The Immigrant Apostles’ Creed

Rio Grande on the USA-Mexico Border. Image by Bob Palin. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.
Rio Grande on the USA-Mexico Border. Image by Bob Palin. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.

This was posted to Facebook by Neal Presa, the current moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA).  I’m told it was originally written by Rev. Jose Luis Casal.  Fruitful theological food for thought for anyone who cares about USA immigration policies.

Also worth reading on this subject is this sample chapter from Reading the Bible With the Damned by Bob Ekblad:

FOLLOWING JESUS, EL BUEN COYOTE: READING PAUL WITH UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS

And here is the Immigrant Apostles’ Creed:

I believe in Almighty God,
who guided the people in exile and in exodus,
the God of Joseph in Egypt and Daniel in Babylon,
the God of foreigners and immigrants.

I believe in Jesus Christ, a displaced Galilean,
who was born away from his people and his home, who fled
his country with his parents when his life was in danger.
When he returned to his own country he suffered under the oppression of Pontius Pilate, the servant of a foreign power. Jesus was persecuted, beaten, tortured, and unjustly condemned to death.
But on the third day Jesus rose from the dead,
not as a scorned foreigner but to offer us citizenship in God’s kingdom.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the eternal immigrant from God’s kingdom among us,
who speaks all languages, lives in all countries,
and reunites all races.
I believe that the Church is the secure home
for foreigners and for all believers.
I believe that the communion of saints begins
when we embrace all God’s people in all their diversity.
I believe in forgiveness, which makes us all equal before God,
and in reconciliation, which heals our brokenness.
I believe that in the Resurrection
God will unite us as one people
in which all are distinct and all are alike at the same time.
I believe in life eternal, in which no one will be foreigner
but all will be citizens of the kingdom
where God reigns forever and ever. Amen.

The Great Ends of the Church: Why We Worship

dzhokhar-tsarnaevWe may be New Yorkers, fans of the Yankees or the Mets, but this week we’re all rooting for Boston!

When I heard the news about the atrocity at the marathon, my first inclination was to change this week’s sermon topic.  These are the moments when collective trauma demands a response from the pulpit.  I’ve done it before, especially after the shootings in Aurora, CO and Newtown, CT.  My first thought was that I should diverge from our current series on the Great Ends of the Church and use our time together this morning to offer words of healing.

But then I remembered something that happened to me on September 11, 2001.  I was a senior in college then.  It was a Tuesday and I was late to my 11 o’clock class.  I didn’t usually turn on the news in the morning, so I had no idea what was going on in the world.  I remember looking over my shoulder as I rushed past a conference room and seeing a group of people huddled around a television and there on the screen was the image that would forever be burned into my consciousness: the burning towers of the World Trade Center.  I immediately stopped in my tracks, walked back, and sat down with the others in the conference room to take in what was happening.  Needless to say, I never made it to class that day.

The next day, I went to see my professor, Dr. Hauser, and apologized for missing class.  He had a strict attendance policy and I wanted to explain why I had missed class.  “I understand,” he said, “but your absence will still count against you.”  When I asked him why he wouldn’t excuse my absence, Dr. Hauser said these words, which I will remember for the rest of my life: “Because the goal of terrorism is to disrupt and I refuse to allow them to accomplish that goal, so far as my class is concerned.”

And so, borrowing a page from Dr. Hauser’s book, I have decided that I will not give the Tsarnaev brothers the pleasure of disrupting our church service this morning.  We’re going to continue with our regularly scheduled sermon series on the Great Ends of the Church.  In fact, their actions will only serve to illustrate my point, as you’ll soon see.

This week is the third in a six-week series on the Great Ends of the Church.  We’re using this old Presbyterian document to answer the question, “Why does the Church exist?”  On the first week, Easter Sunday, we said the first Great End of the Church is “the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind.”  Last week, we said the second Great End of the Church is “the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God.”  And this week, we’re saying the third Great End of the Church is “the maintenance of divine worship.”

