Thursday, May 30, 2013

Turning the Tables at Table Church

As I continue to post about Table Church, more people have asked what it is, so in part this is a flyover of what God is up to on Wednesday nights at 4th and Windsor Streets around 6:00. But first, let me tell you why you want to know. Because last night, after we had watched a snippet of the very popular "The Bible" series about Moses, one of the girls there who is about 10 got a quizzical look on her face and said-"It seems like God shows up on mountains when there are important things to say." So we then had a group conversation about other times God shows up on mountains and I asked where in the New Testament God shows up on a mountain that is connected to Moses, and it was one of our high school folk who knew it was the Transfiguration. Not the adults, not even the "cradle Lutheran" adults. A kid who long ago was a kid at the afterschool program and is now a gifted young person. But these two people taught us all. Golden moments happen on Wednesdays

So we started last year as a Lenten thing- evening Wednesdays- "bring a munchies, bring a friend." We had 5 the first week. By the end of Lent we had a max of just over 20 and talked about continuing in some way but for whatever reasons, we didn't get there. This year during Lent we started in the 20's and have on some occasions had in the 30's, but pretty consistently bounce around in the mid 20's every week. We gather with an opening liturgy where we light candles, and pray, and confess our failings in community and hear forgiveness. We talk about why there are candles, and the candles, bread and wine/grape juice are connected to the good news of Jesus. We bless our bread and wine/grape juice and commune each other. Then we eat what the community has brought to share and have conversation-all around tables in the shape of a cross.

Some weeks lots of homemade things bless us. Some weeks, people bring leftover food from office parties, or donuts on sale at the bakery outlet, or what you got at the grocery store because you had a little money and a little time. One week we were totally meatless and there was a plea for at least a little meat, please? There is always enough, but some weeks we have had to learn to trust and to wait. For some this is huge because insecurity is a way of life. I love watching this change.

Sometimes we sing some Taize songs, or paperless music. And sometimes we don't because we need to work on a better music component. But in any event, after dinner, we have a kind of informal study in a group that is decidedly intergenerational. We have talked about prayer, and stretched ourselves as pray-ers. We have used art, and small group times to engage what we are exploring. We have started to talk about our city and what we ought to try to do to bless where we are.

And at the request of one attender, we are now watching little bits of "The Bible" miniseries on DVD which he donated. We can then ask questions about the story, the people, hear parts left out, put things in perspective, and ask how we see God at work. So when we watched Abraham and heard how he is a very conflicted person and as one of the girls noted, often forgets about the people he is supposed to love, we could also ask what it says about God- that God would use really imperfect people to do God's work in the world.

We are a mix of all ages, backgrounds and abilities, and all levels of faith and faith formation. There are those who can read, and those who cannot, those who can move easily and those who cannot. Those who are financially Ok, and those who are not. Those who can bring food and those who cannot. Those who have gone to church their whole lives, and those who are still trying to figure it out, and those who have experienced "bad religion" but long to know God. And lots of people who are singles- widowed, divorced, separated, just here solo. I have learned a lot about real community from watching a large group of individuals ( as in not families) become family. That is a God thing for sure!

We have gotten more comfortable among our core group, as others move in and out depending upon work, and a lot of other factors in our transient neighborhood. And I have watched as Wednesday leads some to Sunday, or strengthens their walk, and how at least one other person has noticed that "the Wednesday people" look out for each other. We have gotten to a point where people can honestly share what they want us to pray for or celebrate- everything from upcoming surgery, or trouble at work, to prayers for tests in school, or fear about high school orientation.

We have had to remind ourselves that the concerns of all ages are worthy of being heard, but have also been able to be a support for those kids who come without adults but are drawn into our midst and we also can laugh together, and give hugs.

So on Wednesday nights, for about an hour and a half, we step out of the busy-ness and into a place where we are fed. And where I pray we continue to strengthen and grow in our own faith and together.

I titled this post "turning the tables"- in part because that is the first thing that happens to prepare our fellowship room for Table Church. But also because we are turning the tables on expectations of what is worship. Our time is decidedly relaxed, and a little chaotic when little kids are hungry. And when people are strolling in late, but the shape of faithful worship is there and there are people who are ready to light those candles, be readers, and serve as wine stewards. And with the exception of the wine, most of those are kids and people new to faith community- turning the tables on what we sometimes do which is to decide who is worthy, and who we will ask, and who will "do it right." And which prayers are the right ones.

