My ecumenical life.
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Acts 2: 1-3
June took me on an interesting unplanned journey beginning with Pentecost Sunday, a time lapse of my faith journey over the last 40 years and my family’s three faith traditions: Mennonite, Presbyterian, Lutheran. On Pentecost Sunday Christians celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to all the church after Jesus ascended into heaven. It is often known as the “birthday of the church.” Indeed, the first Pentecost Sunday I remember while attending Trinity Presbyterian featured red helium balloons strategically placed around the entrance way and sanctuary, and a huge birthday cake afterwards.
Gradually over the years, Trinity folks were encouraged to wear a celebratory red on Pentecost, just for the beauty and whimsy of it. That never happened in my Mennonite upbringing back in the day.
June 8. So this year on Pentecost, June 8, I found myself meditating on the artful and surprising display of red in the church where I spent the first, most formative 17 years of my faith journey, North Goshen Mennonite, Indiana. I was visiting my mother as a follow up to surgery in early May, which I touched on here
I was pleasantly surprised when I stepped into North Goshen and noticed 90 percent of the people were wearing red. The newish pastor there Mark Schloneger, a former attorney who most recently was pastor at Springdale Mennonite the Shenandoah Valley where I live, had stirred up an interesting experiment for this congregation. As I mentioned, it was not their tradition to wear red so like a whisper that became a roaring wind, at 2 p.m. on the Friday before Pentecost, he told one woman to begin a phone chain by calling 5 other members from North Goshen. She was to tell them to wear red for Pentecost, and to call 5 other people. There was no list, no one knew who would be calling who, but gradually by 9 a.m. Sunday morning, the word got around (and as Pastor Mark shared, yes, some got left out and some got repeated calls, but that was ok) Schloneger is not averse to making waves for important causes—as one of the key instigators behind another ecumenical wind of the spirit calling churches to Election Day Communion which has begun forming around each national U.S. election day (Presidential) to reunite as Christians on many sides of political and other issues by calling for a joint community communion service. The North Goshen congregation is a mix of traditional white mostly ethnic Mennonites and brown ethnic Hispanics delightfully (but not without controversy) following Christ’s call to be the church in that mixed neighborhood.
I loved the red, loved the sermon focusing on Pentecost, the singing (some led by a praise band, some traditional 4- part a cappella) and especially liked Pastor Mark’s additional new custom of turning around to face the exit as the charge and benediction are given, symbolic of the call to carry faith with us into the world.
June 15. On Father’s Day we joined my daughter at her church, Northern Virginia Mennonite in Fairfax, Va., with another daughter currently living in that area and 6 ½ month old grandson James, who gripped that hymnal like he could sing too. (Last fall the congregation hosted a baby shower for James which I covered here.)
We and several members of the congregation had helped my daughter’s family move to a newly purchased home that weekend. This is a small congregation, somewhere between 30-40 on a Sunday morning that meets on the third floor a converted office building. Because of that smallness, they frequently singing several of their morning hymns physically gathered around the piano because it helps them sound better. It is therefore participatory, you feel like you are in a choir, and my heart was so touched to hold my grandson as he grabbed and held on to that Mennonite hymnal—just because he loves to be doing what everyone else is doing.
The pastor Earl Zimmerman spoke on enjoying God in nature and looking at the world around them—even in that very urban/suburban setting, where some homeless persons have been known to “camp” in the tree-lined area at the edge of their property.
Since 1990, we were privileged to have been pastored by ONE pastor, Ann Held, who retired at the end of May. Having been gone so much, it was also my first time to hear a sermon by our interim minister, Sally Robinson, a professional interim in our Presbytery serving around 12 congregations in the past 15 years or so. It was a little like trying to go back to “normal” after a death in the family, where everything has changed yet you want to move forward to a new normal. We had chosen Trinity while we were dating, a lifetime ago, because it was “neutral” turf for this born Mennonite and born Lutheran, and we both knew people who went there. So any of you who have gone through the transition from a very long term pastor (24 years) to starting over, you know the wilderness that can feel like. Sally wisely chose the theme of “Family of God.”
June 29. I joined four members of my house church visiting Muhlenburg Lutheran Church which is where my husband spent the first 19 years of his faith journey, a born and baptized Lutheran. Haven’t written about that so much, but my first experience in this grand old Harrisonburg landmark was when my eventual dear sister-in-law and brother-in-law got married, pictured here.
Not only has Muhlenburg seen a sea change of people in 40 years, but architectural and liturgical changes of course. We go back frequently for weddings, baptisms, confirmations, funerals and Christmas Eve services (among the most impressive of the Protestant churches here).
I went on June 29 because my house church at Trinity has a mission of hosting a community (free) clothes closet, and two other churches, Muhlenberg and Harrisonburg Baptist, help us out by staffing it two Wednesdays out of the month. Our house churches normally meet in homes at least once or several times a month through the week, and four times a year we meet in homes for our Sunday morning worship time, (see more about that here). June 29 was one of those Sundays so instead of planning and holding our own worship service, we opted to visit Muhlenberg. The Lutheran liturgy–in words said for communion, before and after reading scripture, confession of sins, passing of peace and so on are very much like we practice at Trinity, even though there is a whole lot more standing up and sitting down going on. J Here Pastor Bob Humphrey had an excellent sermon on things that hold us in bondage, including time for conversation with the people sitting next to us—something I had never experienced in that used-to-be very formal service. Kudos to Pastor Bob. A far cry from the days when my sister-in-law and brother-in-law very much wanted to write their own wedding vows but were not allowed to just because it wasn’t done. End of discussion.
Four Sundays reminding me of my ecumenical faith journey—not church hopping, but broadening my understandings of how as Christians we belong to local churches, filled, we hope, with God’s presence and Holy Spirit sent at the time of Pentecost. The church is a human institution and the danger, always, is that our humanness out-shadows the Spirit of the Living God as we struggle through policies, beliefs, human interactions, faith, love, disagreement. My personal belief has long been that the varieties of faith expressions and beliefs held dear by the various denominations—whether an emphasis on grace, peace, good deeds—can all help to balance each other out and keep God’s spirit and truth functioning among us in powerful ways. For that to happen, we need to allow Jesus’ love to have the upper hand in our lives.
For more of my husband’s and my family’s faith background, here’s an earlier series of posts.
For more on Pentecost or the liturgical year check here.
I’d love to hear about the churches that have been important in your faith formation over the years. Stories? Comments?