Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve Communion Revisited: the Changing Church

I have been getting wonderful letters from friends near and far about whether or not I should take communion at church services tonight.

The most common response: What is the big deal???????????? Take communion!!!!!!!!!!

But this is a big deal. A group of devout and committed Christians at a community of faith want to offer communion to me, a witchy/pagany person with a deep love of Christian theology/thealogy. I have spent many years vaguely saying, well, no your polity doesn't permit me to participate in communion, and I've been ok - though questioning - with the national church's position. In discussions this week, however the conversation has moved significantly.

Members of East Liberty Presby are saying to me, that despite national polity, their own definitions of themselves as Christian demands they offer me - or anyone who wants to participate - communion. These church members are taking a radical stand, not a "who cares?" liberal one. Instead, these church women (so far all are women) are saying that the definition of church that they ascribe to Jesus' ministry is an open one.

This is a meaningful change.

Twenty five years ago I remember a frightened Lutheran deaconess inviting me to her home for dinner, in great trepidation. Growing up and attending Missouri Synod Lutheran church and college (Missouri Synod Lutherans still don't ordain women), she was knowingly inviting an outspoken, tarot-reading pagan to her table. She was concerned for her personal salvation, worried she was risking her life in heaven by just knowing me. At the same time, other Christian friends worried about introducing me to their church homes, worried about my polluting their services, worried about introducing me to their families. In college, professors outright rejected my participation in their classes. At the University of Edinbugh, the Dean of the Divinity School had to intervene when a professor flunked a research paper I did on Wisdom and the use of the name of Sophia for Jesus (despite many theologians doing so already).

I first volunteered at East Liberty Presbyterian Church 15 years ago. I loved the place. Homeless shelter in the basement; food bank for the neighborhood; arts programs for children; sponsors of Pittsburgh's Gay and Lesbian choir; multiracial congregation. It is a family legend that my son said, on his first day in Sunday School: "I wike this place; there are Bwown people like me." When my youngest baby cried during service, people of all races, classes and orientations cheerfully told me not to worry and stay in service and that my baby's crying bothered no one. Once that daughter hit Sunday School age, I spent two years helping in the nursery.

It is AMAZING that this same group of people are not now saying, oh, we'll give you communion through the back door."

They are Christians saying "you are welcome to communion no matter what." That is a huge change from 25 years ago, and from many Christian communities today. The women offering me communion are making a very huge assertion about ecclesiology, and what is the very nature of church. They are intentionally creating a different Christian community. And hot damn for them.

Tonight is my night with Ord Brighideach, the international community that welcomes all people of any faith to light candles regularly for Bridget. (you can define her as saint/goddess/deva/god/deity/spirit as you choose) I have for weeks been looking forward to lighting Bridget's candles and then going to Christmas eve candlelit services at East Liberty Presby.

And tonight I'm gonna take communion. Which the church is openly and knowingly offering.

And it is a big deal.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Holiday Dilemma: Christmas at East Liberty Presbyterian Church, The Cathedral of Hope

I have a somewhat unique holiday dilemma, oh gentle readers. As a longtime supporter, volunteer, attender and advocate at my church (video clip below!)

I have long wished I could participate in communion at this place of worship where I feel so connected. However, as a non-baptised person with a faith stance that crosses many thealogical lines, I have been careful not to cross doctrinal lines at East Liberty Presby. The National Board for the Presbyterian Church USA in its polity specifically excludes non-baptised non-Christians from communion, which is what I doctrinally am by the Presbyterian Church USA's own definitions. And so when I have asked about the "open communion" at ELPC, members have told me that ELPC follows national polity. The "open communion" is open to baptised Christians only.

well. For some of my church friends this national polity is appalling. So I have good church friends who would happily give me communion, thus creating a truly open communion table - one open to all, baptism or personal faith stance notwithstanding. I have not availed myself of this offer; yes, I believe in questioning authority. Yes, I believe in re-defining religious meaning (you, oh gentle readers, may have noticed that!) And yes, I believe in transforming the established church - again, you gentle readers may have noticed that as well.