I actually think today is the perfect Sunday to talk about worship because it is moments of crisis, like this one, that so often lead us to lean more heavily and stand more firmly on the foundation of our faith.  When one part of our identity is attacked, we humans almost instinctively look to ground our collective sense of self in some deeper and stronger source.  I think it’s no surprise that people flocked in droves to churches, mosques, and synagogues in the days after 9/11.  I also think it’s no coincidence that we saw so many ecumenical and interfaith worship services going on at the same time.  Even if it was just for a moment, labels like Protestant and Catholic, Jewish and Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu were being set aside in favor of some larger reality that embraces and connects us all.  This week, we’ve even got Yankees fans wearing Red Sox jerseys (which is the biggest miracle of all, if you ask me).

When we talk about worship, we’re using a word that comes from the Old English term worth-ship.  We’re talking about that which has ultimate worth or value in our eyes.  In worship, we direct our attention toward that which is most important to us in life.  We stop for a moment to orient our little lives within the larger context of the big picture.  It is from this exercise that we draw strength, hope, and courage for facing the days ahead.

Drawing from the resources of our Judeo-Christian heritage, I picked out two passages of scripture that illustrate the act of worship and its power to sustain us in times of crisis.

I’ll start with our New Testament reading.  It came from the book of Revelation, at the very end of the Bible.  Here we read about a vision of what worship looks like from the perspective of heaven.  The author saw “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.”  The author is told that these people are the ones “who have come out of the great ordeal”.  Having passed through life’s hardships, they exist in a state of constant, ecstatic worship before God’s throne in heaven.  As Charles Wesley wrote in his famous hymn, Love Divine, All Loves Excelling, they are “lost in wonder, love, and praise.”  The angel serving as the author’s celestial tour guide says:

They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them,
nor any scorching heat;
for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’

This is the effect that worship has on their lives.  They want for nothing.  They fear nothing.  We’re used to thinking of passages like this one as descriptive of the afterlife, but I see no reason why we cannot experience at least a taste of that heaven in this life.

This morning’s Old Testament reading from the book of Daniel tells the famous story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, three young men who refused to bow down to the idols of the society they lived in and were made to pass through the fire by the powers that be.  It was their worship of God that put them at odds with the values of the dominant culture around them.  They saw their lives as part of a bigger picture than the one made up of the demands and concerns of the Babylonian Empire.  So, when the reigning powers of that empire demanded their allegiance, they said no.  The full weight of imperial sanction was brought to bear against them, but still they refused.

When they were finally cast into the fire, the reality of their faith was vindicated as it became plain to see that these three young men were not alone in their struggle.  Someone was walking through the fire with them, some mysterious person who had “the appearance of a god”, according to those who saw.

As it was with them, so it is with us.  As we pass through the fires and ordeals of this life, worshiping as we go, we discover that we are not alone.  Our God walks with us in the fire.  As it says in the book of Revelation, God shelters us and shepherds us, guiding us toward “springs of the water of life” where “God will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes.”

The purpose of worship is to open our hearts and minds to this grand reality in which we live, move, and have our being.  In worship, we lift our vision higher than our visibility.  We look at our circumstances through the eyes of faith.  We gather the fragments of our myriad little stories and lives into one Great Story told in prayer, creed, scripture, sacrament, and song.

This is why worship has the power to get us through times of crisis like the ones we lived through this week.  Through it, we come to realize (or are reminded yet again) that the deepest part of ourselves is connected to the deepest part of the universe.  “Deep calls out to deep,” as it says in the psalm.

We reach out to feel the bond of this deep connection in moments of crisis.  What we need to do is nurture that same sense of connectedness in our regular, everyday living.  That way, when crises happen, large or small, we have a well of spiritual resources from which we can draw the water of life.

