Those Who Gather
For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.
The day after I participated in our church’s first “Holy Conversations” gathering, a business trip took me to NYC, and while there, a colleague shared with me an illuminating anecdote about Christianity in China. In one church-rich area of Shandong Province, stones have been chiseled with Chinese characters which – they feel -- best capture both the literalness and the “spirit” of some of the Protestant sects. To wit: Presbyterians were “The Elders”; Baptists were “those who are immersed”; and Congregationalists were carved in creative etymology as “those who gather”.
And so in Holy Conversations, we gathered, trying on a new “wardrobe” of warm fellowship and thoughtful sharing. Pastors Liz Garrigan-Byerly and Sarah Butter welcomed us into the invitation to deepen our own relationship with the church that many (but not all) of us call “home”. We met in small groups, with attentive (but silent) “recorders” at each table -- there to capture the spirit of the conversations. We were also in movement – never staying in one place or with one small cluster of citizens -- so as to spend time learning, listening, and contributing to the conversations of all.
Who knew that paper table cloths could become a canvas for expressing a variety of answers to provocative, community-building questions? Armed with markers and crayons, we scratched and scribbled our way from ideas in our minds to simple sketches on the blank paper in front of us. Truly, a “tabula rasa”, suddenly infused with child-like images. Words and imaginings were made colorful and expressive through a veritable sea of stick figures, fanciful images, and little words of hope and BIG WORDS OF DREAMS. It was an illuminating, even self-revelatory game of Pictionary – perhaps with the Holy Spirit guiding our hands, minds, and words.
I entered this invitation with admittedly modest expectations, knowing that at the least, I would be in the company of kind and curious people for a brief while. Some I knew quite well; others were new to me. We were then enjoined to add to the narrative that is critical to the growth and sustenance of any community where people gather for both affirmation and renewal. What I didn’t expect was to be so deeply moved – and deeply taught -- by all the dreams and wishes shared in confidential conversation. What a divine convergence of fun and purpose.
And did I say it was fun? Yes, I did. But it’s bears repeating, for I feel that fun always enriches the learning. There were peals of laughter wafting throughout the room – cheery accompaniments to dynamic conversations between friends, old and new. There were moments of silent reflection, too, that gave us a chance to consider the deeper matters in our own lives – and where and when (and if) the church met us at our times of need.
On that Sunday, I felt like I was both a Congregationalist – gathering with such good folk, but also a bit of a Baptist – immersing myself in the sweet storytelling of those who sat at the tables with me. Please consider adding your own ideas (and drawings – no talent required!) to the tapestry that will be our church family portrait in the years to come.
Prayer: Thank you for being in our midst when we gather. Continue to guide us by your Spirit. Amen.