Tag Archives: Communion of Saints

All Saints’ Day

On All Saints’ Day
November 1, 1995,
I had the privilege to worship
at St. Paul’s Anglican Church in
Cape Town, South Africa.
I had talked and preached
about All Saints’ Day often.
I have deep appreciation for
the Communion of Saints.
It is an important and profound
dimension of my faith.
Still, this was the first All Saints’ Day
service I ever attended.
It included the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper
and led me to write these brief words:

Bread is broken,
wine is poured,
space transcended,
time torn;
and all in Christ
are one.

For all the saints, thanks be!

Cape Town, South Africa
2 November 1995

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Filed under Poem, Worship

Samuel Johnson

I remembered Samuel Johnson today and I was revived.

The Samuel Johnson I remembered was not the English author – I did not pick up a copy of Boswell. I met this Samuel Johnson almost fifteen years ago during a hot summer week in Orangeburg, SC. He and I have been accompanying each other in the Communion of Saints ever since.

On Palm Sunday of that year, in a quiet grove of trees about eight miles outside of Orangeburg, the Butler Chapel AME Church burned. Four young men admitted responsibility for the fire, although they maintained that it was accidental. The fire did not totally destroy the church. It did cause enough damage that the church could neither be used nor repaired. After a season of prayer and discussion, the members of Butler Chapel determined to build a new church.

Volunteers came from across the country to work on the church; their labor coordinated by the Church of the Brethren. That August, a group of us went to Orangeburg from Cleveland; some of my friends from Louisville joined us. We spent a week working in extreme heat. We installed insulation and drywall and windows. We finished drywall. We laid brick. Each day was a little different. Each day had some elements in common – mostly the people of Butler Chapel – the wonderful people who welcomed us and fed us, prayed with us and worked beside us. Among them was Samuel Johnson.

Samuel Johnson was a big man. Once he had been a strong man. A long-time member of Butler Chapel AME Church, Samuel had attended school in the building as a child. Samuel worked throughout his life. Worked well and hard. . . as a farmer . . . for the gas company.

When I met him, a stroke had stolen much of his strength. He walked with a cane.  He walked better when he can use his cane and someone’s shoulder. I remember. A couple of times he used mine.

Although the stroke had taken much of his one arm and leg, it did not take his mind or voice or spirit. Unable to stay away while his church was being rebuilt, he came to the work site as often as he could. He watched. He visited. And from time to time, his eyes filled with tears of frustration as he wished that one more time he could swing a hammer.

Toward the middle of a hot afternoon (they were all hot – I can’t remember which one), I was working alone on insulation. A friend’s voice interrupted me.  “Mark, go to the fellowship hall.”

“I’m busy.” I said.  “I want to get this finished.”

Bob persisted.  “Mark, stop what you are doing.  Go to fellowship hall.  You have to see what is going on.  Take a camera.”

Reluctantly I got up. I found the camera went to the fellowship hall.

There, on a 2” x 10”  board that rested on two overturned five-gallon paint buckets, sat Samuel Johnson.  Around him, on the concrete slab, sat many of the young people of our group.  Softly and slowly, Samuel spoke . . . telling them of his life . . . his family . . . his work . . . telling them of Orangeburg and his beloved church.  As he spun stories and answered questions, tears filled my eyes.  I was helping build a physical church; Samuel was building Christ’s body.

Why did I remember this story today? Who knows?

Perhaps it is because I have been thinking about the hurts of God’s people – the violence in Gaza and Israel, the children who flee Central America to come to the United States, bombing in South Kordofan, hunger around the world particularly in South Sudan and North Korea, gunfire on our country’s streets, on and on the list goes. It does not seem to end.

In the face of such violations, suffering, and pain, my efforts seem so small and insignificant. But Samuel Johnson reminds me of the importance of perspective.

I can look at life in terms of what I do not have – what I lack – what I cannot do. This is the view of scarcity.

In the case of Samuel Johnson, such a view has little time for an older man whose physical abilities appear to have been limited by a stroke. It would say he no longer has much to offer.

Alternately, I can choose to look at life in terms of what I have – what I can do – what I can share – the gifts I bear. This view is the view of abundance. When viewed in this way, the incredible gifts that Samuel has and shares leap into view. Samuel’s presence is an inspiration; Samuel’s prayers a source of strength; Samuel’s stories create and nurture community.

For me, the assumption of abundance frees me from working about what I cannot do – to focus on doing what I can – whatever that might be.