Those who learn how to live from this deep center are often the very same ones who are ready, willing, and able to share their abundance of spiritual strength and compassion with others.  They are the ones who can walk through the fire, trusting that God walks with them.

That’s what the worship-life of the church is here for: to nurture that strength in believers.  We do it together in our weekly services of public worship, but I hope we also do it individually during the other six days of the week.  This is why it’s so important to have a regular, daily practice of devotional prayer and Bible reading at home.  These spiritual disciplines, far from being rote religious exercises, are as essential to the health of our souls as food and water are essential to the health of our bodies.

We need to maintain that sense of deep connection, not just during moments of crisis, not just on holidays, not just weekly, but daily.

That sense of community bonding we saw in Boston this week is available to all of us, all the time.  The purpose of the church’s worshiping life is to maintain that sense of connection in the normal, boring seasons of life so that we can be ready to spring into action as heroes and leaders when these moments of crisis arise.  We can face the flames unafraid because we know that our God walks through them with us.

This week, I believe we saw God walking with us through the flames.  The stories of heroism, goodwill, and sacrifice cannot undo our grief and anger, but they can exist alongside it, reminding us that evil, chaos, and darkness are not, in fact, the only forces at work in this world.  Furthermore, they will not have the last word.  So long as there is still one good person in this world who’s willing to run toward explosions for the sake of other, wounded human beings, we know that “the light [still] shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”

The worshiping life of the church reminds us of this truth and seeks to grow in us that same kind of strength and compassion, in hopes that we too might become beacons of hope and justice in this world, people strengthened by faith to stand up for love and walk through the fire, trusting that God walks with us.

Out of Order

Hell has frozen over. Someone outside the Presbyterian Church has shone an interest in our polity. Apparently, they’ve now made movies on every other conceivable subject known to humankind. We’re down at the very bottom of the list, right after that thrilling expose on the mating habits of slugs.

Seriously though, this is a documentary, made by a non-Presbyterian, about LGBTQ people pursuing ordained ministry in our denomination. My wife tells me that one of the subjects was a seminary classmate of a friend of ours. Small world? Nah, just a small denomination.

They’re looking for financial help to complete post-production. You can learn more about supporting the film by clicking here:
http://www.outoforderdoc.com/

The Greatest of These is Love

I’d like to tell you a story I heard several years ago about a church in crisis.  They were a relatively small church in a large, cosmopolitan city.  They were a young church, having only been planted a few years before, but had been around long enough to enter their second generation of leadership as their founding pastor moved on to another call and was succeeded by a popular, charismatic preacher.  The members of this church came from all across the ethnic and socioeconomic spectrum.  From the perspective of church growth marketing analysts, this place was set to be a gold mine!  They had everything: a prime location in a major urban center, a diverse membership, and a popular, dynamic preacher.  What could go wrong?  Well, as it turns out, there was a lot that could go wrong… and it did.

Now, my first thought would be: It must have been the pastor.  What did he do wrong?  He must have become embroiled in some kind of public scandal involving money or sex.  That’s all you really hear about from ministers in the media these days.  But no, it wasn’t the pastor.  In fact, their charismatic clergyman hardly shows up in this story at all.

In spite of everything they had going for them on paper, this church was struggling in reality.  In fact, things were going so badly, this church’s founding denomination was thinking about pulling the plug on the entire operation.

The reality was that this church was tearing itself apart from the inside out.  What started out as groups of like-minded friends had become rival factions in an all-out war for power and control of the church.  Their pious posturing was a thin veil over blatant hypocrisy.  This ongoing dispute between cliques became so all-consuming that the real problems facing the church couldn’t be addressed.

Newer members of the church were struggling with various spiritual and theological questions, but there was no one to help them search for answers.

Wealthy members of the congregation, primarily concerned with keeping up appearances, would intentionally schedule church suppers during times when they knew that the poorer congregants would still be at work.  By the time the latter group arrived at the suppers, there was often no food left for them.

