Hey Folks! Since I haven’t posted in such a long time, I wrote down everything that I want to put in a blog and I realized that I have enough material for about 2 blog posts so that’s what I’m gonna do! So stay tuned for this series of posts, this one specifically is dedicated to my Church of the Pilgrims life.
I haven’t blogged in such a long time, I missed half of Epiphany and most of Lent! Look at me, measuring time in Liturgical seasons. I can promise you that I wasn’t doing that 6 months ago… During Epiphany we focused on finding and naming your own belovedness. We are all beloved children of God but most of the time we are blinded to this by society, the media or even that little voice in the back of our heads that tell us we aren’t good enough. Another thing that made Epiphany fun at Pilgrims was that the associate Pastor and one of my bosses, Ashley Goff, was able to receive a grant from the Lily Foundation focusing on discernment for young adults. This means we got to do a lot of fun things including a beach retreat to Rehoboth Beach in Delaware but I’ll get to that later. Along with a focus on young adults discerning, they also became worship leaders for the season of Epiphany. This means that the young adults of Pilgrims preached, told personal stories and performed biblical storytellings. These are a few worship tasks that I take on every once and awhile. I’m still not 100% comfortable when I’m doing these things but it really took the pressure off for me to see these other young people that I’m friends with do the same thing and ROCK it. Here’s a couple beloved Pilgrim and I at the beach in Rehoboth. For the record, that’s leftover communion juice in the red Solo cup!
In everyone’s sermon they talked about recognizing and naming belovedness in their own life. Hearing a single Mom going through the struggle of changing her children’s last name to her own since their Dad is now out of the picture to a young professional feeling not good enough at a conference of people who have been in his same position for years, to my good friend being unaware that she was of Mexican heritage for years of her life because her family lied to her, to one of my favorite couples in the world writing a children’s book about a child who finds magic and tries to stuff it all in their pockets until they can’t fit anymore in there so the magic just blows up and now everyone gets to accept it because no one should have to hide their magic. While listening to other people talk about the struggle of finding their own belovedness it became blatantly clear that vulnerability goes hand in hand with belovedness. I am so grateful to be apart of a congregation where members can open up about tough things in their life that they are going through or have gone through and they are met with nothing but love and open arms.
The beach retreat to Rehoboth was the culminating payoff to the season of Epiphany. It was a fun weekend of some bible study, improv games, yoga, voice building, getting to know new friends and shenanigans til 1 or 2 in the morning! Before I go on, I want to talk about how much I’ve appreciated community this year and all the different shapes and sizes it comes in. In the YAV house, all the communities I get to work with that come through the Pilgrimage, the community at Church of the Pilgrims and all the smaller breakout communities thereof. One of which is this amazing group of young adults. All coming from different places, different life and church history, different places in our different careers and faith journeys but we all came together to try and name our own belovedness and share it with each other. On the last night of the retreat we did a sort of reflection on the season at our HUGE table in the beach house. A big theme of the reflection was thinking back on our life experiences and how, for better or worse, is why we love this Church. One of my friends said how revolutionary Church of the Pilgrims is in that the pastors gave up their pulpit for a month to hear sermons from the congregation and not only was it welcomed but it was loved. Also the fact that our pulpit is right on the same level as the congregation to show that we are all on the same level. In God’s house, only God is on a higher level than the rest of us. My other favorite reflection came from someone in the church whom I’ve become really good friends with. I was aware that we both had rather erratic sleep schedules so when I got to the house and saw the “loft” room, away from everyone else with two beds in it, I said this has to be for us. So I texted her saying I found the insomniac room for us, being SO excited that I get to spend more time with her this weekend. That night when we were reflecting on finding our own belovedness and she said how touched she was that I actually wanted to spend a room with her, her response was something like “Why would you want to do that?”. Which led to a great conversation about how much more easy and likely it is to share belovedness with other people before ourselves. In fact if we said to other people what we say to ourselves we might even be called abusive. So why do we do that to ourselves? It doesn’t help anything. It should be easier for us to be nice to ourselves. So I challenge you to embrace that. Any time you are starting to get down on yourself or give yourself guilt about something, notice it and try to be nice to yourself instead. See how that changes your attitude or maybe even your day. You don’t have to tell me the outcome but I hope you at least give it a try. Here are a few pictures from the beach retreat!