Remembering Samuel renews my spirit and challenges me to look at the gifts I have and figure out how to use those gifts. That work has begun and will continue and I expect I will bump into Samuel and a whole bunch of other saints as I do.

See you along the Trail.

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Filed under Antiracism, Friends

Justice: 10 May 2014

Justice 07 03 11 Advocacy Workshop Big Tent

3 July 2011
Advocacy Workshop, Big Tent
Indianapolis, IN

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Filed under Photo, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

I need to try again

Communities of accountability have a way of intersecting.

The same people often appear in different communities to which we are accountable. A person may play a key role in one community and stand on the periphery of others. Or a person may hold a key place in several communities.

Make rosters of my communities of accountability and you will find Merdine T. Morris on many of those lists. A few years ago, I described her in these words:

Merdine T. and I have been friends for more than 20 years. Friend really does not do our relationship justice, she is my mentor, teacher, challenger, comforter, disturber of my peace, guide, anchor . . . the list goes on.

Today I add, Merdine T. Morris is practically a one person community of accountability for me.

Three years ago, Merdine T.’s health failed and I reflected on what I thought might be our last visit.

Merdine T. recovered.

On Tuesday, Tricia, Eric and I went to see her. We arrived and told the receptionist we wanted to visit Merdine T. She paused a moment and said, “I don’t think Merdine T. is here.”

She checked a list and informed us that Merdine T. had gone to lunch with a group. On the one hand, this was disappointing. On the other, it was great, good news.

I carry Merdine T. in my heart and head and will always do so. But I give thanks to know that she can get out and around.

And I need to try to see her again before I leave for New York.

See you along the Trail.

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Filed under Family, Friends

Missing Clint, giving thanks

I clicked on the Facebook link to the birthdays of my friends. Usually I discover a surprise on the list as I have very few of those days memorized. Heck, I have to stop and think about the birthdays of my family. Often the surprise proves pleasant as it affords me the opportunity to remember someone.

Today’s surprise brought a Communion of Saints moment.

Clint McCoy’s name appeared. Executive for partnerships of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Synod of the Northeast, Clint died suddenly on September 12, 2010 of a massive heart attack. His family has not closed his Facebook account.

A pang of grief pricked my heart. I followed the link to his page and found a number of comments by family members and friends. I remembered conversations and interactions. I smiled. And I gave thanks, grateful to have been Clint’s friend and colleague in ministry. Thanks be to God.

See you along the Trail.

 

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Thanks for all the saints

Today (Sunday 30 October – I write in Folsom, California) provided a great reminder of the Communion of Saints – a wonderful experience on Reformation Sunday and the day before All Saints’ Day.

Today brought the privilege of speaking at Davis Community Church – an experience that reminded me of the saints who are part of my life.

Mary Lynn Tobin, the pastor of Davis, and I attended college together – just a couple of years ago.

Nancy Eng MacNeill, colleague and friend, served as my chauffeur. Her family has put up with me and will continue to do so for the next few days.

Jewel Kinney, who attended a seminar that Rachel Pedersen and I led at Ghost Ranch, greeted me during the worship service.

David Rue, a friend from Cleveland where we engaged in antiracism work together, stayed for both my presentations.

Tom and Joanne Haller, long-time peace activists and acquaintances, came to the presentations as well.

Alice Nishi, who served on the task force to study reparations, made it to my first presentation.

Ripples of friendship, collaboration, and shared living, extend widely from each of these people – moving through my life, calling to mind countless individuals who have touched my life and who continue to journey with me in the Communion of Saints.

We do not live alone but within a web of relationships that transcend space and time. And that is good. Very, very good.

For all the saints – those I remember, those I forget, those I have never met – for all the saints, thanks be!

Nancy Eng MacNeill took the picture.

Yes, I need a haircut.

Yes, I need to trim my beard.

See you along the Trail.

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Filed under Friends, Travel

September 11, 2011

On this day of sadness and pride, remembrance and looking forward, St. James Presbyterian Church used the worship resources for the 10th Anniversary of September 11, 2001 today during worship. We shared in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.

Members of the congregation had the opportunity to make Ribbons of Hope which were delivered to Battery Park (my pictures from there did not work).

As often happens, a number of international visitors joined the congregation.

It was a blessing and an honor to worship with and preach to the saints of St. James.

See you along the Trail.

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Filed under New York, Worship