At one point, it became publicly known that a prominent member of the church was tangled up in a scandalous affair (with his own stepmother, no less), but so much energy was being spent on dealing with the rival factions that the affair went unaddressed and this family was unable to receive the kind of attention and pastoral care they so desperately needed.

Outsiders and other church leaders were aghast when they heard about how bad things had become.  Some wondered whether this sorry mess of humanity could even be called a church anymore.  They were beginning to think that closing the church might even be the most compassionate option.

Instead of closing it down, the denomination decided to send in another pastor to help.  As it turned out the pastor they sent was the church’s founding pastor, who had left for another call some years before.  He had several insights to help them deal with their various crises, but the best thing he did for them was trace all their little problems back to a single big problem: Love, or the lack thereof.  The main problem was that these people just hated each other.

It was their mutual hatred for each other that consumed the members of this church from the inside out.  They couldn’t function as a church.  There was nothing anyone could do to fix that problem.  They had everything going for them: a great urban location, a dynamic super-pastor, and several wealthy financial supporters with deep pockets, but none of those things could make the church grow or stop it from dying if the members didn’t embody that single most important core value: Love.

None of it meant anything without Love.

Now, I want to pause for a moment and pull the curtain back on this church that I’ve been talking about.  I haven’t told you the church’s name or who the pastor was.  It’s not a church in our area or our denomination.  In fact, it’s not even a church that exists in our century.  The church I’ve been talking about is the first century Christian church in the Greek city of Corinth, founded by the apostle Paul himself.  He was that founding pastor who returned to help his former congregation in crisis.

The letter of advice he wrote to them is what we now call the book of 1 Corinthians in the New Testament of the Bible.  The most famous part of that letter is the section we read this morning: the Hymn to Love in 1 Corinthians 13.  This passage is most often read at weddings, where everyone looks great, music is playing, and love is in the air.  Most of us probably heard those words this morning and let them breeze right past us because they are so familiar and so associated with saccharine euphoria that we miss their real meaning completely.

These words, when lived in reality, are radical and revolutionary.  They have the power to transform the way we interact with one another and rescue the future for a community that most people have simply given up on.  This beautiful love poetry was not written for a wedding.  It doesn’t spring up from the same part of human experience that inspired Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet.  There is nothing sweet or saccharine about these words at all.

These words about love arose out of conflict within a church that was bitterly divided against itself.  These words are Paul’s challenge to every rival clique’s claim to superiority over others.  Listen to his words again.  If you’ve heard them before, listen to their meaning for the first time:

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Can you hear the urgency in Paul’s voice?  He’s telling the Corinthians to stop acting like children and grow up.  These little spats that their cliques are having over church power simply don’t matter.  At all.  All their theological knowledge, their faith, their pledge cards, and their volunteer service to the church are rendered meaningless if they don’t know how to love each other.

Love and love alone makes a church.  And this love isn’t just some warm fuzzy feeling they get when they sing Amazing Grace or Kum Ba Yah.  This isn’t some hippy flower fest; this is the church of Christ.  In here, love only counts as real when it takes on flesh and blood in the actions of those who claim to possess it.

Love is patient.  Are you patient?  Love is kind.  Are you kind?  Love is not irritable or resentful.  Are you?  Love is not envious, boastful, arrogant, or rude.  Are you any of those things?  Love does not insist on its own way.  How often do you insist on getting your own way in a church conflict?

Is this making you uncomfortable?  It should be.  What Paul is talking about here is nothing less than a complete reordering of our priorities.  He’s not just trying to change the way we live, he’s trying to change the way we fight.

The Corinthian Christians had a rather skewed perspective on the fight that was tearing them apart.  They all saw themselves as heroes defending a battleground (i.e. the church) from dangerous enemies (i.e. their rivals).  In reality, they were not the heroes: they were the battleground.  God was the hero defending them.  And their so-called rivals?  They were not the enemy.  They were actually God’s allies in the fight for each other’s souls.

