The past few years, we’ve been talking, dreaming, and praying about our gathering places. Eight years ago, we envisioned Divine Redesign as one step in a longer process of updating our facility. That’s why we chose to rent a used modular unit for educational space. We thought it would work for us while we discerned what our next steps might be.
The deterioration of the Next Generation House has added urgency to the need to figure things out. Hence, all the talking, dreaming, praying, and discerning.
The sermons this month have invited us to observe how our facility facilitates and/or hinders our mission of acting the world into wellbeing. Three weeks ago, as we hosted Family Promise, we considered service. Two weeks ago, as the new Sunday School year got underway, we considered learning. Last Sunday, in the midst of our hot dog social, we considered how our space facilitates and/or hinders our gatherings for fellowship.
As we conclude the series today, I invite us to look at how this room shapes our experiences of worship. The invitation isn’t so much to imagine something new, as to reflect on what the Divine Redesign renovation has meant for us in the 7 years since its completion.
So…What’s your favorite part of this room? (Responses)
Here’s my favorite part of this room: the stories. They’re everywhere! They’re attached to every thing. They’re in the tree cross. They’re in the configuration of the room. They’re in the communion table top. They’re in the mosaic cross. They’re in the windows. They’re in the baptismal wall art. They’re in the candle holders on the table. They’re in the piano. They’re in the baptismal font. They’re in the new arrangement of choir and handbell tables. They’re in the ramp.
First-time guests to Pilgrimage generally comment on two things–the natural beauty of our setting and the welcome of the worship space. If the colors are out, they comment on that.
There is something about design that welcomes people. I’m glad we’ve made design decisions in the past that, in and of themselves, embody welcome.
But if the guests a while…if they come every week, they’ll start hearing the stories held by so many objects in this room. And if they stay a long while, they will–like the rest of us–become midwives to the birthing of new stories as we continue living into this space together.
Christian religious educator Thomas Groome describes the whole church thing– worship, education, service, all of it–as a process of creating conversation between our individual stories (small “s”) with the larger Christian Story (large “S”). The same is true for the stories we create together as a community. As we write the story of our life together here at Pilgrimage, that story is in constant conversation with the larger Story of our Christian faith.
As we birth this latest story about deciding what to do next with our space, one story from the Old Testament will be a particularly good conversation partner.
The story thus far….The Israelites escape from slavery in Egypt. (Think Moses, Pharaoh, and the plagues.) They wander around in the wilderness for 40 years. (Think wandering around in the wilderness for 40 years. If they’d had GPS, the little lady in their phone would have been stuck in “Redirecting” mode.) Finally, Moses dies, Joshua takes over, the people spy out the land, and now are on the east side of the Jordan River ready to enter the promised land…all they have to do is cross the river…which—in good dramatic biblical fashion, is at flood stage.
Reliving a story from their ancestors in faith–when Moses parted the sea and the people escaped Pharaoh’s army—just like that, the swollen waters of the Jordan also part. The people cross over on dry ground.
It had been a long journey. All those years of slavery. All those years in the wilderness. All that talk–from the time of Abraham–of “a land God would show them,” “a land flowing with milk and honey.” It had taken so long, and yet, here they stood. Finally. In the promised land.
It was a moment. A deep, holy moment. They needed something to mark that moment.
God had an idea. God told Joshua to select twelve people–one from each of the twelve tribes of Israel–to go to the middle of the river (while the waters were still parted), pick up a stone from the river bed, bring it to the other side of the river (the promise side), and set the twelve stones together into a monument. We often see something similar these days–stacks of stones marking a holy place…similar to what you see on the bulletin cover.
Here’s the coolest part of the story from Joshua. Verse 6: “In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” The words are repeated a few verses later: “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’”
As we continue prayerfully to discern the next steps to take with our facility, we’ll do well to imagine how we will answer our children in the future when they ask, “What does this building, what do these bricks and this mortar mean to you?” If you happened on those 12 stones mentioned in the Joshua story, set up there by the Jordan River…. If you didn’t know the story of why they were there, it would just be a pile of stones. But if someone told you the story of those stones? Then they would mean something. And slowly, you would begin to add your own meaning to the stones. And the meaning would deepen every time you shared the story of the stones with others.
That’s what’s been happening in this room. We’ve been creating stories from Day 1. And with the telling of each story, our faith deepens, as does our commitment to this community and to our mission of acting the world into wellbeing in Jesus’ name.
So, what story are we writing now? How will we answer our children in the future when they ask “What does this building mean to you?” How will we continue to act the world into wellbeing through our facility?
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2016