Tag Archives: church

Riverside_1018

A Church Is A Theater Is A Church Is A …

The Swiss architect, Mario Botta, who designed Évry Cathedral, spoke about churches and their design in an interview with Judith Dupre:

It’s a bit like theater. The theater is also for those who don’t go to the theater because it’s a place of collective imagination. It’s a place where people go to buy a ticket to Dream. People think, “My city is rich because it has a theater-even if I don’t go to the theater.”   A church is a rich addition to a city, even for those who don’t go to church. It becomes a human institution like a library, bank, stadium.

There is so much to appreciate in this statement!  Religion and the arts have always been hand-in-glove.  Indeed, the function of roles, art, performance and yes, that idea of “collective imagination” are all so spot on and insightful.  I also like his willingness to speak to the larger culture that does not “go to church,” suggesting–no, instructing–that a city is enriched by the presence of a church in its midst.  Frankly, this is something that percolates in conversations with Monty Hoffman when we talk about the design and construction of our new building, arriving in the Fall of 2018.  Charged with the development of the entire Wharf, he is a person who has both an historic regard for and appreciation for the presence of a church (indeed churches) within the matrix of what is being created along the Tidal Basin.  Whether or not you attend a church, a church can be a human institution that raises the quotient of humane and intellectual discourse in a community.  At least it should and one would hope churches and their architects would aspire to such. We at Riverside certainly do so and our architect, Philip Renfrow of GBR, has melded a rich theological appreciation with a keen modernist/post-modern vocabulary in the sanctuary his team has designed for us.

Arena Stage is a nearby marvel and beautiful landmark in our SW community.  It has been and continues to be a place where one “buys a ticket in order to dream a while.” We at Riverside are not so different.  We are about to provide a beautiful and evocative space of collective imagination where people enter for a station of rest and peace, to dream of justice and mercy in the light of God’s mercy and love.

Riverside Baptist Church, DC

Architectural rendering of Riverside Baptist Church, DC, arriving Fall 2018

~See you Sunday (meanwhile, we are in a middle school auditorium and very grateful to Jefferson and DCPS for allowing us to rent their space where, in an auditorium with a stage, we transform a theater into a church inside a school).

Calculation of Presence, the ANC and Riverside Church

chalice_SalvadorHow does one  go about calculating presence?  By ‘presence’ I mean the actual appearance of someone into the equation of any group, be it your office, your dinner outing, a family reunion, and yes, a church.

And I’m not talking about—or at least I don’t want to talk about—the drunk uncle at the family reunion.  That is a kind of obvious and negative ledger sheet with which we are all familiar.  We have all said at some point in our lives (even in elementary school when deciding at which lunch table to sit), “I hope so-and-so doesn’t show up, sit down, come along.”

Let’s focus for the moment, or moments it takes to read this, upon the positive.  We have also said things like, “I am so glad s/he was there. What a difference s/he makes.”  Someone’s presence livens up a room, fills a room with light, replaces sadness with joy or hands out courage and hope in large bowls.  Calculating presence is an inexact art but we all calculate every day how someone’s presence in our lives makes a measurable difference for how we think, feel and act.

This holds true for institutions in our communities as well.  I recall not too long ago how a particular club along what is now called “The Wharf” impacted our community in Southwest. Suddenly it seemed we had more trash littering the parking lot of our church and streets, drunks sleeping in cars on the church lot, and assorted other behaviors we need not list here.  The neighborhood was revolted by that institution’s careless regard of others.  We expect more from one another and we calculate presence by how not only an institution appears on a corner, but how they deepen our humanity and raise our sights by calling us to noble ideas and actions.

This week and week-end, calculate your presence.  Consider how you individually bring light and hope into a group; ponder how you raise the sights of others, deepen the humanity of others.  The amazing thing about that kind of presence is this—while giving your life away in kindness and service to others you yourself are deepened and ennobled in the process.

