In times of national unrest, it seems to me that people turn their attention to matters of the heart, and churches, mosques, and synagogues become places of refuge from the upheaval of the times. As the inauguration of a new American president draws near, religious institutions such as churches, seminaries and schools of theology have a unique opportunity to be the voice of comfort, reason, and justice.
Politics is the ancient and honorable endeavor that creates a community in which the weak, as well as the strong, can flourish, love and power can collaborate, and justice and mercy can have their day (Palmer 2011). Our task, as practitioners of the sacred, is to assist people in plumbing the depths of their own humanity, where transcendence, mystery, being and even love are discovered, and further to bring those qualities found in the center of life into the world (Spong 1998). Our corporate worship is indeed in many ways very political; they are experiences of the community, for the community, by the community.
In the Christian tradition the Eucharist has been a visible sign not only of the union between believers and Christ, but also the unity of believers in Christ. In the early church it gave Christians constant access to communion with Christ and also communion and fellowship with one another. It was a sense of mystical unity that crossed all ethnic and socioeconomic borders—neither slave nor free, neither Greek nor Jew, male nor female—a unity that was not abstract, nor was it made by coercion or force. No political allegiance before had ever achieved this kind of community, nor has it since (Pecknold 2010). At the heart of Christian gathering is that which transcends political reality and reminds each congregant of the humanness of all.
As we navigate the days ahead we are tasked with helping our congregations adjust to a new normal while still holding hope and a picture of a preferable future. We recognize that we will, on this journey, experience a wide range of emotions: surprise, disbelief, excitement, doubt, joy, and also reassurance. This is a gift to shake up our thinking, engender new insights, and strengthen our commitments. We will be reminded at many points along our journey that our faith is rooted in a paradox, because the cross is a religious symbol that inverts the world’s value system with the news that hope comes by way of defeat, that suffering and death do not have the last word, and that the last shall be first and the first last (Cone 2011).
Worship experiences provide us an opportunity to intentionally engage in empowering our community. We make community by creating religious, educational, health care, philanthropic, political, and familial institutions and professional organizations that enable people to survive (Mitchem 2002). As you think about your local assembly I challenge you to look for the opportunities to make community. Ask yourself how are you responding to the realities of the moment? Are your parishioners experiencing life affirmation? Is your liturgy challenging enough to meet the rigorous demands of the present social milieu? When you answer these questions you will understand what your work will be going forward.
Peace Is Possible,
Bishop Edward Donalson, III | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor
Cone, James. 2011. The Cross and The Lynching Tree. Maryknoll: Orbis.
Mitchem, Stepahine Y. 2002. Introducing Womanist Theology. MaryKnoll: Orbis.
Palmer, Parker J. 2011. Healing The Heart of Democracy. SanFrancisco: Jossey-Bass.
Pecknold, C.C. 2010. Christianity and Politics: A Brief Guide to History. Eugene: Cascade Books.
Spong, John Shelby. 1998. Why Christianity Must Change or Die. New York: HarperSanFrancisco.