I continue to pray that you all find spaces of rest and joy in your days. With everything going on it is important that you rest so that you can continue. The work that is required in this life- justice, community, love, etc.- seem simple in theory, yet as we know take incredible emotional and physical effort. So, taking care of yourself, finding times to renew your spirit and recharge your body, is part of the work. And while this year feels much older than two weeks, it’s a reminder that we are in this work for the long haul. For me, I found great renewal in our YASS gathering on Sunday where 11 of us gathered to laugh and lament in community. I was also moved by our Bloom with Community gathering last night and have become more aware at the way my body reflects the shape of my spirit. What a gift it is to be in this community. If you want to join any of the ministries of the Park (You are welcome to all of them!) please be sure to email Stephanie Wilson. This week we have Soulfood Fellowship, Bloom in Prayer training for Deacons, and Bloom in Conversation.
About 10 years ago, I was living in Los Angeles in an apartment building that felt like a family. We all had keys to each other’s apartments and on more than one occasion I would wake up to one of my neighbors making coffee in my kitchen because they had run out. We were all so close we called each other roommates rather than neighbors. When I started going to church, I slowly started to invite my roommates as I felt called. One was invited after a long discussion about faith and our childhood; another invited months later when they were looking for some organ music to help inspire their work. I invited my friends into the church as the Spirit led. And even though most of us have moved away from that home, we all still attend church and follow Jesus.
I was reminded of this time in my life when reading this week’s scripture. The first time I brought guests to the church, I said “Follow me,” several times- excited to share with my roommates my spiritual home. This is the same language that Jesus uses to gather the apostles in today’s text. And while I was not asking my roommates to follow me spiritually- what the invitation actually did was say, “Follow me to a place that you are spiritually safe to grow in your faith and relationship with Jesus.” The church has done a lot of harm to God’s beloved people, my roommates had been victims of that harm, but with a simple invitation to “follow me”- an invitation from Jesus to all of us- we can start to heal and grow and find our people with whom God is calling us to journey.
So, let’s read together these words from the Gospel of John where Jesus starts to gather his people.
The next day, after Jesus had decided to leave for Galilee, he met Philip and said, “Follow me.” Philip came from Bethsaida, the same town as Andrew and Peter.
Philip sought out Nathanael and said to him, “We’ve found the One that Moses spoke of in the Law, the One about whom the prophets wrote: Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary and Joseph.”
“From Nazareth?” said Nathanael. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
“Come and see,” replied Philip.
When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he remarked, “This one is a real Israelite. There is no guile in him.” John 1:43-47 (ILB)/ Juan 1:43-47 (NVI)
Friends, who is your person that said, “Follow me?” Have you been that person for others? The Park is a special place where truth is spoken, justice sought, and love expected. And it continues to be that way because we lean into the divinity of diversity that is sewn into the fabric of our faith and community. So, in this new year I invite you to look for “Follow Me” moments. Spaces and people that need the explicit invitation to join God’s beloved community. Because Jesus didn’t stop at 12 Disciples and we won’t stop either. I am so grateful that you are mine and that I am yours and that we are all God’s beloved.
A quick prayer for your week: O Lord, I will follow you. Amen
Children and Youth Ministry Update
from Kelsey Creech, Resident Seminarian
On Sunday January 10th, the children and I read the story of John the Baptist in the Tiny Truths Illustrated Bible. The children took turns reading the story out loud as I screen-shared the text and pictures so we could all see clearly. Then, we spent time wondering out loud about the ways John the Baptizer survived in the wilderness, why people were being baptized, and why John was so surprised when Jesus asked John for a baptism.
We also spent time thinking about what baptism means and talking about their understanding of baptism and confirmation. We prayed, we sang, we spent some time getting to know each other better, and we took time to remember the words we chose to guide us through the year. Then we said goodbye with a blessing and a promise that they would get to meet my dog, Scout, next Sunday.
This coming Sunday, January 17th, we’re changing things up a bit. Beginning at 10 AM, I’ll meet with the older children (4th grade and above), and we’ll read the same scripture the adults are reading in the Inclusive Language Translation. We’ll talk about it and there will be space to ask plenty of questions. Then, at 10:30 AM when we all join the conversation, we’ll go through with Sunday School as normal and read the Book, God’s Dream by Archbishop Desmund Tutu. We’ll talk about our weeks, pray, sing and say goodbye with a blessing. And, as promised, they will get to meet Scout.
I am grateful to have the privilege of walking alongside the children of Park Avenue in this special way. They are a gift to this community, and this community, overflowing with love and faith, is a gift to each of them.
Well, it isn't food for your stomach (though when we are able to meet again in person, we will share a brown bag lunch right after church), but it is food — almost a banquet — for your soul.
SoulFood Fellowship is a gathering of The PARK members and friends who get together from near and far after worship on the third Sunday of each month. We engage in conversation that is bound to get you thinking and talking. We discuss and reflect on books, articles, documentary films, or plays —in light of our faith, Bible Study, and concern for social justice.
Right now we’re focusing on Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and its Urgent Lessons for our Own, by Eddie Glaude, Jr. Don't worry if you haven't read the book. It is a slow read that calls forth loads of discussion and reflection on our country, racism, and what God requires of us. We would love to have you join us and share your perspective, experience, hopes, and concerns.
For more information, please contact either RIchard Sturm or Stephanie Wilson at the church.
Pandemic of Love is a mutual aid community of care that was started in response to the COVID-19 epidemic. It humbly began on March 14th, 2020 by one person and was intended to help her own local community. But, like an epidemic, the act of love and kindness spread quickly and is now a beautiful movement helping those in need throughout the world.
What is a mutual aid community? It connects people in need with patrons who can help with that need. This is a tangible way for people to give to each other, quickly, discretely and directly.
What’s the catch? There is none. Kind people are introduced to kind people which results in an act of kindness and human connection.