The purpose of discussing policies before move-in is to resolve as much as you can about your values before getting so many new members you can never agree on values.
Read the rest at http://www.cohousing.org/node/5975
What shall we discuss as we are forming our communities? Every forming community (I hope!) asks this question and communities that have already moved in give lots of different answers. Many of those answers are in the form of "I wish we'd resolved this" and "we decided x which was irrelevant and should have decided y which was important." All of those reflections are completely true, of course, but I don't think they get at the purpose for deciding things prior to move-in.
The purpose of discussing policies before move-in is to resolve as much as you can about your values before getting so many new members you can never agree on values.
Read the rest at http://www.cohousing.org/node/5975
We had twelve people for Ash Wednesday service. The sky was gray but the weather was pleasant and the sun poked out a bit behind the clouds. Brian brought another deaf friend, and a friend who can sign. Pablo just happened by and decided to stay. We waited until five after 11 to start and were done by 11:20. My worries about being encouraged to leave by the city did not materialize. It was just nice.
Joel 2 and Psalm 51 were both about the ways that God is looking to pull us back, looking for us to return to the fold. We shared stories of God being there, even when we thought that God was not. A story about how we think God has moved away, but really God is there and we have moved. A story about how we can wander further and further from God’s path, and then, when life seems at its worst, can realize that we’ve had God with us all along. A story about how choosing to follow God doesn’t solve anything, and yet it makes everything better.
And we received our ashes and we blessed one another and we were on our way. A small group of us stayed on the common to hand out ashes to those who were passing by. Right away we figured out that it was awkward to offer: it felt pushy in a way we didn’t like to say we had ashes, but there was no other way for folk to know it was available. Next time we’ll bring a sign! But we fell into a routine of asking “do you want ashes for ash Wednesday?” and then smiling and saying have a good day to those who said no.
And a surprising number of people said yes.
There is debate out in the social media as to whether “Ashes to Go” is a short-cut, an inappropriately simplified offering, a giving in to the non-stop motion of the secular world. I agree with the need to ask whether it is a good thing to offer ashes on the forehead without appropriate liturgy, without prior relationship, without the focus on seeping into the season of lent.
Indeed, at least half of the people who received the ashes on Worcester Common took off their hat, accepted the ashes with a quiet amen, and moved on with their life. It was truly “Ashes to Go”.
But the woman at Worcester Common who turned to me and said "Ashes? I haven't had ashes since I was a kid" and then told me about her life since the last time she'd been to church, and how the church had hurt her, and how she was now thinking about God again for the first time in a long time, that woman? When I put ashes on her, she understood what was happening in that ritual as well anyone who had time to sit inside.
And the young man who said "No, thanks" and then came back and said, "Can I change my mind?" and told the story of the fight he'd had last night and how he was ruminating about that when I offered ashes, and realized that he has to get right with God if he thinks he is going to get right with his girl friend. That young man, he understood enough to accept ashes without going inside.
People really told stories. People really cried. People really reacted like this was an unexpected gift, unexpected because they weren’t sure they deserved it, weren’t sure that the church could offer it, weren’t sure that God was with them. And the ashes said “yes, God is here” and “yes, you are deserving” and “yes, the church is in the world with you”.
Yup, it’s a short cut. It’s a short cut to God available to those willing to take it.
[From Feb. 24th, 2012 See more about Worcester Fellowship at www.worcesterfellowship.org]
(From 2008. All people's information is changed to protect their privacy.)
For the offering every Sunday Worcester Fellowship has a ceramic vase. We invite everyone to share with one another just after the prayers. Sharing includes "peace" with your neighbor, money in the offering, but also promises for oneself and for each other. Wooden tokens marked with peace, hope, faith, love, confidence, sobriety, prayer, and trust are sitting on the altar. Anyone can pick up a token and use it as offering.
Will is a steady volunteer who comes every week for set-up and walks with us to hand out sandwiches on Main Street. He always has every pocket stuffed full with collected items, including things he's picked up to hand to someone in the congregation who might need it. He always has a coffee mug in a pocket, a bag, or in his left hand, and nearly always a cigarette in right. When we say "thanks for helping, Will" he always replies "I try!"