In truth, the Love that Paul wrote about was already present in each one of their hearts.  They were members of the same body: the body of Christ.  What was good for one was good for all.  There was no point to the rivalry then, because they were trying to divide something that couldn’t be divided.  The sooner they realized this truth, the sooner they would get over their petty little squabbles and get back to really being what a church should be: a community of people so full of love that it just naturally spilled over and into the surrounding community.  That’s how you define a healthy, growing church.  The pastor, the size, the building, and the budget are all completely secondary concerns.  Our first job is always to embody the love of Christ within our own lives, amongst each other, and eventually flowing out into the larger community.  When the people in this lonely world see that, they will be naturally attracted to it and will come from all over to see what it is that we have here.

What might that transition from hate to love look like?

It’s hard to say. “Love,” as Han Suyin said, “is a many splendoured thing.”  Love looks different when it takes on flesh and blood in the lives of different people.  I can tell you the stories of a couple of times in my life when I had to make that transition from hate to love.

Hate is a strong word, and I don’t use it lightly.  But in these two cases, I can honestly say that I really, actually came to hate my enemy.  The first was one of my seminary professors.  The second was a co-worker at my first job after seminary.  In both cases, I was the one in the right.  My enemy had hurt and offended me with words and deeds that I found demeaning and humiliating.  Time after time, I tried to reach out in friendship, but was repaid with cold indifference.  Eventually, I stopped trying.  I left them to their miserable little worlds and went on with my life.

But they didn’t leave me.  Their hostile presence was still firmly lodged in my mind, even though we managed to avoid each other most of the time.  I learned what it felt like to grow hard and bitter inside toward another human being.  All of our public interactions were polite, but I seethed inwardly with a hot hatred I’d never felt before.  Mutual acquaintances quickly learned to never mention their names in my presence because of the sharp reaction it would provoke in me.  I had a problem: a problem with hatred.  Jesus said that to hate another person is to murder that person in your heart.  I get that now because I’ve felt it.

But the irony is that my enemies weren’t being hurt by my hatred, I was.  That fire inside was burning me alive without ever touching them.  My hate was keeping me from fully becoming the person I was meant to be.  Even though I knew I was in the right, that knowledge gave me no relief from the bitterness.  Something had to change.

I thought, at the time, that what I needed to do was forgive my enemies, just as Jesus had done to those who were crucifying him.  I tried and I tried hard, over and over, again and again.  I didn’t want to be a person who wallowed in hate.  I kept telling myself, “I need to forgive him… I need to forgive him…” but I just couldn’t.

And then, one night, it hit me.  I was standing on the balcony of my apartment in Vancouver, seething with more bitter thoughts about my enemy.  I said to myself again, “I need to forgive him.”  And then, it felt like I heard a voice whisper to me from the very back of my mind, “No you don’t.  You need to ask forgiveness for yourself.”  I believe now that what I heard was the voice of God, speaking wisdom to my heart.

The fact is that I was the one who had let my righteous indignation turn into bitterness, not my enemy who had hurt me.  I was the one who had allowed hatred to change me into the kind of person I didn’t want to be.  I had tarnished my enemy’s reputation with harsh words spoken behind the back.  I wanted the whole world to know what he had done to me.  I wanted him to pay.  But the irony is that I was the one who was paying the price and reaping none of the benefits of vengeance.  Beneath my anger, I was just as scared and hurt as ever.

After that initial insight on the balcony, I quickly realized what my next step needed to be: I had to face my enemy and ask him to forgive me.  I had to let go and throw myself upon the mercy of the person I hated.  It wasn’t fun, but it was the only remedy that could ease the searing pain in my heart.