And we turn the tables on what it means to share in the body- when you have turned and handed bread to someone, saying- "this is the body of Christ, given for you"  or have made the cross on someone's head and reminded them they are a child of God or have prayed with someone on a personal level- it turns the tables on incarnational community. "With us" and "for you"  are not just words we say, in a rote way- they are intimate.

The way I know this level of connection happens here is not only that I see changes in the group interaction, but when someone will be away, they say so- because it is important to them, and they believe it is important to the rest of us. Turning the tables on commitment and healthy accountability, and the common world vision that we are all just individuals moving through life.

So if you find yourself in our part of God's world on a Wednesday around 6- stop in- there's always a place at God's table- with us, for you.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

You're Just Who I Had in Mind -Let's Dance!

Many years ago, I endured one of the required social rituals of preadolescent youth in the ‘70’s, at least where I lived-dancing classes, or more precisely, “Cotillion classes.” Weeks of instruction for cultured young ladies and gentlemen in ballroom dancing, manners and social graces. Being 11 years old with glasses, and sufficiently uncoordinated, it was a terrible experience for me, and I suspect it was for most of the equally awkward boys with whom I tried to waltz, cha-cha, foxtrot and tango. Alternating between nervousness and boredom. I have gone on to enjoy dancing, but I still am not really very good at it, and I am certain it would take serious lessons with a very patient teacher to make me dance-worthy, much less reach the level of the people on “Dancing with the Stars.”  And just as much today as all those years ago, I would not be anyone’s likely choice for dancing partner.

And yet, despite my experiences, I find that dancing is a useful way of understanding the interaction of the Trinity- the persons of God with each other and with us. On this Sunday when we celebrate the majesty and mystery of God-Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I cannot fully explain how God is three Persons in One who are distinct yet undivided. And ballroom dancing will not show that either, but I think dancing is useful to show how God interacts.

In ballroom dancing, there is a “lead” and a “follow.” It takes two to dance- a “lead” and a “follow.” You cannot both lead- my toes remember that. And you cannot both follow.

Moving while maintaining unity also takes a framework- the phrase “being in frame” is dancing lingo for two moving as one. The “lead” starts the movement and the “follow” follows or responds. But even having a “lead” and a “follow” does not itself make a dance. It takes one thing more- music. Preferably not the drone of the instructor-“step, back, cha, cha, cha.” When there is a “lead” and a “follow” and music- there is a movement. A dance.

Brian McClaren and C.S. Lewis are two of the more modern writers who have spoken of God the Trinity as a dance. But the tune they are playing is not new. The early church writers described the Trinity in the same way, with the word “perichoresis.” A word that means dancing and circling around. A circling dance that reflects the community of being and where each person’s identity is distinct, yet moving as one. Together and around. The Trinity is that dance- an eternal, never ending dance of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the world. Showing mutual love, honor, happiness, joy and respect. This is God’s movement.

We see this in our lessons this day- God moving over the waters in creation, making springs burble forth, setting mountains in place and fixing clouds in the sky. God tracing the heavens- the sun, moon and stars with a fingertip. That image alone gives me goosebumps.  And then God moves placing fish in the sea, and placing them in schools to splash in the paths of the sea. More movement. Places animals in herds to travel the earth. Watch any of the documentaries about our planet, and the aerial views of what happens here is always showing life in movement. Even the Earth has a song.

Last year, NASA Science News reported that the Earth has a song- the sound of electromagnetic waves around the Earth hums. It is called a chorus. Imagine the broad moving dance of our planet with all of creation humming that tune. This captures the majesty of the language in Proverbs and Psalm 8 in a broad scale.

At the same time lately I’ve been looking at the dance of creation on a small scale in my backyard. In the dance of ants on peonies. If you have ever seen peony bushes and their flowers you know they always have ants. Every year when the peonies form buds there are groups of ants dancing on those buds as they sway in the breeze. The first time I had a peony bush I decided those ants needed to go and I sprayed. Overstepping my bounds. It did not affect the peonies but it did affect God’s arrangement. For years I was told that the ants come to eat open the outer shell on the bud so the plant will bloom. This is not true, but what is true is that those buds have a nectar that the ants can feast upon. For days they get to feast before God moves them on somewhere else in the dance.