I was a little surprised one week to see Will pulling tokens out of the offering after worship. As I watched he found the one he wanted and walked over to Jose, who was sitting on a bench, eating a hard-boiled egg. We had met Jose before, out on the street, but this was his first Sunday at worship. Jose was so high or drunk I was afraid he would fall down during worship, so I was glad he'd found a seat. At the prayers he had sobbed, but he wasn't ready to talk. Now he and Will were talking; I returned to packing up lunch.
Later, as we headed out for street ministry, and Mary and Will had gone ahead, I moved over to sit by Jose. He was clutching his hands to his chest.
"Are you Ok?" I asked.
"Oh yes" he assured me. "Will gave me hope."
"Do you need hope?"
"I needed hope so much. But Will gave me hope. I came to church and Will gave me hope."
"Can you keep the hope up this week?"
"Yes!" Jose opened his hands just a bit, like he was holding in something that might escape. He held them toward me so I could see the little wooden token he held. "Will said I could keep it. He said I could take hope with me. I have hope."
"Can you hold it in your heart?" I asked.
"I have hope in my hands and I have hope in my heart. Thank you."
And so now I have hope, too. In my hands and my heart, I have hope.
So there is a lot of discussion about smoking on the streets. Lots of people talk about quitting, or when they quit sometime earlier, or the comparison of the difficulties of quitting cigarettes to quitting other addictions. At the same time, most of the smokers carry a bag of tobacco and roll their own cigarettes. Most of our regulars don't ask us for cigarettes, but new people often do. Some of volunteers will share--I always watch, the recipient almost always breaks off the filter before lighting up.
There is a great deal of judgement against smoking; especially common is the comment "you can't smoke here! Its church!" Those who do smoke work very hard to keep their smoke to themselves, and to move outside the circle when they light up. Still, passing the peace includes switching which hand is holding the cigarette, and lots of people who volunteer to carry our things first must carefully put out a partially completed cigarette, and store it in a safe pocket before picking up the load.
You actually CAN smoke at our church. In fact, I'm not such a fan of all the criticism of smoking. Sure cigarettes will take weeks off our average life span. If you do get cancer, it will take years off your life. And the people who are coughing uncontrollably between cigarettes must be uncomfortable. I'm allergic to the smoke and have had asthma attacks from being around smokers.
But of all the addictions I see on the streets (and in my life) I'll take smoking any day. The nicotine really DOES help people concentrate. But mostly it is better than crack, and speed, and heroin, and all the other drugs I'm out of touch with, and yes, even better than an addiction to alcohol. Cigarettes may make you sick, but they don't make you angry or violent, or out of control. They don't leave you peeing on the street, or turn you to prostitution, or separate you from your family or your friends.
I told a group at our community meeting last week that I wasn't really opposed to smoking. In fact, I said, if we could get rid of all the other addictions if we would just take up smoking, then I'd take up smoking in a minute.
There was dead silence. Then Alan lit up another cigarette and smiled. "Don't do it Liz," he said. "I don't think it'll work."
(From 2008 Note that all descriptions of people are changed to protect individuals privacy.)
I'm praying for Serena. I miss her when she doesn't stop by for Outdoor Church.
Serena is among the most helpful of our volunteers. She will hand out bulletins or read one of the readings, she preaches during our open sermon, and prays during prayers of the people, she makes sure everyone gets a sandwich before she takes extra, and looks for gloves for people who don't have them.
Serena and her husband have housing: a rented room in one of Worcester's walk-up apartments. They've been homeless in the past and pray for people who are homeless every week.
A middle aged hispanic woman, her husband looks on adoringly as she goes on and on about how well she is doing staying sober this time. Serena tells us about her collection of figurines, about her job, about the church she attends Sunday mornings, about what she is reading, about her roommates, and who she talked to yesterday, and the day before. She takes one of everything we offer, and returns the favor by bringing us gifts--tracts and pamphlets from other churches, crosses, greeting cards, pens and the advertising tokens. In the year we have known her, Serena has gotten sober 4 or 5 times, the last time for almost 3 months.
