Monday afternoon I made my way over to Grace Cathedral – a towering gothic Episcopalian church near the financial district. Not surprisingly, the space was immense and inspiring. Soaring arches, intricate stained glass, beautiful icons.
Right inside the eastern doors is the Interfaith AIDS Memorial Chapel. It is a simple space with an altar adorned with Keith Haring’s altarpiece The Life of Christ. The walls are marked with sacred symbols from the major religion and a portion of the NAMES PROJECT quilt hangs above. It is simple and profound.
There are times when the AIDS crisis hitting San Francisco comes up – in conversations, in readings, in settings like this chapel. It sounds historical, distant. Later that Monday I ask Thom Longino if the Night Ministry gives out condoms (a similar outreach based in the Haight does). His response is a nonchalant “If we get them in we’ll give them out.” Unlike what I remember about Chicago’s Night Ministry, this is not a focus of their ministry. Back home now I wonder how HIV & AIDS affects the city. Where does it compare with the epidemic hitting segments of Milwaukee?
Soon I find myself drawn to the space between the baptismal font and the pews. A large labyrinth is inlaid into the floor. Near the chancel, the orchestra from Lund University begins a rehearsal for an evening concert in the cathedral. It makes for a powerful backdrop as I begin to walk and pray the ciurcuts.
A major focus of my sabbatical is prayer and I’ve been fond of labyrinths for a while. Of all my youth ministry experiences one of my favorites was waking up a group of high school students at Bay Lake Camp for a 3 am candlelight walk. The students had no idea it was coming and it wasn’t at a significant time like sunrise or sunset – just a surprise in the middle of the night (followed by an amazing breakfast feast at 4 am and then going back to bed).
I began to walk, to pray, repeating the mantra and focus of my sabbatical: presence, prayer, peacemaking. I was asking where is my peace? The stream-of-consiesouness prayer leads me to quote scripture – Psalm 121 (from where does my help come from).
Around half-way through my journey inward I find myself chanting to myself the Kyrie. In peace, in peace let us pray to The Lord. Lord have mercy. For the peace from above and for our salvation, let us pray to The Lord. Lord have mercy.
It leads me in and I’m struck what St. Gregory’s the day before had done – how it had connected me with an ancient prayer and my own beginnings, with the liturgy – rote, repetitive,
In the center I move through each petal of the rosetta – the center known as the illumination – alternating the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles Creed, as if I’m walking through a rosary (I’d throw in a Hail Mary, but I never remember all the words).
I decide to exit the center using the outdoor labyrinth. Standing in the shadow of the towering cathedral I reflect on this revelation, this ancient connection. What does this mean for integration, particularly at All Peoples?
All Peoples is not a liturgical church, though there are obvious patterns in the worship that we follow. When we deviate from that norm, it is felt, and is generally intentional. There is gathering and prayer and reading and sermon and offering and offering prayer and the Great Thanksgiving. It is only at the sharing of Holy Communion that a familiar liturgy emerges. Weekly communion is in itself something that marks us as different from a baptist or charismatic or non-denominational worship.
The need for flexibility and Spirit-led spontaneity resists a formal liturgy.
And yet, I am finding the power of it in worship and prayer.