Sunday, March 09, 2008

ecclesiological portraits: the gathering

for the past year and a half i've wanted to visit various emerging forms of church in the greater boston area and issue reports on this site. the intent of these ecclesiological portraits would be to explore the diversity of emerging communities in the area and provide a brief introduction of the communities to interested parties. eventually, i would like to visit communities such as seven mile road in malden, mosaic boston, the crossing, and reunion christian church in boston, quincy street missional church in quincy, a few of the neo-monastic communities, the sunday evening service at international community church and other communities* that i am currently ignorant of but will hopefully, eventually explore.

anyway, since this is my first, and perhaps only, ecclesiological portrait, i thought i would start with the gathering in salem, my family's church home.**

6:05 - people are starting to assemble, grab a cup of tea and catch up with one another. a few of these individuals such as - aaron s., erin, pastor phil and pastor phil part deux, kieren, carlos and elizabeth - are bloggers or have some other form of web presence. feel free to check their sites out.

6:20 - it's 6:20 and a bakers dozen of us have joined for the evening service. pastor phil has lowered the lights, a multitude of candles are lit and phil is strumming his guitar and introducing us to the text and topic we will be exploring together this evening.

6:24 - after a long introduction pastor phil encourages us to read together the gathering's declaration of simple faith, a statement which not only expresses some of our community's convictions, but reminds us of the gentle and open manner in which we hope to treat one another. text of a declaration of simple faith.

i will follow the simple ways of Jesus
i will try to be: open and accepting, simple and genuine, honest and caring
i will try not to be: judgmental and exclusive, complicated or disingenuous, secretive
or self-serving
i will listen, i will learn
i will remember that God's gentleness makes us great

6:41 - we are currently in the midst of a rather long worship set that is populated with wow worship standards such as arms of love and more love, more power*** as well as a few songs such as as a memorial that were written by pastor phil or other members of our community.

6:44 - we're currently in a series in which we are exploring the gift of the Holy Spirit. this series has included sermons on miracles from john 4, an unabashedly evangelical and fiery sermon on acts 1:1-10**** and tonight is leading us to consider the healing words of Jesus beside the pool of bethsaida in john 5. pastor phil just ended a period of silence, which was awkwardly punctuated by the clicking of my keys, by talking about the Spirit of God as ruah, or the breath of God, and asking the participants what associations this understanding of the Spirit provoked in the hearers. brother michael, the sole pentecostal, eastern orthodox monk among us, reported that the breath of God within him makes him want to never hear again. two others also offered reflections, but i couldn't hear them in the silence of this room, over the clicking of my keys.

6:52 - just realized my font is jacked. happy, happy, joy, joy!

6:55 - in the midst of my pissed offness, kieran offered a reading from uh, somewhere, and brother michael offered a reading from psalm 119:105.

6:58 - people are sharing their frustration, bewilderment and surprise at the difficulty of their spiritual journeys. one participant states that she expected that her walk with God would be like traversing a beautiful bridge while holding hands with a god who was showering her with flowers. fortunately, she said that God is still with her, but the bridge is rickety and the flowers, non-existent.*****

7:05 - pastor phil begins his discussion of Jesus at bethsaida by mentioning that the healing waters of the pool remind him of the stories he has heard of the shrine at lourdes. apparently the rcc has only documented 65 confirmed healings at lourdes, but that has not stopped 4 - 5 million annual visitors from going to lourdes to seek healing. after this brief introduction, phil reads the text.

open question: what is it that inspires people to wait upon God?

responses: the people are hungry

what i hear in this text is a great amount of trauma and struggle. i am a trauma survior...what i see here is how grief can immobilize you and how tears can release you and set you free to experience life. it is really miraculous when we have the courage to look inside and be human no matter what.

pastor phil: there are many of us who have experienced a clear, dynamic movement of God which has brought us to a place of experiencing His presence.

i just kept focusing on the stirring of the waters of bethsaida. then i thought of the apostle paul who told us to stir up the gifts of God that are within us. it's like sugar that sits at the bottom of a cup of coffee. your coffee won't be sweet unto the taste until you stir it up.

you've got to listen to the still voice. the voice will not argue with you, you have to chose to listen and once you listen you need to follow. it takes practice and experimentation.

7:20 - pastor phil: i want everyone to take a moment and share one word that right now expresses the attribute or characteristic that you think the Lord is looking for in your heart in regards to this specific issue of waiting on Him. what characteristic do you think God is looking for most?

love; stings;****** genuineness; marriage; desert; watchfulness; understanding; communion.

pastor phil: why desert?

me: because God is calling me into the desert. lately i've felt a fear of the silence and, in my heart, a fear of silence is a fear of God.

pastor phil: patience came up twice. why? we'll wait patiently.

participant: because it is a struggle.
participant: because our world moves so quickly.

7:31 - i would like to take a quick commercial break to introduce you to cade's new pageant production gig. i've heard that something needs to revive the miss america pageant and i'm (desperately) hoping that this is that something.

7:36 - i'm quickly losing interest in the free form discussion, but i am apparently the only one in the room who's wrestling with this malady. people are truly engaged in the back and forth.

phil: in the back and forth i see a beautiful kalediscope of emotion, experience and pursuit of the path that we have. i tend to view the path we've been given as tailor made. God has not stamped out a path that all of us have to do just right to discover Him. we know simple things, such as out of john 17 - this is life that they know me, the one whom you have sent - but along our path we will be challenged by unique elements. in a particular season one of us might hear and need, hope, another commitment, another boldness...

7:44 - participant: i was really hoping we could sing more love, more power. i love that song.

phil: i was going to sing that. let's close with that.

7:51 - still singing more love, more power. must be the extremely extended edition.*******

7:54 - announcements. there's a small group, women's group, open discussion group and movie night coming this week.

* to wit: if anyone knows of a synagogue 3000 related community that is currently meeting in the area, please let me know.
** in the interests of full-disclosure, i should also note that i serve on the gathering's pastoral staff.
*** but, fortunately not Lord i lift your name on high or as the deer.
**** i'm glad that one isn't available on the internet. i still believe almost every word i said, but even i can't grasp the implications of some of the things i said. i am simply not ready to wrestle with some of those matters over the internet.
***** while i sit here thinking that her ideal god must look a lot like mike myers in love guru. .
****** it also hurts.
******* it's also quite contemplative, beautiful and capped off with a celtic benediction known as God's aid.