The forecast was for rain, and the clouds certainly were dark. It's a first Sunday and that often means low attendance. I was late for morning church and and then late to Worcester Fellowship. All in all, a start that did not prepare me for a wonderful day.
Despite the forecast, the sun was out, the wind was warm, and lots of people were present. We had cheeseburgers for lunch! Both St. John's and St. Andrews brought lots of palms. Several of our "regulars" who had been inside due to rain last week, and cold the week before, and who had this pressure and that to deal with, they were back at Worcester Fellowship. It was like "old-home day".
We marched to "we are marching in the light of God", parading around the common like the fools that we are. Occupy Worcester folk turned their head and smiled, waiting for us to finish our song so they could continue to meet. Six folk from our congregation and one youth from Yarmouth, Maine, took part in the reading of the passion story. We had silent prayer after the woman anointed Jesus, and prayers after Peter denied Jesus. And then a delightful reflection on how appropriate it is to look at the passion on April Fools day, how foolish all those actions are, how foolish we all are, to follow this faith, this foolish faith that trusts that no matter what, love wins out.
At the peace I foolishly interrupted the occupy worcester discussion, several folk turned as I whispered and signed "peace". At the Eucharist I foolishly misplaced the bread, but not the love that is communicated in the sharing of the body and blood, the brokenness and the forgiveness.
And then we handed out Palms at the 701 Main Street shelter, where we were called foolish for confusing public and religious spaces. And we handed out Palms at the hospital atrium, where people grinned at our audacity, and a man wearing a Johnny and sitting in a wheel chair put down his coffee to grab our hands and say thanks.
The passion story certainly calls for rain and dark clouds. But somehow it was good news this week. Foolishly good news.
We had twelve people for Ash Wednesday service. The sky was gray but the weather was pleasant and the sun poked out a bit behind the clouds. Brian brought another deaf friend, and a friend who can sign. Pablo just happened by and decided to stay. We waited until five after 11 to start and were done by 11:20. My worries about being encouraged to leave by the city did not materialize. It was just nice.
Joel 2 and Psalm 51 were both about the ways that God is looking to pull us back, looking for us to return to the fold. We shared stories of God being there, even when we thought that God was not. A story about how we think God has moved away, but really God is there and we have moved. A story about how we can wander further and further from God’s path, and then, when life seems at its worst, can realize that we’ve had God with us all along. A story about how choosing to follow God doesn’t solve anything, and yet it makes everything better.
And we received our ashes and we blessed one another and we were on our way. A small group of us stayed on the common to hand out ashes to those who were passing by. Right away we figured out that it was awkward to offer: it felt pushy in a way we didn’t like to say we had ashes, but there was no other way for folk to know it was available. Next time we’ll bring a sign! But we fell into a routine of asking “do you want ashes for ash Wednesday?” and then smiling and saying have a good day to those who said no.
And a surprising number of people said yes.
There is debate out in the social media as to whether “Ashes to Go” is a short-cut, an inappropriately simplified offering, a giving in to the non-stop motion of the secular world. I agree with the need to ask whether it is a good thing to offer ashes on the forehead without appropriate liturgy, without prior relationship, without the focus on seeping into the season of lent.
Indeed, at least half of the people who received the ashes on Worcester Common took off their hat, accepted the ashes with a quiet amen, and moved on with their life. It was truly “Ashes to Go”.
But the woman at Worcester Common who turned to me and said "Ashes? I haven't had ashes since I was a kid" and then told me about her life since the last time she'd been to church, and how the church had hurt her, and how she was now thinking about God again for the first time in a long time, that woman? When I put ashes on her, she understood what was happening in that ritual as well anyone who had time to sit inside.
And the young man who said "No, thanks" and then came back and said, "Can I change my mind?" and told the story of the fight he'd had last night and how he was ruminating about that when I offered ashes, and realized that he has to get right with God if he thinks he is going to get right with his girl friend. That young man, he understood enough to accept ashes without going inside.
People really told stories. People really cried. People really reacted like this was an unexpected gift, unexpected because they weren’t sure they deserved it, weren’t sure that the church could offer it, weren’t sure that God was with them. And the ashes said “yes, God is here” and “yes, you are deserving” and “yes, the church is in the world with you”.
Yup, it’s a short cut. It’s a short cut to God available to those willing to take it.