However. Polity matters. The current ELPC position is not all that revolutionary: sort've a "we'll quietly give communion to those of you who don't fit our official polity, just don't talk about it too much" kinda response. This is hardly revolutionary or transformative. Quietly slipping around rules is what we without political power have to do, and yes, that can be important. However it is still a second class communion, perhaps politically meaningful, yet hardly a challenge to church power. And I think it funny how many leftie people have said to me an inherently conservative stance: oh, polity doesn't matter. Just take communion.

(oh laws don't matter, why do gays and lesbians need marriage. oh laws don't exist; Blacks of all gender and white(ish) women have equality. oh laws don't matter, we don't need to change them. . .)

For me this issue is intensely personal. Back in divinity school, I took most of my classes at Christian seminaries. Most of my friends were devout and committed Christians. I attended countless ordinations and installations of friends. During those years I sat in pews while ALL of my friends paraded up for communion, and I, a non-baptised non-believer, sat alone, watching. It was a really weird feeling. On some occasions, rather famous ministers specifically pulled me aside before services to make sure I knew that I was not welcome to the communion table - a situation I found laughable, in an ironic way. One very famous Lutheran minister was himself installed as one of the first openly gay ministers in the Lutheran church. Yet he found it necessary to tell me that communion was not open to me on the day one of my best friends was installed as an openly lesbian deacon in his church.

And many Christian friends have explained to me over the years the necessity of communion being a religious faith stance and affirmation of a belief in Jesus' salvation. I am not in anyway questioning the deepseated need of Christian communities to self-define around sacrament and creed. After all, I truly believe in the importance of respecting faith. Many Christians don't want to share communion with me, who they would define as non-Christian.

Yet I also think my own personal faith journey has been shaped by those many, many times of sitting alone in the pew, the only person not allowed communion in a church full of friends.

Christmas Eve I will be at church with my kids, with my wonderful church friends - who themselves embrace a motley collection of beliefs. One devout church friend says she will happily give me communion. If so, that will be literally the second time in my life I have had communion with a group of religious people with whom I feel a great commitment.

Should I go?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Back in time for Solstice/Lunar Eclipse/Full Moon!

Well, I have been off studying for my finals, some of the hardest academic work I've ever done. Friends from the computer science world tell me this is standard: multiple choice exams with tricky wording designed to trip you up and not test your knowledge. This little liberal arts girl still finds this new and uncomfortable; however, got an A and a B+ for final grades. My thanks to Bridget and all the deities who have helped me quite actively this semester.

And yesterday was a wonderful Christmas pageant at church, where dear friend and CMU grad student Ashley portrayed the best of what church should be: she wrote the Christmas pageant autobiographically, recalling the day she first ever visited East Liberty Presby - on the day of the holiday pageant, and the Sunday School teachers put her in an angel costume and threw her up on stage. Her pageant yesterday used one of the kids as a "plant" in the audience to be the new church kid thrown into the play; yet in reality a new girl did come to Sunday School and sure enough was an angel amongst the heavenly host. I will post videos on Christmas eve!

But now to a life past school and all-weekend-church-pageant-rehearsal. It is solstice tonight, with a rare full moon eclipse into the bargain. I have invites to area pagan groups for group ritual, but want to plan something tonight on my ridgetop that is just me and Bridget and Flidais and Lugh and Kali. So at the last moment, here are links and ideas for you.

For lone or group celebrations tonight, here are some last minute ideas to pull together.

Karen Tate kindly shared her wonderful article on celebrating,"Letter To Goddess. . . Working with Lunar Eclipse Energies," and I excerpt part here:

"Whether one calls it a prayer or a spell, a meditation or a positive affirmation for the coming year, writing a Letter to Goddess will be how I'm personally working with the natural universal energies brought on by the lunar eclipse, which will occur about 10PM this Monday night, if you're in California. . .

