San Fran – pt. 5 Amazing Grace

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.

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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.

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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.

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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, boring, consistent.

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.

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The Stories We Tell

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The following is my article from the Holiday Partner Newsletter, being mailed this week. 

Normally our Christmas newsletter is filled with stories and images of the amazing things happening at All Peoples Church. We like to tell the stories of children being welcomed, youth being nurtured, and families growing in faith. We tell of the hungry being fed and the grieving being comforted. I love telling those stories because they reflect the best of our community, the amazing work God does in the midst of All Peoples.

There is another story that I don’t like to tell. I don’t like to talk about the violence in our community. I don’t like to talk about the gunfire shot from our parking lot into a nearby building. I don’t like to talk about friends and members being hurt and robbed. And I certainly do not like to tell the story of All Peoples being the victim of crime. I don’t like saying that copper wires were stolen from the church, live wires cut endangering the thief and others.

And I don’t like saying this is the third time it has happened.

In the last 6 months.

I don’t like to tell those stories because they have a way of defining us – reinforcing all of the negative images associated with the Harambee neighborhood and the city of Milwaukee. They become signs of brokenness. Those stories entrench notions of race and class, of urban vs. suburban, of fear and separation.

And yet, we worship a God who was not afraid of the pain and the suffering of the world. We are united in the belief that our God chose not to avoid the brokenness of the world but was born into, endured it, and suffered for and from it. Christmas is the reminder that God is present in our good times and in our struggles.

God becomes present in our struggles – not to condone them or to have us endure them for some greater lesson. God in Christ is simply with us in our struggle.

Because of God’s presence in all of our struggles, because God has delivered all of us from pain and heartache, our eyes are opened to the pain of others.

As partners of All Peoples Church, God has inviting you into the pain of crime and violence. Jesus is showing that news reports of violence and crime, poverty and fear are not stories about “some people” or “those people;” it is stories about your sisters and brothers. It is really about you. Our lives are intertwined. God’s hope for justice and Jesus establishment of the kin-dom draws us together. We bear one another burdens.

So, my friends, I share with you the pain of All Peoples. I show the pictures of damage from the theft. I let you know the $15,000+ lost from these robberies. And I’m trusting that we will not be defined by this but instead enter into the ways the Holy Spirit empowers us to rise above these challenges.

I share this pain because I know you feel it, too. I know you share the sense of hurt and violation when this happens to us. I know that you do bear our burdens with us. I see it in the notes and emails sent to encourage us in these struggles. I hear it in the prayers offered on our behalf. We feel it with the extra donations made to help us overcome the financial burdens that go along with the emotional and spiritual stress of these matters. Time and time again we are encouraged by our friends and partners. God continues to show us – through your love and support – that we are not alone.

In spite of the brokenness and crime and violence, the good news is still being preached. The hungry are still being fed. Families are growing in faith. A beloved community gathers to praise. Your prayers and financial support are necessary for this to happen and reveal, again, we are… Better Together,

Pastor Steve

So, what does all this mean? Every time we are a victim of a crime it takes a toll on our community. It also costs time and money. Our first theft we claimed through insurance. After much deliberation the leadership of the congregation chose not to file our second theft, with the realization that we would likely be dropped by our insurance company. We covered the expense with our savings and through a loan from the synod which will need to be paid back. We are still determining estimates for this event, and will likely file this with our insurance. Even so, we have a high deductable to cover. Between theft 2 and 3 we installed security cameras. This was damaged by the thieves and will need to be repaired or replaced. In the spirit of #GivingTuesday, this is an important time to support the ministry of All Peoples with a donation.  Donate online here: https://allpeoplesgathering.cloverdonations.com/glory-rising/ or send a check to the office.  Peace, ps

Sufficient Ministry

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In November 2012 I traveled to El Salvador as part of an international gathering of partners with the Lutheran Church of El Salvador. A main theme of this Encuentro was the sustainability of a church built with and lead by communities in poverty. The following is a reflection I shared based on 2 Corinthians 12:1-9.

 

Paul writes to us today about this “thorn in his flesh.” Scholars and preachers like to guess about what this thorn is, but to be honest – we don’t have a clue. All we know is he has something that holds him back, something that keeps him from boasting about himself. Paul’s thorn is his weakness.

We all have thorns. Sometimes we try to hide them. Sometimes we expose them to make ourselves a victim, seeking sympathy. Sometimes we are blind to them, but still we feel there is something that limits us. Whether we admit it or not we all have them.

In this room we have many thorns, many weaknesses. Again, some known, some hidden. For some of us it is

            Having the will but not the capacity 

            Struggling to see our evangelism bear fruit

            Confusing projects with people

            Privilege that allows us to determine for others, speak before listening, wanting to do rather than be. This one is tricky because it appears as worldly power but ultimately reveals a thorn that prevents true partnership, relational and shared ministry.

            Being in competition for attention, for dollars, for accolades

            Looking at a small fix, a handcraft project that is meaningful and helpful but not ultimately part of a transformative experience of changing lives

            Not having high expectations for our partners

            Or just the struggle. The struggle is real   

So what in the world does this have to do with sustainability? Honestly? Everything. Because whatever our thorn is – and we’ve talked about the collective here, but you can make it as personal as we need to, addictions, pride, lust, jealousy, self-fulfilling prophecies of failure, you name it – whatever those thorns are, they have made us weak. They have made us weak in our witness to the gospel. They have made us weak in our partnership. They have weakened our relationships with one another and with God. The thorn reminds us that sometimes we suck.

Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me. But the Lord said to me, “My grace is sufficient.” 

If we want to talk about a sustainable church it is not about projects or members or covenants. A sustainable project – a development project with chickens or a sewing cooperative – these are not the same as a sustainable church. We could identify together amazing projects that are indeed sustainable which may or may not have a lasting impact on the body of the church. A sustainable church is not in how many members attend or how significant the partnerships.  I believe the sustainable church is sustained by only one thing: grace. And my grace is sufficient.

This changes the whole dynamics of everything. It breaks the notion that we – any of us, all of us – are the ones with the power. It shakes us out of our self-doubt from our thorns. It tears down walls of division and privilege because that power that those of us from the north or from the west, those of us that are white and those of us that are male – that power is replaced. I no longer need to hide in my privilege because God’s grace is sufficient.

It means that when the roof caves in and when the guns fire, grace is sufficient. Think about that. Jesus is enough. Period.

And what about those thorns? That’s the best part. Because grace is sufficient, God’s power is revealed in our weakness.

It is not the strength of my pocketbook or the need of my neighbor that determines how things are sustained. By God’s grace our relationships are transformed and God’s power is revealed in our partnership.

When the thorn of violence rips through our communities, it is transformed as God empowers churches to proclaim blessed are the peacemakers.

If we want to see the power of God, we just need to look around this room. This bunch of fools – bumbling gringos and a miniscule church made up of some of the poorest folks – not just in this nation but in all of Central America. This is what power looks like? This is the church? This is how God is revealed? Exactly.

God’s power in our weakness. God’s strength through our thorns. This only becomes possible when we accept, believe, embrace and follow the truth of “My. Grace. Is Sufficient.” Enough. Plenty. Abundant. Complete. Sufficient.

The church will sustain, with or without us. Whether we participate in it or fight against it, thy kingdom will come. By the grace of God it will come.

So let us commit ourselves to the hard work of admitting our weakness, confessing our thorns, and then by the grace of God, that grace which is both amazing and sufficient, let us see God’s glory revealed in it. So I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. And that is our good news.