When the deed was said and done, in both cases, relief came.  I never became close friends with either of the men I previously hated, but the war was over.  I found peace within myself.  More importantly, I discovered that an internal blockage had been removed from my heart and I was able to love much more fully than before.  I wasn’t just able to love my enemy more fully, I was able to love myself and world more fully as well.  Love was taking on flesh and blood in me, transforming me into Love’s hands and feet in the world.

Asking my enemy to forgive me, even though I knew I was in the right, is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, but it was worth it.

I think that’s the truth that Paul was trying to get across to the Corinthian Christians, who were so divided and hateful toward their fellow church members.  Paul wanted them to know that love is worth it because love is what lies at the center of reality.  God is love.  Therefore, our efforts to love one another are what make God’s loving presence more palpable to the rest of the world.  That’s our mission, as Christians.  That’s our church’s reason for existing.  If we’re not doing that, then we’re not a church, no matter how nice our building, how big our budget, or how handsome our pastor is.  Those things don’t make us church.  Love makes us church.

That’s all I really want to tell you today: Love one another.

Because I love you, because God loves you, and because there’s nothing you can do about it.

Not Just Pretty Clothes

This is my column for my church’s newsletter this month.  Superfriends and Blogofans from liturgical churches will probably find this information old news, but those of you from “low church” Protestant backgrounds (e.g. Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc.) might find this interesting.  Having come to the Presbyterian Church from an Anglican denomination, I see “high church” liturgy as one gifts that I can bring.  For a more detailed description of liturgical vestments (with pictures), visit: www.kencollins.com

Image by Gareth Hughes.  Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons
Image by Gareth Hughes. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons

When people think of a Presbyterian pastor leading worship, they tend to think of someone wearing a long, black robe that looks like the kind of academic gown worn at graduations.  In fact, that’s exactly what it is.  This practice goes back to John Calvin himself, who was an educator by profession.  The academic robe (also called a Geneva gown, after the city Calvin lived in) was the socially acceptable thing for a teacher to wear in the 1500s, much like white coats for doctors and uniforms for police officers are today.  John Calvin wore his academic robe in the pulpit because he was opposed to the practice of wearing liturgical vestments like they did in the Roman Catholic Church.

Since Calvin’s time, relations between Presbyterians and Catholics have softened considerably.  Starting in the 1960s, we even began adopting each other’s worship practices.  For example, Catholics now lead mass in English and celebrate Communion while facing the congregation.  Presbyterians (and other Protestants) have been rediscovering the value of ancient and medieval forms of worship, including the weekly celebration of Communion and the wearing of liturgical vestments.

Liturgical vestments are special clothes worn by the clergy when they lead worship.  While they got their start as everyday street clothes in Roman times, they have taken on symbolic meaning over time.

First, there is the Alb.  This is a long, white robe that is a symbol of baptism.  The color white signifies the purity of a soul that has been cleansed from sin.  The sacrament of baptism is the sign of this cleansing.  Anyone who has been baptized can wear this vestment.  In Revelation 7:9, the Bible describes a heavenly scene: “I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.”

Second, there is the Cincture.  This is a rope belt that symbolizes the teachings of Christ.  Like the alb, anyone, ordained or lay, can wear the cincture.  After all, every Christian is supposed to follow Jesus’ teachings, right?  The cincture is a belt because we bind Christ’s teachings to our lives at all times.  It is just as Moses told the Israelites in Deuteronomy 6:6-9: “Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”  The cincture is a visual reminder to us that we should do the same.

Third, there is the Stole.  This is the long scarf worn by pastors and priests.  It is a sign that the person wearing it has been ordained.  In Roman times, men would wear stoles on formal occasions in the same way that men wear neckties today.  Symbolically, it stands for the yoke of ordained ministry.  For those who are unfamiliar with cattle and oxen, a yoke is a special kind of harness that goes over an ox’s neck when it pulls a cart, just like the stole goes over the pastor’s neck.  This is a reminder of the pastor’s job: to pull the cart (the church) and take it wherever the driver (Christ) directs.  The pastor is not the driver.  The church does not belong to the pastor.  The church belongs to Christ.  Christ decides where the church goes.  The pastor’s job is simply to help the church get there.  If you catch me in my office immediately before or after worship, you might see me kiss the stole as I put it on and take it off.  This traditional gesture is a way for me to remind myself to embrace my calling as the pastor of this church.