Early on she only came to church if she was sober. She'd miss a week and then explain the next that she had had a little problem. We always respond: you are always welcome, no matter what. She smiles, and misses church again two weeks later.
Serena prays for sobriety, for a recovery program that will take someone with mental illness, for something to do at night when her brain is racing, for a re-connection with her 20 year old daughter. She gives praise for a landlord who lets her do chores for pay, for a good afternoon stemming, for how wonderful her daughter is, and her husband, and Mary and I. She preaches on the how wonderful Jesus is, and comes each week with new news about learning to read the bible.
A few weeks ago I met her before worship. She was hollering words I couldn't understand. "What is it?" The police, she said, they are after me. They just keep threatening me. She could barely stand up and her breath was strong with alcohol.
I hugged her as she sobbed. They took my husband. He's no good. They took him and now I'm homeless. Can you believe it? I'm homeless and the police want me.
"I'm heading up to worship, come on up."
"I'm drinking. I can't."
"You are always welcome at worship."
She continued non-stop until we got up the table, already set-up for worship. She turned to share her story with another frequent participant, and I turned to help Bill practice his reading. When worship started, once again, she was gone.
Easter Sunday Serena came to worship late, disheveled, and drunk. I came around and hugged her, and she sobbed. "I'm glad you came." She cries some more. But she was there. She was there at worship.
I'm praying for Serena.
Worcester Fellowship began having outdoor worship on Easter Sunday, 2007, so in many ways, this Sunday felt like our one year anniversary. Of course, Easter was much later last year, but still!
The day was glorious: brightly sunny, a bit of wind, and warm enough to remove our gloves and hats. We had scarves, gloves and hats in the donation bin, but no one even looked inside to find something. Our visiting musician brought a drum with bright red and blue ribbons on it that snapped about gaily. Worship opened with energizing music and in the announcements bob shared that he may be getting his taxi license on Monday. Mary reminded us that now that it is Easter we can shout Alleluia whenever we want.
And so we alleluia-ed Justin.
As we waited for lunch to arrive, I wondered if we'd have any colored eggs to hand out.
Tall-man-with-hat was back, we hadn't seen him since last fall. It's hard to do worship with him there... he stands next to me and preaches throughout, but it was good to see him and he seemed in good spirits. His first language is Hungarian, I think, and I can't understand anything he says, but he loves to share, and shouted Alleluia throughout our worship. Several times the whole congregation responded with their own Alleluia!
Evan was off to Easter dinner with his family, but sent word that an apartment has come through and he should be moving out of the shelter on Monday. Alleluia again.
Joan looked left and right to see if the guys with her were looking, and then smiled at me as she took a condom from the altar, and a pair of socks, and stuffed them in her pocket. Later she asked if you could have as second condom. I helped her hide a handful and checked to see if we need to buy more. Alleluia!
First Church in Marlborough, Congregational UCC, came up with sandwiches, chips, juice boxes, and raisins, and declared they had brought 4 dozen colored easter eggs! Alleluia!
And then Bob came with another 4 dozen dyed eggs! Alleluia? (How many can we possibly give away?)
Alleluia! I shouted as he tucked them under the table. Oh, he said, I have more in the car. Alleluia??? Yikes. How many eggs can we share?
28 people for worship with a few more added as lunch began. Many preached, and many prayed, and many pulled Mary or I aside to listen to their stories. And then off to streets, Liz and 2 volunteers found a new street with many people who longed for socks, sandwiches, and stories. As we handed out eggs to the men on one corner, a woman driving by hollered, wait, I want eggs, and pulled into the parking lot. I'd like to have eggs for my kids, she smiled. Is six enough? Yes, oh thank you, bless you. Alleluia.
We met Mary and two more volunteers behind the homeless shelter. Mary scooted off to find Rose, whose husband is in jail again, while we offered the last of our eggs and cookies.
In the end we gave away 200 colored Easter eggs. Alleluia!
