Reformation 500: More than a celebration

October 26, 2017 by Presbyterian News Service
As Presbyterians prepare to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this Sunday two prominent Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) theologians say it is an opportunity for the church to reconsider history — and how it tells the story of the past 500 years.
The Rev. Dr. David Gambrell and the Rev. Dr. Charles Wiley of the Presbyterian Mission Agency believe that while the Reformation divided us, we are now witnessing a convergence of the traditions that were separated. They say this presents an opportunity to focus on the gifts we have received from each other and to celebrate what we share.

For past five years, Gambrell participated in the eighth round of Roman Catholic-Reformed dialogue in the United States (2012–2017). This dialogue builds on the work of previous rounds — especially the 2013 Mutual Recognition of Baptism that came out of the seventh round.
“We were seeking consensus around historically divisive issues,” says Gambrell, “asking questions like ‘Who can be ordained? Can we recognize each other’s ordination? Who oversees ministry? What is the relationship between bishops and presbyteries?’”

Gambrell points out the acknowledgment of each other’s ordination already happens, informally. When there is a crisis in the community, Reformed and Catholic leaders get together and figure out to best serve their communities — which participants believe is something to celebrate and build on, as the dialogue continues.

“Instead of continuing to fight the battles of the 16th century, we have a chance to change our way of thinking,” says Gambrell, “to reconsider the gifts we’ve received from one another.”

The gifts of Protestants and Catholics will be on display at an upcoming “Commemorations of the Reformations” service at the University of Notre Dame. Wiley, along with Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Episcopal and Roman Catholicbishops, will be one of the co-presiders at the November 5 service.
“It’s an incredibly generous act by a Roman Catholic bishop to invite us to commemorate the Reformation at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart,” says Wiley. “This event would have been unthinkable decades ago, let alone centuries ago.”

According to Wiley, the service will celebrate the gifts of the Reformation and acknowledge its sin on behalf of all the participants.
In the Rite of Repentance, these are the words he will share:

As this commemoration brings joy and gratitude to expression, so must it also allow room for all Christians to experience the pain over failures and trespasses, guilt and sin in the persons and events that are being remembered. The Gospel was mixed with the political and economic interests of those in power. Failures resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. Families were torn apart, people imprisoned and tortured, wars fought and faith misused. Human beings suffered and the credibility of the Gospel was undermined with consequences that still impact us today. And so, let us ask God for mercy and forgiveness.

Wiley sees Luther as a valuable and important reformer of the whole Western Church, not just the reformers. But he believes it’s also true that during the protest Protestants left behind gifts.

“We are the poorer for doing so,” he says. “Reformation 500 gives us an opportunity to treasure the good that we bring to each other.”
After the scripture reading and homily (sermon), each co-presider in the service will pray and thank God for the diverse traditions in all of the churches. One thing Wiley will give thanks for is, “Roman Catholics’ celebration of Mary as the first of Jesus’ disciples.”

“One of the most powerful parts of the service reflects a poignant irony,” says Wiley. “This thanksgiving is a prayer service because we cannot celebrate communion together. “

“Even in our thanks, this service demonstrates both hope and a reminder of a fractured church.”

Gambrell has a lasting image from his time spent with other participants in the latest round of Roman Catholic–Reformed dialogue. At their final service of worship together they were surrounded by scaffolding at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, which has been under construction for 100 years.

“Being surrounded by construction materials, and yellow tape marking off the dangerous places, reminded me of the long term, painstaking process of reformation,” says Gambrell. “Still, we worship together to glorify the one God we share. One day we will enjoy full and visible unity with one another in Christ.”

by Paul Seebeck, Presbyterian News Service

Abundant Gifts

As we move into the cooler days of fall weather, I find myself thinking about the abundance of good gifts with which we are surrounded here in New England. From the colors of the trees to fresh picked apples and the bounty of local farms, we are truly blessed with many precious gifts from God’s creation. We have many activities coming up in the next weeks and months which you can read more about in the newsletter, including the Pumpkin Patch, a YAV Harvest Fundraiser, and the Interfaith Thanksgiving Celebration.

At the same time, there are many places in the world that are not experiencing the abundant blessings of creation right now. People and places that are suffering as a result of natural disasters like the recent round of strong hurricanes that impacted much of the Caribbean and the U.S. mainland, particularly in Puerto Rico, causing devastating damage to infrastructure and leaving our siblings there facing months of uncertainty without power or access to clean water. Crises of human creation are impacting huge numbers of people around the globe as well. The Rohingya people fleeing ethnic cleansing in Myanmar; refugees left in limbo in refugee camps around the world; the Venezuelan people who cannot afford the exorbitant prices for food in their own country; and the escalating war of words between the United States and North Korea, just to name a few of the looming crises our world faces.

