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On a sunny July morning, I drove into the Waldheim Jewish Cemetery in Forest Park, a suburb west of Chicago, to attend the burial service for a former hospice patient. Waldheim was founded during the second wave of Jewish immigration to the city in the late 19th century, and it has been the final resting place for women like Sara, a Holocaust survivor from Russia who lived into her 90s.
Done right, service to God is not an easy task. From the beginning, the people of God struggled with the issue of faithfulness; and those who were chosen to lead them, especially the prophets, were often confounded by the worldly challenges around them and the inner challenges of disobedience within the community of God’s people.
He looks me right in the eye, holding his cup in front of him all aquiver. Westley has been waiting — and waiting — for the moment when we all drink the grape juice, the blood of Jesus Christ, together.
I was once in charge of logistics for an important meeting at an international airport. Since VIPs were flying in from all around the world, I wanted to make sure that everything was set up perfectly. I dutifully went to the conference room a couple of hours early and found, to my surprise, several strangers camped out.
‘In life and in death we belong to God.’ So begins A Brief Statement of Faith of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Yet many Presbyterians struggle to claim this foundational article of faith. The predominant American culture keeps the reality of mortality hidden from public view, even within the church.
Leaders at First Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennesee, had a difficult decision to make. The congregation had existed on a downtown block for more than 200 years. It has had three sanctuaries on the site and the graveyard has tombs for signers of the United States Constitution. Numerically, the historic congregation was holding steady, but its most recent building was old and in decline. Should members invest in costly renovations so that the building could be used for 21st-century ministry? Or should the congregation move to a more modern space closer to where the members live?
I once considered becoming an Episcopal priest. I would sometimes attend an Episcopal church with a friend, and I guess I was enchanted by the billowing clouds of incense coming from a metal ball the priest swung from a chain.
Two years ago, I collaborated with colleagues and friends to develop an experimental, art-making, spirit-stirring, imagination space called Creation Lab. We believed that the church needed spaces set aside for creativity and trying new things — a research and design space, if you will.
Ascend the church’s steep driveway on any given day during peak hiking season — March through November — and you’ll see pup tents pitched on the church’s grassy knoll. Flanking the driveway are plastic lawn chairs doubling as drying racks, draped with underwear, pants, shorts and soggy socks of every size and color, drying in the sun and wind. Backpacks are opened to breathe needed fresh air and an array of hiking boots, creased and worn from the sharp Pennsylvanian rocks, rest nearby, exhausted from the journey.
My husband and I had been married for three years when we had our first child. We learned quickly that even though we loved our daughter deeply, kids are disruptive and expensive. The change to our family meant learning to live on less sleep and a smaller income. It meant figuring out who would do midnight feedings and make sure there were clean diapers. Once our daughter started crawling, it meant rearranging everything so that it wouldn’t be destroyed by a curious, free-range toddler.