For the last three years, members of Epiphany have gone to public spaces like light rail stations, coffee shops, parks, street corners and shopping districts to offer the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday (for more info see epiphanybaltimore.org for video link and written reflection). When people have asked
There are elements of our rich Christian tradition that aren’t much of a stretch to share with our wider community. Each year we talk about ideas for creative evangelism (dare I use the “e” word), but most ideas don’t see the light of day. It’s weird, but even for an extrovert like me, it’s difficult to put myself out there in these out-of-the-ordinary contexts. It feels risky somehow, and more than a little outside even my comfort zone.
After lots of conversations, prayer and planning, I took a very small action step with this today in offering anointing and prayers for healing outside a local Panera. While this blustery cold January morning might not have been the wisest choice for an outdoor effort, it seemed a good idea when I set the date weeks ago before with my fellow co-rector, Kathryn Wajda.
Epiphany is a place that takes healing seriously. We have offered midweek healing Eucharists, have stations for healing every Sunday during worship, and have a list of people we pray for that is so long that it can leave you out of breathe if you pray the names aloud.
On Sundays we offer two services with communion, and even with strong lay leadership and a cadre of clergy, we could wait a long time before all the pews in our building are filled up for both liturgies (images of flying pigs come to mind). In a time when more and more people make the choice to not participate in a regular rhythm of worship, prayer, and faith formation in community, maybe God is calling us to take our faith to the streets in thoughtful, care-filled ways. No offense to passing out religious tracts that draw fear-filled lines of exclusivity or walking with placards condemning this group or that one, but that is not what I am talking about here.
The world in which we live in, the communities we inhabit, the families we are part of, even/ especially ourselves are in need of healing. That’s not to say that our churches don’t need healing too (because of course they do), but Jesus and his disciples did not spend most of their time hanging around the temple or synagogue waiting for people to show up. They went to where the people were and they preached and teached, healed and mealed, cast out and raised up. How much time do we spend as followers of Jesus just waiting, hoping that people will flow though our doors?
The choice for Panera was an obvious one for Epiphany because after our 8 o’clock service on most Sundays people gather at Panera for breakfast together. Parishioners didn’t mind the idea of having one of their clergy leave the altar to go out into the world in an effort to bring a loving witness and an offering of healing prayer to members of our community on their way to grab a coffee, danish, or breakfast sandwich. In fact some were even excited to see how it went when they arrived for their regular breakfast routine after worship. This seemed like a safe place to start such a ministry when many of our parishioners already call Panera “Epiphany West” (I’m considering a pilgrimage to St. Arbucks also, as well as a range of other neighborhood hotspots).
Well more than a hundred people walked back-and-forth from their cars, hurrying in from the cold. While only a few stopped for prayer, many made comments, and all were greeted with a warm “good morning” as they came to the doors. Lots had comments to make about the cardboard sign set beside me that read “May I offer prayers for healing for you or someone you love?” They said things like “How nice” or “God bless you.” The most popular was something akin to “Geez, it’s cold out here. Are you going to be okay?”
I couldn’t help but think about the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, Michael Curry, and his address to our General Convention a couple of years ago in which he challenged us all to become “crazy Christians”. I had the sneaking suspicion that a few people wanted to call me just that this morning.
Not only did more than a hundred people pass me by, but well over a thousand Canada geese in a bizarre migratory pattern also made their way past me as I sat shivering.As each beloved creature of God passed me by -friend and fowl alike- I found the intensity of my prayers escalating as I felt them ascend in heaven- bound spirals. While I would’ve much preferred to pray with more people, the opportunity to pray for all of these children of God really warmed my heart in spite of the cold.
Yes, it was cold, for sure. In fact, so cold that I could see my breath and probably every other person that shuffled past. Watching all this breath brought to mind the Hebrew word ruach- a word that I seem to remember means both breath and spirit. While I may have gone out this morning with the intention of bringing healing and love to the world, what I found myself left with was the even more profound reminder that God’s Spirit is present in each one of us in this breath of life. I needed that reminder that God is present and active in the world, and that we are called to first witness then engage with this powerful, life- giving Spirit that calls us to be healed and to heal others.
–the Reverend Kristofer Lindh-Payne
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