[posted by Liz. See more about Worcester Fellowship at www.worcesterfellowship.org]
Housing for all. Jobs. The support of a loving friend. Hope for all.
Presuming that we will not having Housing for All by the end of 2011, here are some other things that Worcester Fellowship would like for Christmas, or for New Years!
-A web redesign (and some way to make our blog link there?) -Calendar redesign -A way to donate online -A volunteer to maintain the web -prayers -A picture manager to post pictures on facebook and on our blog -Bus Tickets!! Ten rides are ten dollars. And about a third of the tickets can be for people on disability, which are cheaper. We could probably use 100 a quarter. -prayers -Large Bins of Hot chocolate: 2 per week! (Punch or lemonade in the summer) -New coolers that don't leak. (six or seven gallons worth.) -Generic pretty picture greeting cards -donated food for our sock hop on April 28 (food that our members can cook. we love to cook.)("we" of course meaning "they", since that is not one of my interests or strengths) -music leaders for worship, particularly in the winter. -prayers -sign language interpreters once a month for worship. Second Sundays for leadership meeting 4-5:15 pm. -a second rolling bag for worship supplies -prayers -prayers
Today, I announce my decision to follow God's calling and accept a new job as the Associate Pastor of Ecclesia Ministries in Boston. This requires me to resign as the Co-Pastor of Worcester Fellowship.
My last day in Worcester will be Sunday, January 1, 2012. After that, I will work with Boston's homeless community through Ecclesia, the church upon which Worcester Fellowship was modeled. I am excited to begin and apply the skills I learned with you in Worcester.
I have no doubt that this is the direction to which God is calling me. And this decision wasn't easy. It required prayer and tears and conversations (and lots of chocolate).
Because of you, these past five years have changed me for the better as a person and as a pastor. Worcester Common is where I learned about generosity, forgiveness, and what it means to be a child of God. I am humbled by you and this church we created together.
Today, I feel happy and overwhelmingly thankful! Also, I am sad, because after January 1st, I will no longer be your pastor. We will not share a regular Sunday hug or sit on the back benches and complain about the weather.
However, we can find comfort in knowing four things: - I am leaving, but Liz, Ken, Georgeanne, John, and other members of the Pastoral Care Team are not. They will be here every week, rain or shine. Please, seek them out. - I am leaving, but Ellie and Liz, as the staff, are not. They will continue to keep Worcester Fellowship running. - I am leaving, but this community remains strong. You can look towards each other for a hug or to pass the peace or to hear and see the ways God is working in Worcester. And remember, others are looking towards you. - I am leaving, but God is not! God is all around us. In the same way that God walks with me as I follow my calling to Boston, God will be here and is holding each of you.
Over the next few weeks, I hope we spend time together. Time to say goodbye, to celebrate, to shed a few tears, and share one last great big laugh!
Peace and love,
Pastor Mary Eaton
[Mary can be reached until January 1 at email@example.com]
We gathered in a slightly chilly church hall, in Uxbridge, in Northboro, in a place that is home to us, but a place also is not home, slightly too cold, slightly uncomfortable chairs, slightly anxious because we didn't know what this study would be like.
The opening question was comfortable. "What do you like best about your home". And we heard our neighbors share about a home that is too large, or too small, but comfortable, all the same. How we have family memories in that space, and a history of stability, or of transition.
And then we heard the story of how Mary and Joseph went from Galilee to Bethlehem to be registered, and when they got there how they found no room in the inn, or the guest house, or the hostel, depending on the translation. And the baby was born, and laid in a manger, wrapped in clothes, or baby clothes, or a blanket, or strips of cloth, or swaddling clothes, again dependent on translation.
Each person noticed one thing about those seven short verses: the long walk, the registration, the lack of a donkey or a stable, the fact that Mary and Joseph were still unmarried, weariness of the night.
We talked a bit about what it all might mean, this extremely humble birth of this extremely important person. The chaos of the city with all those registering. The difficulty of the pregnancy, and the realization that there were probably many of them in the middle of this registration of the entire roman empire, and that there were probably lots of parents who found no room at the inn, and their story was not written down.
And then we prayed the text. With scraps of cloth or colored paper in front of us we repeated the text: "no room in the inn" silently, moving the colors and saying the words over and over and over again. Listening for God's call, listening for how God hoped that the text would speak to us. Listening for what the text means for our lives today.