We look around at all that is happening and wonder, “What can I do?” “I’m just one person.” “I can’t possibly change all this.” And while it is true that one person cannot take on all the problems of the world, there is certainly plenty that each of us can do to respond to the needs of the world, in whatever ways we are able. There are lots of opportunities to give, through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and other relief organizations. We have also taken up a collection for new packages of underwear for men, women, and children that we will send to a relief organization working in hurricane-impacted areas. Bring your donations to church by October 8th!

One other way we can make a difference is by coming together as a community. This fall, we will be asking ourselves the question, “Who is my neighbor?” I invite everyone to join us for a kick-off dinner and discussion on October 14th, from 4 – 7 PM at the church. We will be using the new book “A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community” by John Pavlovitz as a framework and as an opportunity for further small group discussion. I have pre-ordered some copies of the book; if you are interested in getting one, please let me know.

Here is an excerpt from the book description: “Pastor John Pavlovitz invites readers to join him on the journey to find or build a church that is big enough for everyone… He invites us to build the bigger table Jesus imagined, practicing radical hospitality, total authenticity, messy diversity, and agenda-free community.” I hope you will join us as we seek to live into a hopeful, welcoming, and authentic vision of the community Christ calls us to be.

Peace,
Pastor Trina

Welcoming Our Neighbors

Welcoming Our Neighbors

As we look forward to resuming many of our regular activities in our church life together, and in our communities, it is also a time of new opportunities to be a place of welcome for friends old and new alike. One such opportunity is that our church is opening its doors to the Boston Grace Korean Presbyterian Church, and providing space for them to hold worship services during the month of September.

Pastor Shi-Chang Wooh approached me earlier in the summer about looking for a new place for his congregation to worship, as the church where they were meeting in Lexington had grown and needed to expand its own use of the church building. After an initial conversation with the session, we have agreed to shared use of the church for the month of September, and possibly for a longer-term basis. The Korean Church will worship on Sunday afternoons at 2:00, and hold a Wednesday evening Bible study and Friday evening prayer meeting.

Many of the people who come to the Korean Church are here as students, doctors, or other professionals who are in one- to two-year training programs from Korea. The church has grown in the last three years from 12 adults and one child, to about 45 adults and 30 children! Please make our new friends feel welcome and share your hospitality with them, should you be in the building when they are here!

Looking forward to Sunday, October 1st, World Communion Sunday, I have invited their congregation to join us for worship at 10:30 to celebrate communion together. Friends of mine, Kurt Esslinger-Lee and Hyeyoung Lee, who are mission co-workers in South Korea serving as the site coordinators for the Young Adult Volunteer program in Daejon, will be leading us in worship that day and it seemed an ideal way to bring our two communities together. Please join me in welcoming our siblings in Christ to the Presbyterian Church of Burlington!

Peace,
Pastor Trina

This Grace That Scorches Us

While the disciples were gathered in Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit filled the house where they were staying with the sound of rushing wind and divided tongues of fire, which rested upon each of the disciples. And then, in verse 4 “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” The crowds gathered there were from every nation, and they were amazed to hear the disciples speaking in their own native languages asking, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?”

The coming of the Spirit at Pentecost is like a reverse Tower of Babel story, where rather than separating people from one another based on different languages and cultures, God brings the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ to everyone, in their own native languages, so that all may hear and understand. The Good News is not for one race or people; it is for all people, everywhere, as is made clear at Pentecost. We are living in a time of great division between people; a time when deep fears and hatred toward “the other” have been stirred up and encouraged to fester. Pentecost reminds us that God calls us all to be one; to love one another; to share the Good News of God’s love for the world through Jesus Christ through our words and actions.

This poem, written by Jan Richardson, is a beautiful reflection on the blessing that Pentecost offers us, to look beyond ourselves and our own limited world-view, and to be open to the gift of the Spirit at work in our lives and in the world.

This Grace That Scorches Us
A Blessing for Pentecost Day

Here’s one thing
you must understand
about this blessing:
it is not
for you alone.

It is stubborn
about this;
do not even try
to lay hold of it
if you are by yourself,
thinking you can carry it
on your own.