It snowed when I visited Bethlehem in January 1983. I remember this clearly not because it was beautiful, in fact the small amount melted before we had finished breakfast. I remember this because the hotel I stayed in did not have heat, and so I was miserably cold, and I remember it because snow in the holy lands is a very rare occurrence.
And so, at a Christmas Season worship the other day, I found myself giggling a bit at "In the Bleak Mid-winter" with its snow filled images, and then laughed out loud as we sang about Mary wrapping the little baby in a fresh-killed rabbit skin. Christopher Duraisingh, presently teaching a contextual theology course, turned and smiled, and we commented after worship on the words, and on the use of a minor key that gave a plaintive tone to our alleluias.
What about our music? What is the role of music in the success or decline of mainline parishes in the United States? There is research that says that most growing churches use drums in worship. Is that what we've done wrong, not enough drums? I went to the emerging worship service at the Episcopal General Convention, it was awesome, inspiring, uplifting, and God filled. It was not, however, an Episcopal Eucharist, suitable for Sunday morning worship. Another Sunday evening I visited, with my parish, a Methodist folk service in Western Massachusetts. This is the music I love, and pay money to hear, and in fact this worship service attracted many from the community. It attracted people just like me, white and aging.
The answer to music in worship isn't about what I like, or what you like, or what, on average the people in the congregation like. The answer to the music question is this "what will help us find God, feel God, connect to God, worship God?"
There is not a single answer to that question. The answer will vary based on our cultural heritage: our race, class, education, and connection to our ethnic heritage. And the answer will vary based on our generation. It also will vary based on our spiritual type: are we looking for God by being uplifted, by being reflective, by being exuberant, by being quiet?
As a congregation, our answer is also affected by who we want our worship to reach. Do we want to be sure that group of women in the back left corner are satisfied? Or is the choir our most important demographic? Or perhaps it’s the values of the pastor or priest, or of the altar guild or worship team that drive our music selections.
Another possibility is to ask about who is missing from our worship, and to ask what "those people" might find will help them in their search to find God. This is hard, of course, because "they" aren't here, and because "they" don't have a single answer. Some of them will want to hear drums, or rock, or rap, or techno. Some will want to hear taize, classical, easy listening, folk, some will appreciate silence.
The question about music in worship is not a question about taste, or about what is "right" in God's mind, or about tradition, nor is it a question about being modern or young. The question about music in worship is a theological question: who do you want to feel welcome in your worship, and how do you help those people to experience God. Those aren't simple questions, you won't answer them in an afternoon worship team meeting, or even in a month where you send out surveys and tally the results.
The question about music in worship is part of the formation and outreach efforts of your congregation. It is part of what you discuss in small groups, and in worship, and at committee meetings, slowly getting at how people who are "us" experience God. And it is part of what we ask as we go out the in the community and get to know your neighbors and learn from them how they experience God.
All of this means that your music in worship needs to be open to change. I'll dare say it, it needs to be open to music that is not in your hymnal, and open to drums, and open to the fourth grader who is learning to play the violin, and open to music that sounds wrong to some of us who have been here forever.
Worship should help people find God, and that means that every time a new person is part of your worship you will need to consider new music, new words to old tunes, new tunes to old words, even new words and tunes and rhythms. You'll need to experiment, and ask for feedback, and respond to the feedback by trying again, not by giving up.
You'll need to tell those who think they are in charge of the music that they are not in charge, that there isn't a single answer, and that the music will keep changing as long as people keep changing, and that the music will meet the needs of those who are here, but also to meet the needs of those that are not yet here, but are looking for God.
To read all the books on creating welcoming worship, it sometimes sounds like you must be perfect. You've got to know what people from every different generation loves, and be sure to provide that, and you have to be sure everyone knows what is happening, and what is happening next, you've got to be sure not to ask people to do things that are threatening, you've got to make it easy to find your page, and to find the tune, to find the bathrooms. and to know what to do when the kids cry.
Information is important to creating welcoming worship, but perfection actually is NOT. What you are striving for instead of perfection is TRANSPARENCY. Make it clear what is going on. Even if your culture is one that wants a feeling of mystery, the mystery should be God, not what is going to happen after the scripture reading. The mystery of the Eucharist is how it provides forgiveness, not knowing when to talk and when to be quiet.