And then we shared what we heard and what we created and what was hard about the silence, and what was relaxing and quieting and peaceful. How this is what this advent waiting is supposed to be. And we each created something different, things that were orderly and things that were chaotic, things that told a story and things that described our feelings. Huge new learnings, and simple reaffirmations.
And then we shared what we would take with us, as we returned to our homes, leaving Mary and Joseph and the baby, homeless and hidden away, humble and pushed aside, there on the streets of Bethlehem.
Join us this week: Tuesday 7-8:30pm in Northborough, Thursday at Noon and at 7pm in Uxbridge.
Jo and Danny were married at Worcester Fellowship on Sunday, November 27, during the 1:30pm worship service. The table was decorated with white crepe paper wedding bells. The bride wore spiffy sun glasses and a comfy jacket. The temperature was a balmy 58 degrees and the sun was shining brightly.
Pastor Mary opened with an introduction to Advent, and then tied that into her sermon about loving relationships. The Advent reading from Mark was supplemented with the ever traditional Corinthians reading: "Love is patient, love is kind...". Mary inspired the newlyweds and the congregation with the image of being alert and awake, of keeping watch, for the kind of love that is really patient, kind, tender, and honest. She reminded us that the whole community is responsible for helping Jo and Danny to have a strong marriage.
The Rev. Liz led Jo, Danny, and the community through the vows, which were concluded with a joyful and passionate kiss. During the Peace we congratulated the newlyweds and signed a guest book for a keepsake. The church gave them a cross and a prayer shawl as gift.
After the service we gathered for wedding cake and more pictures, including one of the couple and their supporting family in front of the Worcester Common Christmas Tree. We'll post pictures as soon as we have them.
[posted by Liz. See more about worcester fellowship at www.worcesterfellowship.org]
Nov 29, Dec 6, 13, 20 Tues 7-8:30pm Trinity Northboro, UCC/ABC OR Dec 1, 8, 15 Thurs 12-1:30pm Evangelical Church Uxbridge, UCC (bring your lunch) OR Dec 1, 8, 15 Thurs 7-8:30pm Evangelical Church Uxbridge, UCC (knitting is welcome but not required)
As we head into the rush of Advent and the image of having the perfect gift for each person on our list we know that the Advent time of waiting is something different than our secular society is pushing. Take time out to care for yourself with this quiet study! We will gather with Pastor Liz Magill to look at the biblical message about poverty, and explore what that means to us individually, and as a community. The time will include sharing with each other, study, reflection, and prayer. This is a “come as you are” study, with no prep work required; attend any one session, or dig deeper week by week.
Liz Magill is co-pastor and executive director of Worcester Fellowship, outdoor church that reaches out to homeless and at risk adults on Worcester Common Sundays at 1pm.
Occupy Worcester met on Worcester Common last night, and many were arrested. They were there on Worcester Common again today, which reminded me I never posted about the last time we were both meeting there.
Occupy Worcester met at 1:30 on Worcester Common on Sunday about a month ago.
Here is a sign of a movement that is trying to show respect for others.
Before the event happened Pastor Mary got an email from one of the pastors of a church that is involved. "Just want to let you know that Occupy Worcester will be at the common Sunday, starting around 1:30. We will do our best to not interfere with your worship, and we hope you know that you and all your parishioners are welcome at the event."
When Mary arrived two members of another Church came to check-in. “Let us know where you meet, and where your line is for lunch, so we can be sure we are not in the way.”
Mary introduced them to me, and then I headed off to get the lunch tables set as another person came from still another group. “Hey, will it be in your way if we gather over by the memorial? We want to be sure both of us can meet peacefully.” "Its great. What is a once sentence message I can tell our parishioners about what you are doing?" Mary asked. "The US is getting more and more unequal and we are in favor of more economic equality." "Wow, that is what our sermon is about too!" Mary shook their hands and sent them off.
Two young women came over with their protest signs. "Are you guys part of Occupy Worcester?" they asked, looking at the forming lunch line. "We are an outdoor church for homeless and at risk adults." "Cool. Our message is that poor people shouldn't have to look for lunch programs in order to eat." "Thanks for coming." We shared, "we'll try not to be too loud once you get started with your event."