Whatever your method, perhaps you'd like to ask for prosperity or love. You might want to meet new people and be surrounded with more positive friends. Maybe you need a job or want to develop better habits, or become more positive in your own outlook. You might have prayers that go beyond your own family and community as you vision a more progressive and enlightened world. What ever it is you would like to draw toward you, simply ask. Make your offering and release your prayer to Gaia. Don't forget to give thanks for that which you do have. I am a believer there is no wrong way to speak to the Great Mother and ask her blessings. What is more important is what is in your heart and your good intentions, than the accoutrement or method you use.

As added suggestions, remember four things: 1) Your own thoughts are things that can work for you or against you. Think positively. Look for the "gift" in all situations, even ones that you are not happy with. You cannot continually be negative or toxic and expect a positive outcome. 2) What you nourish and support flourishes and what you neglect withers. If you want a plant to grow, you have to water it. If you want a job, be sure in the coming weeks and months you do not expect a job to drop into your lap without sending out resumes. If you want to meet people, you have to get out from behind the computer. You have to do the practical work along with the spell work and affirmations. 3) What you put out in the world will come back to you. Treat people with fairness, kindness, compassion and generosity and it more likely will be what you experience. That's no guarantee that ugliness will not find you, but certainly, boons will come your way in response to the energy you put out into the world. 4) Consider if your way of life is in sync with Goddess ideals. Are you contributing toward a caring culture? Or are you caught up in consumerism and policies helping to make life on the planet unsustainable? Food for thought. Be the world you want to see manifested."

As ever, Karen's advice is fabulous and very astute. And there are many ways to use her suggestions: I plan to purify some of my crystals under the full moon eclipse, have a private ritual to perform, and plan to make and burn candles to Bridget herself. I have wine to offer deities, which I will offer in my garden under the moon, with wine for Bridget and Aengus under my apple trees, beer to Lugh (of course), and brandy for Flidais deep in my woods. I will write my letter to Goddess tonight, on homemade paper. And since we expect snow and no viewing of the eclipse itself, I will add some blessings to Sedna and White Buffalo Calf woman.

So obviously whatever ideas you have, go with them!

For more on the astrological impact of the solstice/eclipse/full moon, I am happy to have found this wonderful link on using this specific eclipse's aspects in tonight's ritual:

Astrology Explored: The Solstice Full Moon Eclipse Aspect. With links to find your own free online birth chart, the article articulates what this full moon eclipse will do for your own personal chart:

"Where does this eclipse fall in your chart? To do this you will need a copy of your chart which you can get from Astrodienst and find out which doorway the zodiac sign Gemini sits on. This is the house that will be activated during the eclipse period."

Excellent for personal prayers/spellcasting/divination tonight!

(and as an aside, my own free account at Astrodienst has been really useful for my own work with astrology. No, I don't use all of the websites impersonal interpretations - and gentle readers by now should know I wouldn't use all of anyone else's interpretations ever - still the free charts are wonderfully useful!)

The last full moon eclipse on solstice was 1991; the next will be 2094. So tonight, like the many solar eclipse conjunctions last summer, will be a major event in all of our lifetimes. Eclipses are major calls for us to find what works in our life and what does not. Solar eclipses can be major upheavals in our material worlds; lunar eclipses are often signals of major turning points internally. For those of us with Capricorn and Cancer sun signs, these past year's eclipses have been especially transformative (okay, bad astrological pun).

I did some fabulous private rituals last summer during the many astrological rarities those months - including pouring huge libations on August 8 during the amazing conjunction of Mars, Saturn and Venus. The results from that wonderful event are still flowing like that gospel river of blessings through my life.

Don't underestimate the benefit of the smallest puja/prayer or spell this evening. Harness a spectacular lunar event on the turning of the wheel of the year. And Merry Solstice, everybody!