I was at unwelcoming worship the other day, following along with three books and a pamphlet. Although the worship was not in my tradition, I'm pretty good at getting the signals (and I read ahead instead of listening to the sermon so I would know what to do at communion). So when we arrived at the altar for communion (and we did arrive, there was a procession to the altar) I was pleased that I had successfully kept both the worship book and the hymnbook in my hands, so I could sing the sanctus with everyone else.
But after the sanctus, the words of the Eucharistic prayer didn't match the page number that had been published in the bulletin! I looked around to see who else was confused--and there were three of us looking lost--all members of other denominations. In fact, we were the only three holding prayerbooks. The others had the responses memorized. As the community continued with some other prayer I did weight lifting exercises with my two books.
Is it ok to have a mistake in the bulletin? Of course it is! But it isn't ok (or more accurately, it isn't WELCOMING) to continue with worship without explaining what happened. Someone needs to notice that the newcomers (or the priest!) are all on the wrong page. Someone needs to share.
This shouldn't be a big deal. I was once at a worship once were the priest in the middle of the Eucharistic prayer figured out that one person had lost their page. Without a flinch or a acting flustered she simply said "continuing on the page 364, third paragraph", paused as if SHE was looking for her place, and moved on. I assure you, that visitor felt welcomed and encouraged by that little piece of transparency.
Those inserted phrases DO of course interfere with the flow of worship, even when done smoothly. The question then becomes, what is the value that your church places on being welcoming? Is it more or less important than the flow of the service? Is it more or less important than the comfort of the priest, or the comfort of the sacristan, or of one of the lay leaders?
Is radical welcome more or less important than looking like we have it all right, all under control, all put together? Each congregation needs to make the decision as to what is most important themselves. But remember it is people who are feeling unimportant, uncomfortable, and unwelcome, when you decide they are only the second or third most important thing in your parish.
(I visited this Church in 2010.)
As I parked down the street from the Woo, on Main Street in Worcester, MA, I noticed a sign on a chair a few feet from the entrance. Walking up I checked it out.
"Please smoke here."
What an odd thing to say! Many churches no longer have a place to smoke at all, but even buildings with smoking areas normally have huge signs everywhere telling us NOT to smoke. "Please smoke here" made me grin.
I entered through the dark side door clearly marked ENTER HERE with another handwritten sign. Two women stood in front of a table covered with flyers, books, and other handouts.
"Welcome" they said. "Coffee and pastries are back there, and you are free to sit anywhere for worship".
After the little entryway the coffee and worship were both set-up in what must have once been the social hall of this large church building. The coffee was set-up in pass-through windows, and the pastries were abundant and free. I checked, no basket for "donations".
People carried coffee to their seats (folding chairs aimed at a stage of sorts), or stood in the wide aisles or in the back. The space was uncrowded--probably room for 75 to sit, and 50 people present, wide aisles in the seating and lots of room between rows, so it was easy to stand or sit, and easy to visit with one another.
It all said "relax". It all said "welcome". I thought of all the churches that describe themselves as friendly, and all the churches where I visited awkwardly and alone. I could tell quickly that this is a friendly church.
The space, the signs, the people all communicated permission giving. Permission to eat and drink, permission to sit and stand, but more than that permission to not know what was going on. Everything had signs, every sign made no assumptions about what you would understand. The coffee said "free coffee", the pastries were offered as free pastries, the welcome assured us that none of the seats were reserved. We could take coffee and pastries, flyers and bulletins, comfort and confusion with us to our seats.
Opening the bulletin it explained when the coffee would stop being served and what to do when the the service began. It invited us to sing along, or to not, to stand and clap, or to sit and listen. At the prayers and at communion and at the offering we were told: "here is what many of us do, you can too, if you'd like". It was always ok to take part, it was always ok to hold back.
"Please smoke here" was part of that plan. It said "yes" to whatever you wanted to do, and then told us where the limits were for where to do it. "Please smoke here" was the first message of welcome at this friendly church.
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