Monday of next week, the ANC will address our church’s plans for the future as we attempt to do well by those who preceded us by securing this institution for those who will come after us.  The ANC commissioners will be calculating our presence as it were. One would hope such calculation goes beyond capitalist ledger sheets like how many burgers did you sell this week or how many widgets do you have in your widget piggy bank?  Instead, if the calculation of presence is predicated upon the deepening of humanity, the luminosity of wisdom and love, then we stand a chance of being understood.  Our little church on this corner of Southwest has had a great voice for exactly these kinds of values. We speak up for the inclusion of all, for the dignity and humanity of all, for justice and peace.  We cry out for these values but we also take actions to implement those values in our lives.

Were you to stand across the street where the Wharf is currently a kind of desolation row (and it will be exciting to watch as desolation is transformed into a wonderful intersection of human discourse and concourse), and if you looked across the street at our corner, I believe you could see not a building but a light.  On any given Sunday this is what we hand out:  light and salt, seeds of hope and empowerment that in turn transform our community, our work places and our lives.  ~See you Sunday.

The Point Is NOT To Stay Here

Desert Oasis

Having grown up in a Southern Baptist context in the 1950s and 1960s, I recall being at church all day Sunday (well, we had a lunch break and then came back in the evening for “training union” and a warmed over sermon left on the back burner a little too long so it was crusty and well, . . .burnt. The saving grace of that was, the preacher was so tired by the time he entered the pulpit that he ended up preaching maybe 20 minutes instead of 45).

Anyway, we also had a midweek service. And once I became a teen/adult and served on a committee then I realized that when I signed up to love God and neighbor I had apparently also signed up to be at church as many days as possible.

This may come as  a shock to some but look, the point is not to stay here inside the church.  Some liken the church to an ark or ship that makes safe passage and I like that to some degree as long as you don’t press it so that we are literally stuck together at the church building more days than not and for hours at a time.  The point to the church, and I suppose I should capitalize it, so:  the point to the Church is actually to go out into the world and be salt and leaven.  By the way, you can look through the Gospels and will be hard pressed to find Jesus speak of the church more than once.  He did preach often about the Kingdom of Heaven or Kingdom of God.

If that is a minimalist approach to the nature of the Church then so be it.  I think it a scriptural approach as well.  Don’t get me wrong, I want you here on Sunday and worshipping in the community of believers is essential.  But Riverside is an oasis.  Drive your camels in, park them, then sit under our shade tree, crank the bucket down into the cool-water-well we have, drink deeply and then fill your canteen and head back out there. Because you know what? The world needs healing and is in great need of people who love it and repair it.  See you Sunday.  If you don’t have a camel, just walk.  Either way, let’s be the Church.  ~PSTR

 

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We Are The Church

Communion

Here’s what I saw today on the first Sunday of February, on my 22nd anniversary as your pastor:  a choir and musicians who inspired us with beautiful music (notice I didn’t use the word, “entertain,” but inspire–they sang from their souls for God and for God’s people); a diverse congregation who, when they had the chance at the Peace of Christ, embraced one another; I heard laughter, the exchanges of peace and greetings between congregants, our children with smiles on their faces, two of our children displaying their Tai Kwan Do skills and being blessed and affirmed by the adults; a young man we’ve known since he was knee-high to a grasshopper arriving at 7:30 to lend me a hand setting up for church; leaders who worked behind the scenes to extend pastoral care and to insure we have heat; people reaching out to friends and inviting them to church; the proclamation of faith; a young adult covenanting with us to love God and others in this place; Holy Communion woven into our lives like golden thread; in short, I saw the Church today.  We showed up. We worshipped. We were blessed and we blessed.

Have a great week.  Go heal the world.  Do not tire of well doing.  And as the choir sang to us, Stand.

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The Gate Called Worship or, Three Things To Do Prior to Entering A Holy Place

English: Garden Gate All around Ballumbie Castle

Throughout the course of any given day in our lives, we find ourselves opening doors and following steps that will facilitate our movement through the labyrinth.  For example, think of how you prepare for something as routine as going to the store. Even if you do not make a list, you take a moment to consider why you’re entering the store and take steps to make sure you have cash or a credit card.  From the moment you exit your domicile or office to the moment you walk through the door of the store, how many doors have you opened? How many thresholds have you crossed?