To bear this blessing,
you must first take yourself
to a place where everyone
does not look like you
or think like you,
a place where they do not
believe precisely as you believe,
where their thoughts
and ideas and gestures
are not exact echoes of
your own.

Bring your sorrow. Bring your grief.
Bring your fear. Bring your weariness,
your pain, your disgust at how broken
the world is, how fractured,
how fragmented
by its fighting, its wars,
its hungers, its penchant for power,
its ceaseless repetition
of the history
it refuses to rise above.

I will not tell you
this blessing will fix all that.

But in the place
where you have gathered,
wait.
Watch.
Listen.
Lay aside your inability
to be surprised,
your resistance to what you
do not understand.

See then whether this blessing
turns to flame on your tongue,
sets you to speaking
what you cannot fathom

or opens your ear
to a language
beyond your imagining
that comes as a knowing
in your bones
a clarity
in your heart
that tells you

this is the reason
we were made,
for this ache
that finally opens us,

for this struggle, this grace
that scorches us
toward one another
and into
the blazing day.

Belhar Confession

“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Godself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ…”
(2 Corinthians 5:17-20a)

Throughout the season of Lent, a small group has been meeting to discuss the Confession of 1967 and the Belhar Confession, in both their historical context and their meaning for us in the church today. One of the things I appreciate most about these two confessions is their unflinching stance against all forms of discrimination and injustice, and the church’s responsibility to resist injustice wherever we encounter it. When we confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, it means that all earthly powers and principalities are secondary to Christ’s power in our lives.

The predominant theme through both confessions is reconciliation, both in terms of God’s saving act of reconciliation through Christ’s death and resurrection, and in terms of how we are to be ambassadors of reconciliation in the world. The word, reconciliation, can be defined as 1.) the restoration of friendly relations following a disagreement or 2.) the act of making one view or belief compatible with another. It feels quite relevant to our present moment in history to be discussing reconciliation.

At a time when many of us have a hard time discussing opposing points of view, even with some members of our own family or circle of friends, it is important to remember that we have been entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation, as we read in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. We are ambassadors for Christ, and that is an incredible responsibility. The Confession of 1967 states “The members of the church are emissaries of peace and seek the good of all in cooperation with powers and authorities in politics, culture, and economics. But they have to fight against pretensions and injustices when these same powers endanger human welfare. Their strength is in their confidence that God’s purpose rather than human schemes will finally prevail.” (C ’67, 9.25)

Acknowledging that we may have differences in how we respond to the social, political, and economic issues of this present moment in history, we must also ask ourselves how we can be ambassadors of Christ’s ministry of reconciliation in and for the world. Not just for those who think as we do, who agree with us on the issues we think are most important, or who share our same belief system; but even with those from whom we feel most distant or divided, by ideology, religion, race, or socio-economic circumstance. As we prepare to walk with Jesus down that road to the cross once more, let us remember that it is through Christ’s sacrificial love that we find wholeness, and are empowered to be agents of God’s reconciling love in the world.

In Christ,
Pastor Trina

Proclaiming the Mystery: Advent 2016

So much of life is, indeed, a mystery to us. My Gran had a chronic form of leukemia, with which she had lived and managed quite well for several years. But eventually, the treatments that were available became less effective and then unable to prevent the progression of the disease. We knew that she was dying, and with the help of home hospice services, we were able to keep her comfortably in her own home, where she wanted to be. One afternoon, she was feeling well enough for a visit from her next-door neighbor, who had recently had a little girl. She brought the baby over, and my Gran held her quietly, staring into her sleeping little face. After a while, she whispered, “Isn’t it something? One life ending and a new one just begun.”

Every birth, every new life, is a mystery. And death is a mystery to us as well. And both are a reminder to us of how we are all connected to the mystery that is greater than ourselves. None of us knows how it will all work out. None of us has all the information we would like. Sometimes we don’t have all the information we would like, but we have to make a decision anyway. And in those moments, the best we can do is to step out in faith, like Mary, a young woman faced with carrying that mystery into the world, and trust in the promises of God to catch us.

Mary’s song is one of resistance, of hope, of mercy, of joy. In her reflection on how to live in hope even in the midst of a world filled with pain, Lindsey Anderson writes: “Active Advent waiting, hopeful resistance, shining on means, in the face of that which would destroy, we choose, again and again, to live. And to live fully, to embrace all that it is to be in this wide world. To resist the evil agendas of injustice, greed, fear that seek to steal away our humanity. To reject the lie that to be unaffected or impervious is best; instead we choose to be open to beauty, mystery, risk to the brokenness and suffering of others and so to the redemption that has been seeded into each of us.”

