I don't usually describe Sunday mornings at church, but maybe I should once inawhile, since I know there are people reading this blog who shake their heads and say, "Church?"
So here was today:
We offer adult education during the hour before worship, and this morning was the last of an eight-week Kerygma (Presbyterian series) study on how to read the Bible. Our little group, one of several, has struggled to stay together. Besides the usual scheduling challenges, some folks have been stunned -- I think that is not too strong a word -- by how complex the Bible is. Despite our Reformed tradition of emphasis on Scripture and our Protestant heritage of scholarship, many people never pick up a Bible on their own and are completely unfamiliar with its sequence and structure, let alone issues of historical context and literary form.
Today we were supposed to be using a text in one of Paul's letters as a means toward putting together the various techniques and topics we've studied, but we actually spent our time discussing the focus of the text: inclusion and exclusion in the church, especially in the contexts of church traditions, meals, and communion. Our backgrounds are Catholic, Methodist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, and Mennonite, so we had much to compare and talk about.
Someone brought up Sara Miles' Take This Bread, and asked whether I had read it. I said that I hadn't, although I have read quite a bit about it, and added that it was very painful to contemplate from seminary! While I was holed up in the library memorizing Greek verbs certain to be forgotten before the next year came around, Sara Miles was out there organizing the actual feeding of actual people. A convert to Christianity for only a few years and officially excluded from much of our leadership in many places because she's a lesbian, she is a far more effective leader -- not to mention published writer -- than I, for all my years in academe, am likely ever to be.
Our church service was, as always, energetic and wonderful: beautiful liturgy, all kinds of music, and a sermon based on the text we'd studied for Kerygma. We've been off-lectionary (the sequence of texts chosen for three-year-cycles by the powers-that-be, designed to ensure that much of the Bible is covered in the course of weekly preaching) for eight weeks as our pastors have committed themselves to basing their sermons on the Kerygma classes.
The sermon was about inclusion, about where we succeed as a church community and where we fail. Sara Miles came up again, as did the Christmas service we are planning for those for whom the holidays are bleak, as did the art exhibit we are currently hosting of paintings by one of our members who is schizophrenic, as did an incident in a nearby suburb some weeks ago in which two of our young men, out selling raffle tickets for their high school football team a few blocks from their home, were accosted by police officers (skin color and alleged but nonexistent weapons (other than raffle tickets) were at issue). We ended with a beautiful hymn newly composed by another of our members, which I have tucked away for a maybe-someday ordination service.
After church I talked with a couple of friends -- one has just lost an adult stepson after many years of illnesses, and the other a brother-in-law to suicide a year ago. I have finally reached the point at which I can be candid and articulate in person about the difficulties of ministry when my own life is a challenge every step of the way, and I was very glad to be back in church with friends who not only could hear that but found solidarity in hearing it.
Finally, finally, finally ~ my church, our church, Christ's church ~ is a very good place to be on a Sunday morning.