Finally, there is the Chasuble.  This poncho-like vestment is only worn when the Eucharist (Communion) is celebrated.  It symbolizes the grace (unconditional love) of God, which covers everything like a big, warm blanket.  It is worn during Communion as a reminder of Christ’s unconditional love that led him to lay down his life for others.  This is the event we remember as we share the broken body and shed blood of Christ in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.  The word Eucharist means Thanksgiving, which is our primary response to God’s grace which has been made known to us in Christ.

More and more Presbyterians are starting to make use of these traditional liturgical vestments in worship.  I am sharing their symbolic meaning with you so that you can fully appreciate and enter into the spiritual truths they convey.  Our worship is not simply a matter of thoughts and words.  We bring our whole selves, body and soul, into church.  Sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell all play a part in our service.

I pray that your knowledge of these visual symbols in the special clothes I wear on Sunday will enrich your worship experience and make the presence of God more real to you as we render our reverence to God.

Be blessed and be a blessing!

Barrett

A New Convergence

This is a reblog of an article by Bryan Berghoef.

It reminded me of a conversation I had during a surprise visit from a childhood friend this year.  He and I both grew up to become pastors who also married pastors.

We grew up at opposite ends of the Protestant theological spectrum: my family was conservative evangelical, his was liberal mainline.  Both of our spouses, interestingly enough, grew up as part of the charismatic renewal movement in mainline denominations.

What we discovered is that our respective spiritual journeys, while starting in very different places, had led each of us to embrace very similar values, practices, and dreams for what we think the church c/should be.

This article reminded me of that conversation.  Enjoy!

A New Convergence

Happy Birthday, Vatican II!

Reblogged from NPR:

As a result of Vatican II, the Catholic Church opened its windows onto the modern world, updated the liturgy, gave a larger role to laypeople, introduced the concept of religious freedom and started a dialogue with other religions.

“It was a time of a new hope, when everybody was proud that we are able to convoke such a council, and having a real renewal of the Catholic Church,” says Hans Kung, who was the youngest theologian at Vatican II.

But the changes provoked a backlash, and many Catholics today say the council’s renewal momentum has been stopped in its tracks.

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A Priest Forever

This is the card my bishop gave me at my ordination. I keep it hanging in my office as a reminder.

Four years ago today, I became a priest.

It was a big step in a long journey.  It wasn’t the first step, for years of prayer and hard work had led me to that moment.  It wasn’t the last step either, for things didn’t turn out exactly as I’d planned.

I served the denomination that ordained me for a grand total of three and a half years: first as a lay chaplain, then as a deacon, and eventually as a priest.  I wish I could say that I was still serving there.  That church’s commitment to servant ministry among marginalized people is amazing.  It’s what first drew me to pursue my calling with them.

Unfortunately, there were problems as well.  In a group that small with a hierarchical structure, there was no accountability for people at the top of the chain of command.  Church policy was determined by the bishop’s bad temper.  My bishop was particularly prone to manipulative and abusive behavior.  When that behavior was eventually directed at my wife, I decided that I’d had enough.  I left my position in that denomination on the ides of September 2010.

My bishop made the process as difficult as possible.  In spite of the fact that their church constitution recognized the indelible mark of ordination (i.e. “once a priest, always a priest”) and the validity of holy orders without apostolic succession (a rare belief among sacramental churches), my bishop insisted that I wouldn’t be given my walking papers unless I officially renounced my holy orders.  In other words, I could only leave once I had declared that I was no longer a priest.

