People often ask me what it is like to be at Brunswick Street United Church on a Sunday night from 6-8 pm. What I always say in my response is this, “3/4 weeks of the months it is tremendously stimulating, inspiring and surprising in God’s grace. The other Sunday night can be a little chaotic, everyone talking at once. I get a little frustrated that the wonderful things people are sharing are not being heard by all.” My hunch is that the others in the circle would not share my frustration as disorder and hearing everything everyone else is sharing does not seem to be a concern to anyone but me, otherwise it would be different. Things change when people want them to change. But at the core the Holy Spirit is present in this circle and I believe what makes it so obvious is the personal sharing that arises from the Bible reading for the night.
Let’s take last night as an example. I am leading a 5 week preaching series on The Lord’s Prayer and our first service focused on “Our Father/Mother who art in Heaven.” I shared insights from two books written by authors as well-known as Stanley Hauerwas, William Willimon and NT (Tom) Wright. These texts lifted up the importance of the word “Our”, that it is a collective experience of being a Christian to be formed around this prayer. The Lord’s Prayer was one of the formation tools used by the early church, it is documented that it was part of the original church catechism. Again the use this prayer was less a test or a measure of understanding some doctrine and more a means to live into a way of being, that as we say this prayer together we become the people God wants us to be.
As I shared these insights at 6 pm. I quickly transitioned into my question for the circle, “When you say this sacred prayer what is it that you think and/or feel?” The words of Hauerwas/Willimon/Wright ringing in their ear, this very engaged circle of believers and seekers responded with their usual insight and personal sharing. I should say that my personal agenda in these gatherings is to learn how people use these sacred texts and the Christian way to make sense of their lives, particularly when moving through some challenging issues, personally and collectively. But I recognize that that for most of the others the agenda is more raw and emotive, they want to be touched by the care of the others in the group, witness how we care for each other and how the others care for us. In a deep sense that is how church, at its best, is supposed to work and be.
After the time of sharing and reflection based on the Bible reading for the night came to an end we shifted to worship, an order of service that would be familiar to most every church goer. But the difference was that in this context everyone in circle takes a turn in leading a portion of the liturgy. That makes it unique. Purists would not like the editorializing that takes place between sections of the service, sometimes even in the middle of a prayer or hymn someone will just start sharing. In the sermon section I usually share 3 minutes of Biblical exegesis and then through it open to questions and reflections. Sometimes the sharing relates to the theme of our service that night, sometimes we move off topic. But given how organic this community is that “off topic” may represent the real intentions of the Holy Spirit. Who knows where the Spirit will lead us.
Last night questions arose as to what language Jesus spoke and a reflection by one of our participants about a requiem he wrote about the death of hundreds of Koreans in a ferry in 2014, the direct result of corruption. This participant wrote his masterpiece to remember the victims and used the Lord’s Prayer to connect the pastoral nature of grief and what it gives us in times of deep mourning and reflection. He then played the piece on his computer and we all deeply listened, affected profoundly by what we heard. How all of this came to be is a mystery, the Spirit moves where it wills but our gathering, in a circle, does have an impact on our collective experience of the Spirit. It truly makes this prayer, all of our prayers, “Ours”.