She continues, “There is a power, a light, a resistance in choosing, choosing our humanity, choosing to inhabit our life. In Advent, we live into the reality of our dying selves, knowing that weak and vulnerable, finite form is where the miracle of God’s Love chose to come and do its work.”

We are called to proclaim a mystery. A mystery in which the very heart of God was made manifest in a tiny, fragile baby; born to a young, vulnerable mother; of an occupied and oppressed nation. In the words of Isaiah, the desert shall burst forth with life, and streams of water will flow in the wilderness. “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees,” says Isaiah, “Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God.” (Isaiah 35:3-4, NRSV)

This Advent season, let us proclaim the mystery of our faith. Let us, like Mary, step out in faith, leave our fears behind, and believe that every word God has said will come true.

Pastor Trina

Creating a Culture of Hospitality

What makes you feel welcome when you visit a place for the first time? What makes you want to come back again? Think about going to a store, a restaurant, a hotel…what are some of the hallmarks of a place that will keep you coming back? A friendly, warm greeting; attentiveness to your needs without being too pushy; clear directions and signage so you could find what you needed; a clean and hospitable environment – all these things would likely make your top ten list of places to which you would want to return.

Church Leadership Consultant Thom Ranier has worked with hundreds of churches in his career and provides great insight on how to create a welcoming culture for new visitors and guests to the church. Below are fourteen things that help make a church feel welcoming. Ranier says that Genuinely Friendly Churches (GFCs) have at least eleven of the fourteen items present in their church culture:

1. They are intentional about being friendly. Warmth and friendliness are clear values of theses churches. They are articulated regularly. All organizations, including churches, naturally drift toward an inward focus unless they are otherwise intentional.

2. The leaders model warmth, humility, and friendliness. The friendliness is not contrived or phony. These leaders have prayerfully become genuinely friendly men and women.

3. The leaders are clear that genuine friendliness is more than a brief stand and greet time in a worship service. The efficacy of a stand and greet time was debated extensively on this blog. Regardless of a church’s decision in this practice, leaders in GFCs were adamant that true hospitality and friendliness extends beyond a two-minute welcome time.

4. GFCs utilize a secret guest at least twice a year. One small church of which I am aware budgets $100 a year for a secret guest. They pay the guest with a $50 gift card to come to the church and provide feedback on their experience. I call this process “looking in the mirror” because it gives the church a real opportunity to see itself as others do.

5. GFCs had a guest friendly web site. The web site typically set the tone for a guest. If it did not have obvious information for a guest, such as worship times and addresses, the guest came to the church with a more negative disposition.

6. The church has clear signage. Far too many churches lack this signage. They assume that everyone knows where everything is. First-time guests know nothing about the church or its different facilities.

7. GFCs have a well-organized greeters’ ministry. They have greeters in the parking lot, greeters in the entrances, and greeters in other strategic locations inside. Many GFCs utilize newer members in this ministry.

8. These churches have clear information places. It may be something as simple as a well-marked table manned by a member of the church. The signage points clearly to the information table, booth, or kiosk.
GFCs have clean and neat buildings. It is amazing how much a clean facility adds to the positive mood of a guest. It is equally amazing how few churches pay attention to this issue.

9. They have a guest feedback process. To the best of their ability, GFCs follow up with guests to get feedback on their experiences. They also encourage the guests to be open and frank in the feedback.
The children’s area is clearly safe and sanitary. Don’t expect young parents to return if the church does not give clear attention to this matter.

10. The majority of church members in GFCs are involved in the community. They thus exude genuine friendliness in the worship services because they are regularly connecting with non-church members other days of the week.

11. Small groups are highly intentional about reaching people beyond their own groups. Thus when these group members are in a worship service, they are already accustomed to reaching out beyond those with whom they already have relationships.

12. GFCs have new member classes that emphasize the responsibilities and expectations of church members. Members are thus more apt to look beyond their own preferences to serve others. That attitude shows up in the worship services.

Imagine that you were coming to Burlington Presbyterian Church for the first time this Sunday. How many of the following things would you experience? Where do you see room for improvement? I welcome your comments and feedback. Let’s build up a culture of hospitality in order that we may welcome others in a genuine and intentional way, as a church family.

Peace, Pastor Trina