This was not strictly necessary, as the Presbyterian Church had already stated their willingness to receive me as one of their own.  Asking me to do this was my bishop’s way of twisting the knife into my back one last time.  In terms of my career, this was not a tremendous setback.  The Presbyterians told me, “Just give [the bishop] what [the bishop] wants.  We’ll ordain you again, if we have to.”  And that’s exactly what happened.  I started serving one of their congregations immediately and was eventually ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament on Pentecost 2011.

I’m glad to have found a home in my new denomination, but I have missed being a priest.  Liturgical and sacramental worship feeds my soul in ways that few things do.  Being disconnected from it feels like spiritual suffocation.  I continue to be a voice for high church renewal in the reformed tradition, but many Presbyterians still resist liturgical worship and weekly Eucharist on the grounds that such practices are “too catholic” or “too much work”.  Ugh.  It’s just not the same.

When I last met with my spiritual director, I mentioned that I have now been an “ex-priest” for as long as I was a priest.  My director (a progressive Roman Catholic) gave me a confused look and reminded me of the “once a priest, always a priest” theology.  My bishop had no right to ask that of me.  In ordering me to un-ordain myself, my bishop was asking the impossible.  I might as well have written a letter stating that I would no longer submit to the law of gravity.  A priest can resign (or be removed) from actively functioning in an official capacity within the organization, but one cannot be un-0rdained anymore than one can be un-baptized.

It is as my bishop said to me at my ordination: “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”

Something funny happened at church on the very Sunday after I met with my spiritual director.  During the Prayers of the People, there is a spot where the layperson leading the litany offers prayer for “Barrett our pastor”.  But on this particular Sunday, the liturgist misspoke and accidentally prayed for “Barrett our priest”.  John Calvin must have rolled over in his grave.

It was an accident, but I think it was a holy one.  I take it as God’s way of reminding me about who I really am and what I am called to be:

A priest forever.

Ev’ry Day I’m Pastorin’: THOU SHALT VISIT THIS BLOG

I have never plugged another blog so vehemently as I am now plugging this one.

My wife and I were up until 1:30 in morning, rolling in laughter at this blog because IT’S ALL TRUE!!!

The author is not forthcoming with personal identity details, but that’s the blogger’s prerogative.  The experiences chronicled and parodied here are almost universal among mainline clergy.  I’m actually a little scared that if my parishioners found this blog, they would be able to read my mind.

Please check this out, especially if you happen to be the clergy type.

Thank me later.

http://everydayimpastoring.tumblr.com/

Vancouver’s Best Kept Secret

Waking up early on a Monday to do lecture prep for my Ethics course.

I found this image on Facebook.  For me, it’s not only cute, it’s also a little nostalgic.  My pastor in Vancouver, Rev. Dr. Sylvia Cleland at West Point Grey Presbyterian Church, used to have this photo up on her office door.

That was the last church I attended where I was not either the pastor or the pastor’s spouse.

I often call it “Vancouver’s Best Kept Secret” for several reasons:

  • It’s the only Presbyterian church I knew of where Koreans and Anglos worshiped together (they have separate presbyteries and usually keep apart).

  • It’s the only church I knew of where students from Regent College and Vancouver School of Theology would worship and serve their internships together.  In spite of the fact that they are only two blocks away from each other, these two seminaries usually keep separate.  The Regent folks generally assume that the VST folks are godless heretics while the VST folks assume that the Regent folks are fundamentalist fanatics.  They’re both wrong.

  • The church’s small size made it possible for ministerial interns to actually do real ministry, like preaching, pastoral care, and education.  At the bigger, more popular churches in town, student interns would end up answering phones and making coffee.  We actually got to find out what being a pastor was really like.

So, if you’re thinking of going to seminary in Vancouver, BC (at Regent College or Vancouver School of Theology), check out West Point Grey Presbyterian Church at the corner of 11th & Trimble.  Thank me later.