Monday, November 28, 2011
Compassion Ministries & Calvary United Methodist Church presents a Neighborhood Christmas
The work of being the Church has become amazingly difficult. I’m reminded of the comments made by J. Randall Nichols on my first day of studies at the Princeton Theological Seminary. A group of 20 students gathered to discuss our work since completing our Masters of Divinity degrees. “The work you will do to complete your doctorate my lead to your exit from the Church,” Nichols said.
Those words haunted me as I began to grapple with the vast contradictions exploding in my head. Nichols was right. My work at Princeton forced me to rethink and evaluate the way I had functioned in ministry for over 20 years. That work, combined with personal shifts, stirred a change in the way I functioned both within private and faith space. The journey has been complicated and at times confusing. Those changes have confronted the way I view God, the globe and everyone I encounter.
The Church I lead, Compassion Ministries of Durham, reminds me of the wandering Hebrews. We have pitched our tent numerous times-beginning our work at the Northgate Mall, moving to a warehouse Space in RTP before the city of Durham challenged our right to be there, took up space at a middle school before moving back to the Northgate Mall. We have lost both people and resources along the way. We keep pressing, like that faithful clan headed toward the Promised Land.
We currently worship in the home of the Calvary United Methodist Church. This too has been a humbling experience. Our ability to function is limited by the needs of the owners of the space. We gather at 8am, too early for most interested in coming, but I come prepared to share despite the small crowd.
Each week we gather in a sanctuary that reminds us of the historical bearings of this sacred space. The names of the matriarchs and patriarchs of the church are on the walls. They tell the story of people born shortly after slavery. The building represents a community’s grapple with the tension between our faith claims and race.
Since May, I have stood in that space intentional about recasting the way we envision the room dedicated to sharing the truths of our faith. I pray, each week, for the strength to prophesy to the bones within the shadow of the building. Each week, I pray that our presence will challenge the larger community to cuddle the message of our presence in a space once inhabited by those who, more than likely, regarded people like me as less than themselves.
My prayer has been for a movement beyond the sharing of space. I have prayed that our humbling journey will be used, by God, as a way to facilitate a deeper conversation regarding the nature and power of privilege and our need to move beyond the assumptions that come with operating in that place of power. I have prayed that we, those who attend Calvary United Methodist Church and Compassion Ministries of Durham, will lead the way in helping others embrace a movement that forces each of us to move past the assumptions that come with doing things in a way that endorse the vicious divides caused by that privilege.
What do I mean by all of that? My prayer is to lead a community of worship that operates beyond the particularity of the way we have been classified. This is the beauty of the relationship between Calvary, Compassion and Imani. Imani also rents space from Calvary. Imagine that-three congregations functioning every Sunday. Each of us brings a unique perspective to the work we do, but we have so much in common.
Calvary is a welcoming Church. They have paved the way among United Methodist Churches in North Carolina by fighting for the rights of gay and lesbian Christians. Imani is an African American congregation committed to providing ministry to gay and lesbian Christians. Compassion is a Church dedicated to the code of love and compassion. Hatred, of any form, has no place among those who worship at Compassion.
We have more in common. We are all small in number. Our numbers reflect, in part, the emphasis of our work. Calvary has the unique challenge of being positioned in a community of black and brown residents. Each congregation is praying to survive as the world of faith has shifted from a progressive agenda to a name it claim it prosperity bent that has captured the interest of those seeking a place to worship.
Our challenge is to live from the inside out. As we weep over struggling to make it another day, the faith that keeps us is the work we do. It’s what our being represents-love and compassion, spreading the Good News of hope to those left out and abandoned by systems of evil. Compassion, Imani and Calvary survive due to the message that guides the work we do. It is the reason we continue to move.
Being community takes work. Sometimes you have to sing together to feel the power of divine presence. That’s what we will do on Saturday and Sunday. Calvary and Compassion will come together to present a musical. Neighborhood Christmas is written by Billy Kluttz, minister of music at Calvary. It’s the story of Alex, a young female pastor who comes to the church prepared to get the people involved in social action.
I play the role of Rev. Berger, head of the NAACP. My character is based on William Barber of the state NAACP. Rev. Berger is fighting for the Racial Justice Act and Alex wants to get the church involved. Her brother, Bryan, who is her roommate, is an attorney representing the opponents of the Racial Justice Act.
We will perform the play twice-On Saturday, December 3rd at 6:30 pm and on Sunday, December 4th at 11:00 am. It will take place in that space where I preach every Sunday. Calvary is located at 304 East Trinity Avenue.
The real message involves our sharing space. We will sing and dance and act-together. More than a play, this is a movement. It is a movement toward change. These bones will live.
Just talk to the bones and be present. And, let the Spirit of change captivate your imagination.