Now, we as Christians knows what comes after Epiphany….LENT! This has been the liturgical season that has turned me off most over the years. Growing up in Tucson, I had lots of friends who were Catholic and always gave something up for Lent and I never understood why. I used to go home and ask my Dad about it and he used to say something like, “We’re Presbyterian, we don’t have to do that.” I was always happy with that answer. My Dad was and is my sort of chief authority figure when it comes to faith and questions there of and I’m pretty much always happy with what he says/thinks/believes (It should be noted that my Dad is a Presbyterian pastor at my home church in Tucson). So naturally, as Lent approaches and I start to receive responsibilities of an intern that works in a church I felt disinterested and maybe a little annoyed about having to deal with a season I’ve blown off for my life leading up to now.
There were two major tasks I was responsible for. The one I had the most trouble with was decorating the sanctuary. Something that not only wasn’t an interest of mine but I also had no experience in doing. This was the cause of a good (or bad) amount of stress for the couple weeks leading up to it because I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. But then I remembered to turn to this wonderful congregation that I’ve been getting to know since September for help! I sent out emails to a few people who I felt had skills in this area, about half were interested, I bought pizza and beer one night and we made it happen! It was such an amazing turnaround! With everyone’s ideas coming together we made a beautiful waterfall on the main pulpit which I got SO much positive feedback about. This was a great experience for me in realizing that I had skills in places that I didn’t know about and creating a group, executing a task with the utmost success and having fun all at the same time! Here’s a before and after of the waterfall so you can see what we built it on top of.
Another task came along on Ash Wednesday. I never understood this holiday or Lent as a whole so when the Pastors here Jeff and Ashley asked me to be apart of the group to go around and share ashes with the people of Dupont Circle (our neighborhood), I reluctantly agreed. Luckily I knew about this a couple weeks in advance so I had time to talk over my misgivings with my roommates, Rachel who’s my boss at the Pilgrimage and Jeff and Ashley. My main misgivings were that I didn’t understand Lent and that I’ve only been apart of the church again for the past few months and I really didn’t feel ready to go out into the street and where it on my sleeve, or on my forehead as it was. One of the things that annoyed me about Lent was that you had to give something up. Now I’m not afraid of the action, it’s more along the same lines that I don’t do New Year’s resolutions–if I really want to change something about my life in a positive way I can do it any time of the year not just when January comes around. However, after having some of these conversations I warmed up to the idea of giving something up and taking on a new healthy habit for 40 days (because that’s how long Lent is and how long Jesus was in the wilderness) and because the intention of “fasting” is to bring you closer to God. Now that Lent is over, I can say that I didn’t commit to these 100% but I at least see the point in doing it and how some people can really enjoy it. It was also important for me to understand that the reason behind Ash Wednesday is to remember that one day, just like Jesus, we will die. That’s what we all have in common with each other and with Him.
NOW going back to the adventure that was giving out Ashes in Dupont Circle. I went out with Ashley, she in her collar and I in a stole. I think what made this most awkward for me was that it reminded of the dreaded days that I was a canvasser, one of those people who either goes door to door or waits around at corners downtown with a clipboard and try to get money from people for a cause that is allegedly very urgent. The combination of that and my own mixed feelings about going up to strangers and asking if they wanted to be reminded that they’ll die one day by two people in religious garb made me incredibly uncomfortable. Starting off, we were 2 for 2 as we were walking from the church down to the DC subway exit a few blocks away. Once we got there, I got a good idea of what it’s like to be a homeless person asking for change in this city. Between how we were dressed and the phrase, “We have ashes for Ash Wednesday” was enough to make people too scared to acknowledge us or even look our way. After about a good 10 minutes of rejection by around 300 people we walked over to the circle of Dupont Circle itself. When the weather is nice, it’s a place you can catch folks walking their dogs, people protesting for one cause or another or even chess is a popular activity in the circle. During the winter and colder months however, it is mostly a place where our unhoused neighbors call home. There were two men in the circle that we approached who appeared to be homeless. One was slightly incoherent, the other had just got done throwing up. The first passed on ashes, but the second said yes with such intention it was as if he had been waiting all day for someone to ask him if he wanted to receive ashes. After Ashley whispered in my ear, “Remind me to wash my hands when we get back to the church”, She asked his name, presented him with ashes and told him that he is a beloved child of God and that from ashes he came, to ashes he’ll return.
This is where church should be. For so long churches have built their sanctuaries and waited for people to come to them and over the past few years I think most churches are starting to realize that this practice is not sustainable. God meets people where they are at, why can’t the church do the same? This past week on Palm Sunday we did the same thing. We processed around the block in front of the church with decorated umbrellas, signs, palms and Rachel pounding away on the drum. Church belongs in the street. That’s where Jesus and all the other prophets spent most of their time,, why don’t churches do the same?
Stay tuned for my next blog post where I’ll talk more about this more in the context of my work with Pilgrimage groups. Thanks for reading folks!