"Hey are you in charge here?" an elderly man asked me. "I'm one of the pastors," I offered. "We did some research and fines are doubled if you get arrested today, so be careful. I'd hate it if some of your parishioners get in trouble because of our event." "We try to encourage folk to avoid creating trouble with the police, so I think we will be ok." "Oh good. Just wanted to be sure you knew." "Thank you! Have a good event!"
In the end the biggest hassle is that it was hard to get all the set-up and visiting that is the normal beginning to Worcester Fellowship done, because the Occupy Worcester folk were so friendly and helpful. That is a problem that I really don't mind!
[posted by Liz. Don't forget to LIKE Worcester Fellowship on Facebook! Our website is www.worcesterfellowship.org]
We have a challenge with our lunch line. One of our rules is no cutting. That seems straightforward, but it is not. People arrive at noon, line up at 12:45, and lunch begins at 1pm. Once through the line you are permitted through a second time.
According to the rules, if you arrive at 1:15 or 1:20, you can't cut the line. You have to go to the end of the line. And ahead of you are people who already have lunch; they are holding a bag and it has food in it. And you don't have food, and you want to go to the head of the line, because you didn't get lunch yet. But there is no cutting.
There are people who can't wait in line. People who have disabilities for sure, using a cane, or with dizziness or some sort of challenge. And people who can't stand still and can't wait in lines and can't follow rules. They hang out visiting with folk and then we say the prayer and the line starts moving, and they move to the friend "where their friend was holding their place". But we don't allow cutting.
And then there are people who can't come over here. They are sitting over there, on a bench far away, or in their house, or up there, at the corner. Their friend, wife, brother, etc. explains this to us very sincerely, pointing over there. I just need to get one for that person. And we say, sure, just take one this time, then go through the line again and take another one.
I'd guess that half the people who get called out for cutting go to the back of the line. The other half leave in frustration that we are totally unfair. And so I found myself Sunday checking out what was happening when a man said “hey, you can't cut”.
I came over and stood, looking up at a very tall Hispanic man who was extremely angry saying very forcefully "you cannot cut the line". And he said, "I haven't eaten yet." And I said, "There is plenty, but you have to go to the end of the line." "Well then I won't eat" and headed away.
One of the others ahead of him was a regular at our lunch, and was angry that the man would even CONSIDER cutting, so he needed to say that, too. "Why the f** do you always cut the line?" and "Why can't you go to the end of the line?" And so the man came back to the line and started screaming back "I'll go anywhere I d*&$ well please" and "why don't you mind your own business". And so now I am standing between two tall men saying in my most grown up, deep, calm, and forceful voice: "Stop fighting and do not cut the line." Repeat eight times.
And so the line continues forward, without my cutting man. And the elderly white man behind this whole scene, also very tall, the one who said "hey, you can't cut", that one, right there, with the white shirt and blue stripes, he takes one of everything without a word, and heads back to the end of the line, stopping for just barely a second to hand his entire lunch to the guy who had cut. He goes through the line again, and gets lunch for himself.
At our leadership meeting on Sunday the members of the congregation took on the challenge of making changes to how we serve lunch. One of the things that is hard about lunch is that indoor parishes bring a huge bounty, and together WF leaders and the indoor visitors serve the lunch graciously and with great joy. And the people coming through the line to eat complain. They complain that they don't get what they want, that their aren't more choices, that the cookies are the ones that they like, or that the fruit is not in cups or doesn't have spoons, or that this person or that cut or took two sandwiches or was snotty or was swearing. There are days the meal feels like a challenge in reducing expectations.
So Mary and I started the leadership meeting asking parishioners to share what they love about our lunch program. In case they couldn't think of anything positive I was prepared to share how much I like it when St. Andrew's and St. Luke's brings hot dogs for lunch. I shouldn't have worried.
What do we like about lunch? We love the people who bring lunch. "The people in the churches that come really get what we are doing and they visit with us, and last week was fun, everyone was very funny."
We love the chance to share with each other. "I don't see many of these people during the week and I love to just sit and eat together."
"I love that anyone can come." "I love that lots of people who come were brought by other people who enjoyed it the week before." "I love that we get a chance to help, it feels like something positive in the world." "I love the smiles." "I love the hugs, and the talking."
The only shallow idea that was mentioned was the hot dogs. I love this community and the way the members of the church have really become leaders of the church.