When you cross the threshold into a holy place, like our church, you have opened doors, crossed boundaries, exited and entered a variety of doors.  Ponder this for a moment.  There is this experiential, bodily transition from one portal to another. We would do well to be mindful.  Be awake. Alert.  ”I am walking across the threshold into…”

Peace.  Translucency (blue stained glass, milky light powdered over walnut pews, symbol-adorned walls, table, glass). ” In the midst of others, I am positioning myself to…”

Come before the Holy, the Unutterable, the Fountain of Light.  What you have done is this: you have opened the gate called Worship. This is a series of actions from prayer to song to proclamation that weave you into a sacred tapestry of space and time and all in a singular effort to place one’s life before the Giver of Life.

There are secondary reasons we gather in the church and those reasons are fine as long as they remain secondary to the one great thing you do that day:  worship.  So we show up to socialize and network and accomplish some other secondary tasks.  What we want to do is show up in that holy place at least as mindful as we are when we enter the grocery store with our lists, our money and coupons.  Indeed, we enter sacred time with the small change of our lives seeking a treasure that far exceeds our expectations.

This is one reason I value so much the first gate we open on Sunday.  Have you noticed in your church bulletin that our order of service is a series of gates? And the first gate is “prayer.”  We begin our service without noise, practically in quiet and in prayerful repose. Think of that and how that might compare to your experiences in other churches.  We begin in quiet, contemplative prayer.  I don’t know how you experience that, but here is what I experience: the illusions of the world begin to crash like slags of ice into the sea; the noise of the world melts, dissipates and dissolves into quiet; I can feel my chest rise and fall to breath; eyes closed, I trade darkness for light. And I pray, Christe eleison, Christ have mercy.

Three things you might consider doing prior to entering a holy place:  be mindful of your thresholds; find the gate that opens into your heart, mind and soul; open that gate as you open the gate of worship.

I’ll end by quoting Augustine from Book XII of his Confessions:

O let the Light, the Truth, the Light of my heart, not mine own darkness, speak unto me. I fell off into that, and became darkened; but even thence, even thence I loved Thee. I went astray, and remembered Thee. I heard Thy voice behind me, calling to me to return, and scarcely heard it, through the tumultuousness of the enemies of peace. And now, behold, I return in distress and panting after Thy fountain.

There is a gate. Open it.  There is a fountain of light by which we see light.  See you Sunday.

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The Church is…

“Now, anywhere you hear or see [the Word of God] preached,

English: 500th day of birth of Martin Luther (...

believed, confessed, and acted upon, do not doubt that the true ecclesia sancta catholica, a ‘holy Christian people’ must be there, even though there are very few of them.”

I like this assertion and description of the Church by Martin Luther.  You’ll note that his definition of the Church is not institutionally based. That is, it is not dependent upon some fuzzy notion of apostolic chain of command nor it is relegated to the history of any one church (like say the Orthodox or Roman Catholic).  The definition rotates around the proclamation of God’s Word.  Hence the Reformation principle of sola scriptura.

I also like that he comments that such a true holy Christian people is not dependent upon some large number of folks.  In the United States, where bigger is better, Christians—and particularly Evangelicals—are inclined to believe that a bigger church is somehow more a church. This is nonsense, of course.  I’ve said for a long time that I’d prefer to be in the midst of a small number of devoted and authentic Christ-like persons than a horde of fools.

As this new year begins and we, Riverside Baptist Church, are faced with remarkable opportunities and solemn decisions that will configure our future for another generation, let’s keep Luther’s assertion in mind.  We are not an institution. We are not a building. We are not a creed.  We are the ecclesia sancta catholica, the holy Christian people who are formed at the point of God’s Gospel to us proclaimed.  I hope you will do your best this year to be in worship with us every Sunday, because the Word is proclaimed, believed, confessed and acted upon in that holy context.

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