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A letter from Richard Broadhurst in Colombia

Advent 2011

unHoly disOrder

As did many of you, we celebrated communion this past Sunday at church.  Perhaps unlike you (at least for the pastors out there), Mamie and I were each asked, literally without a moment's notice, to participate in a baptism, welcome of new members, ordination of new elders and deacons, installation of the session and deacons for the year to come, and, finally, to help with communion.

While I am not one to be too formal or uptight in sharing in worship, this was a lot.  Even after living here in the Colombian context with our partners, the Iglesia Presbiteriana de Colombia, for a while now, this was a lot to happen all at once, and without any preparation on our part. We were not at our own church but visiting another. It was a gesture of great hospitality to invite us to participate, but admittedly a bit overwhelming. 

I tried to be a good sport—smiling and rolling with it all as the pastor leaned over to ask if I would pray, or talk about the role of deacons and elders, or welcome the new baby into the congregation. I put on a good face—you kind of have to, standing up in front and all—but underneath it all felt wrong.  Hectic.  Rushed. Uneven.  And that most un-Presbyterian of words—disorderly...

As we came to the time of communion, I limped through the words of institution, turning those holy and transformative words into a jumbled train wreck of ill-phrased Spanish.  I felt particularly inadequate in this presentation, compounding the chaos of the morning with the wondering of when my Spanish will improve to a non-embarrassing level. 

Every church lives out this ritual a little differently, so once I finished I was on alert for how to fit into their rhythm. The pattern usually varies only slightly, and in short order you can go with the literal flow. But not here. As I looked out at the congregation, everyone got up at once. They seemed to swarm to the table from all directions, and my inner decency and order began to cringe. But just as I braced myself to just make it through this, I began to see what was happening.

It wasn't a flash or a miracle, but rather a slow drip of love and reconciliation that was palpable in the congregation.  People began to come up to the table from all directions (and my inner Presbyterianness started again to cringe) but instead of disorder, the table was transformed into a symbol of how this broken and hurting world can indeed become transformed in God's love.  People met at the table, served each other the bread and cup, and afterward hugged and embraced one another before going back to their seats.  They came from all sides of the church, so you couldn't tell who you would meet in this very intimate yet very public act of sharing and reconciliation.  You only approached the table with what you are, but at that table, God was present to meet us, change us, reconcile us, and send us back into God's world.

It took forever. It wasn't flawless.  It still wasn't necessarily orderly.   But it was the transformation of the world that we are anticipating this season of Advent.  All of our songs, Scriptures, traditions,  decorations, and preparations of these days point us to this single, holy, and disorderly truth—just as God was present at that table, God is present in this world, transforming each of us, to serve in God's world. 


The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 21

Blog: Called to Colombia

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