Monday, January 24, 2011

Of one mind

The coldest day of the year yet. Only 17 degrees as I left for church. I was fully prepared to take everyone back to SPSA or if only a few showed up. to a restaurant for coffee and conversation. But Holly and Pat show up, ready to stay. Holly puts posters up on the doors, letting people know we were here. And as people came in, they were determined to stay right here. Though making the service a little shorter might help.
Amy arrives. She’s left her keyboard at home and wants to give the Hammond a try. It does its job well.  Juan has his portable space heater plugged in and we’re just about ready. 
Michelle, a student fro Brazil has come in. She asks if this is a Presbyterian Church, and I say yes. She tells me she belongs to a Presbyterian Church back in Sao Paulo. I’m sorry Hope isn’t here today to speak with her in Portuguese.  I tell her about our small but diverse congregation. Talk of the years’ long mission partnership we’ve had in Brazil, mainly in Recife, and explain the boiler situation.  She’s curious to see what will happen. Marsha sits beside her to keep her company.
I mention that the Citipond ice rink at Bryant Park is having an outdoor winter film series. Wondered how many showed up last night in the frigid weather. And remembering Bowie Kuhn at the first night World Series night game in chilly October 1971 with no overcoat, as if to say, cold, what cold?, I take off my down jacket for the service. 
I tell the congregation it’s a bit tough to focus on the service with the Steelers-Jets game looming that night. My Pittsburgh roots always there. I talked about my exchange of e-mails with my brother describing our various rituals for good luck. Think of my sons in Berlin and France with their “Terrible Towels.” Lift up my black sweater to reveal my Steeler t-shirt. And then I talk about the phenomenon of tens of thousands of people across the country engaging in simultaneous, ritualized totemic behavior to effect a game’s outcome. It must have some effect. And I wonder what that kind of activity directed towards, say, the vote for Amendment 10-A in the Presbyterian Church to remove discrimination against lgbt folk in ordination or maybe to get our boiler back on might do. 
The day’s scriptures begin with Isaiah and “the people who have walked in great darkness.” Echoing Christmas, the continuing light of Epiphany, the revealed light of prophets like Martin Luther King, Jr. and the More Light Movement for lgbt inclusion that began at West-Park. I point to our tall Christ candle, lit Christmas Eve and burning still. 
But the real point of the day goes back to the unity I spoke of earlier. I’m usually not drawn to the Epistle lesson but today is unavoidable. Paul telling the Corinthians he’s heard about their quarreling. How he wants them to have no divisions, to all be in agreement, to all be in the same mind...Is that even possible? 
The quarrels were over allegiances. Look at all our denominations, those that cooperate and celebrate our diverse witnesses versus those that deny the faithfulness, the very legitimacy of others. And that’s just within  the Christian community. I remember Rabbi Potasnik again, different locals, one union...
Our own denomination divided in 1861 over the issue of slavery.. It didn’t come back until 1983. This is tough stuff. Presbyteries are  voting right now on Amendment 10a , one more opportunity to vote for full inclusion. That divide can be deep and hard between those who disagree on these issues.  As long as we’re not clear about where we stand on this, Christ, or at least his body, is divided.
That issue led to one of the biggest moments in West-Park history, the founding of the More Light Movement in 1978, a movement that would spread across the country to this very season of voting. 
This congregation, too, has had its  seasons of division. In 1994 when the majority voted not to merge, to stay at 86th Street, those  who wanted to merge did so anyways, moving to the other church and leaving West-Park behind. Those wounds remained for years.  “Quarreling” was part of our culture. Even in  my time.
But this is a different day. We  don’t think have “allegiance” issues. And we’re not quarreling at this point in our history. But are we of one mind? Is that even possible? Or a good idea? What is clear, according to Paul, is that these quarrels “empty the cross of it’s power...”
So, what are we “of one mind” about? I see agreement around these things:
  • We have decided to follow Jesus . We are not always completely sure what we believe, or the details of those beliefs. But we have committed to walk that journey wherever it will lead.
  • We intend to do that here.
  • We are committed to the Presbyterian way of doing things, the equality of leadership of clergy and elders, reformed and reforming, though we are particularly drawn to the always reforming side of that equation.
  • We see the world in our church because we come from so many places and see God revealed in all cultures and are committed to learning what it means to be truly multicultural.Even on this cold Sunday with our small gathering at least three continents and many cultures are present in worship together. 
  • We desire to be fully inclusive. We may sometimes seem like a closed  circle, but we are committed to openness and  welcome and inclusion  because, like we say every Sunday, we see “the image of God” in every face
  • We believe in the importance and value of every member
  • We love our building but it is we who are the true sanctuary
  • We want justice to be an essential part of our witness, in action, more than words, actions with meaning that is clear to all who see
  • We see beauty and justice as being inextricably linked..
  • We  accept responsibility of stewardship...for this building, but more so for the creation around us...(and we will be green as we rebuild...)
  • And we don’t like being pushed around....
What else? I ask them,  What am I missing?  And many voices rise up in agreement as to our unity, our persistence,our resolution. Marsha asks how are going to do it? And I repeat our four watchwords:
Put together, they make a strategy. 
So we will begin Let’s with what we are of one mind about and see where it goes after that...As scripture makes clear, it was for mission that we were baptized.
Pat says my enthusiasm is infectious. I look at this group. How dedicated they are. Nirka, one of the first members of La Iglesia Presbiteriana de West-Park, originally from First Chinese Presbyterian Church Havana, gets on the train and bus and travels over an hour  from Queens every Sunday to be here. There’s a certain pride and determination in weathering (literally) this time until the boiler is fixed. And I know it will be.
Philip Sings “Jesus the Light of the World” as we take up the offering. We all sing, “Lord, you have come to the Lakeshore” then a reprise of  we’ll walk in the light, beautiful light..then the service is over. And I put my down jacket back on.
I remember a paper one of my boys wrote once in elementary school about Valley Forge, how that winter experience made the Continental Army. This winter will help make us. It will become part of our story. Sometime in the future,people will look back on these days, with laughter, with wonder,and with pride. 

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