturgy.  At first we introduced the creed saying the words I’d memorized in my early years of pastoring.  “Let us stand and affirm our faith and the faith of our church, using the words of the Apostles’ Creed.”

We got some feedback on that, so we changed the intro.  “Let us join in the historic tradition of the church, saying together the Apostle’s Creed, which the church has said in baptism for thousands of years.”  Feedback on that too, but it’s still in.

There are some people who really like saying the Apostles’ Creed, like the way it ties us to the ancient church; some of them probably wish we’d say it, or another creed, every week.  But there are people who really, really, REALLY don’t like it.  They don’t believe some or most of the stuff in there.  They don’t like the Father language.  The Virgin Birth seems to be a tricky part, as is the descent into Hell, as is the resurrection of the body.  (For me, Virgin Birth is non-essential; descent into Hell is another way of saying Jesus died; I love the doctrine of resurrection and believe in it.)

There are some people who don’t like to pass the peace, or to say “the peace of Christ be with you.”  There are some who don’t like opening the service with the words “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  There are some who wish we didn’t do Moments with Children, and likely more than a few who wish there were no sermon, or a more intellectual sermon, or a less intellectual sermon.  Some don’t like the prayers of the people.

You get the picture.  What’s a poor pastor to do?

First, I am grateful that people in our pews take theology seriously, and want to be authentic about what they say they believe.  We have a broad array of theological beliefs in the congregation, and I would have it no other way, because it enriches our conversation and our life together.

Second, there is room for all of us.  If I choose to sing different words to the doxology, why can’t someone else stand but not say the Apostles’ Creed?  Why can’t someone who is new to Christianity say “Good morning” and in time, may learn to say “The peace of Christ be with you”?

Third, we’re keeping the tricky bits in.  Sure, we could take out “This is the day the Lord has made”, and the passing of the peace, and the children’s time, and the sermon, and the prayers, and the creeds, and a lot of people would be happy.  A lot of people would be unhappy.  A lot of people would be comfortable that we don’t have complex things, or blatantly faithful things, in the service, but without those things, worship would be pretty watered down and if I went to a worship service that didn’t challenge me, or even make me mad or questioning just a little bit, then I might as well go to Starbucks, drink a latte, and read the Sunday New York Times.

Which a lot of people do.  But not those who show up Sunday after Sunday to sit in our pews, to sing, to pray, to get bothered, to be comforted, to be told they are loved, with all their questions and opinions and preferences.  They are loved, and so am I.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow;

Praise God all creatures here below;

Praise God above, ye heavenly host;

Creator, Christ, and Holy Ghost.

But about that “Ghost” part….