I have had the joy of experiencing Advent this year with the kids of Christ Church and it has helped me see it with new eyes. Children do not share the burden of dwelling on the past and fretting the future as adults do. They see the NOW. Right now. I love that when Pastor Adam asks them what they want for Christmas, they stand up in front of church proudly declaring a list of 20 things, or they answer with one simple request of ‘Daniel Tiger’ or even ‘a pet tiger”. They are so good at being real.
A benediction that staff member Joshua Blount read this morning:
Just over a year ago I was lost, and confused, and very, very angry. The 2016 election cycle took an enourmous toll on my mental well being and my ability to center myself on the idea that the world is a good and generous place.
The following morning I was invited to a gathering of faith leaders in the city. About 60 circled together trying to work out plans for the next few days - for vigils and protests and workshops. I was just grateful to hear other people seem to be similarly confused and frustrated.
One of the leaders brought out small bag of rocks. He explained, “I brought these stones for all of us. To remind each and every one of you that you are not alone.
They aren’t enchanted or remarkable by themselves, but if you would like one, take one. Carry it with you. The next few months will be difficult but if you carry one of these little rocks with you, you can hold on to this memory—this moment--and remember that you are not alone. Look around. These people are scattered all over the city, feeling the same feelings, fighting the same fight, embracing the same spirit. You are not alone.”
You are not alone.
Last week marked the anniversary of that circle, and I've still got this little rock. I've carried it in my front pocket the last 375 days, and I still get it out a few times a day to remind myself that there are others, all over the city that are fighting the same fight alongside me, feeling the same feelings, embracing the same spirit. That I am not alone.
We are on the edge of the holidays, I've had today in my calendar for the last eleven months or so - which is when I started telling Isaac that I wanted to be here, with you, telling this story, before Thanksgiving.
I know some of us have amazing, supportive and loving families and the upcoming months will be filled with meals and laughter and real, honest joy.
I realize that some of us are headed toward awkward silences and dinner time arguments with families that don't feel close any more.
I understand that some of us don't have a "back home" to go home to, either because there never was one or because death or broken relationships have removed that option.
And of course, most of us have some mix of everything. I don't know what the holidays in front of are going to be like, but I can tell you this:
We've got these rocks. They aren’t enchanted or remarkable by themselves, but if you would like one, take one. Carry it with you.
You can know that you are connected, and that no matter what table you are sitting at in the moment you have a seat at God's table and you are a part of something truly remarkable and beautiful and special.
People from this room will be all over the country, different parts of the world, feeling the same feelings, fighting the same fight, embracing the same spirit. I want you to know that you are not alone.
You are not alone.
We've had a community member offer to pay for shipping stones to folks who weren't at today's service or live outside of the greater Portland area. If you weren't with us this morning and would like us to send you one please email your address to firstname.lastname@example.org
A reporter called Adam and asked if he’d like to share our story. That led to more opportunities to share and a national conversation about inclusion in churches was underway - we were featured in publications like the Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, NPR and in far off places like Kenya, the UK and Australia. We put out a video appeal and eventually raised back nearly two-thirds of our funding through crowdsourcing around the globe. People stepped up, people joined in, and a community was truly being born anew.
Christ Church started out as much as an idea as anything else - was an inclusive and integrated faith community possible? What would it look like? Who would want to join such a community? In a world of heartache, disappointments and missed opportunities, were dreams of a Christ-centered community of action and contemplation possible?