But just in case we humans see ourselves as superior to the rest of creation, God’s world gives us other ways to see we too have a place in something much bigger. Years ago we traveled to Nova Scotia and I got the stand on the floor of the ocean in the Bay of Fundy. At low tide you can stand on the floor of the ocean and look up at rock formations towering 70 feet over your head, carved by the constant movement in and out of the water. But you better not be there when the tide comes in. It rushes in suddenly changing the water level by 54 feet! Being there blows your mind and gives that sense of the question we heard today- who are WE that God is mindful of us?

Who are WE that God is mindful of us?

It’s more than just noticing us- It’s not like God says “Oh look there are some humans over there.” God has us in mind.

The dancing Trinity has us in mind. And McClaren notes, God’s act of creation means God is inviting us into the dance. We are invited into the middle of God’s eternal dance- of mutual love, and honor, happiness, joy and respect. And unlike those awkward dance class days where we wonder if anyone will notice us or ask us- God’s whole vision is for all of us to join in the dance.

Sin sometimes makes our dancing difficult, one writer notes- we get out of sync, or frustrated. We step on toes or stomp around rather than moving with grace and reverence. We get in each other’s way. But then God in Jesus Christ came and comes more fully known to restore the rhythm and beauty again. And in the Holy Spirit we are reminded and guided, just as we hear this day in the gospel-

We will be guided into all truth. And invited to dance again and to reflect the God who makes the dance happen.

This is not only what blesses us, but gives us the capacity to rejoice in God’s presence and to delight in the dance with all humanity and all creation.

Again this day we celebrate because in the work of the Trinity, God says to each and to all

You’re just who I had in mind- Let’s dance!


Monday, May 20, 2013

The Power to be God's Church

Last week we were on vacation in Finland, which turns out to be an incredibly diverse place. Sitting in the train station I had one of the closest experiences to Pentecost I could imagine, hearing Finnish, Norwegian, Russian, Spanish, Chinese, and French, and probably other languages I didn’t even detect, all swirling at the same time. But what I really needed was someone who could help me in my language. Last Sunday in worship I tried to sing along to hymns in Finnish, but I had no idea what I was saying. I only picked out a few words- Hosanna, Jesus, amen. My friend Elise translated some of the sermon, but it was bits and pieces. And I really got a sense of what it meant to understand in one’s own language when I could not. The only thing I knew for sure was the body of Christ given for you and the blood of Christ shed for you at communion.

After worship, we met the pastor and learned the church’s history. It is called the Old Church. But originally it had no name. When the Tzar of Russia ruled the area, he decided people would be Lutheran and ordered a cathedral be built on the highest point in town. That church now is the National Cathedral. But while it was being built, there still needed to be A church-so this other church was built. But for years on maps it was identified only as "temporary church." Because it was only going to be the church until they built the real one. Like somehow God wouldn’t empower that place and those people.

After the cathedral was built, this wooden framed church remained active. The cathedral became the New Church, this other became the Old Church. Perhaps to the surprise of some. The painting behind its altar depicts Jesus blessing children. It was originally intended for the New Church but the tzar thought it too juvenile. Jesus creating family seemed not weighty enough. So it was placed at the temporary church. It wasn’t OK for the real church, but it was fine here. Like God wouldn’t use that art to show faith.

Despite not being the “real” church, now several hundred years later, both the Old Church, and the New Church are still there, as part of 5 churches in the Helsinki parish. Committed to a mission to make God’s love known and extend God’s family. A statement not so much about which people or which church, but a lot about the power of the Spirit!

And The Lutheran Church of Finland today works hard to produce resources not only in Finnish, but in the languages of the many others who have come to live there in a book called “To be a Christian.” Spanish, French, German, Russian, Chinese and more-languages through which to communicate God in ways others understand. Because this is God’s mission. It’s impressive.

But at the same time, the pastor of the Old Church explained that after worship they now have "Sharing time." It’s new. They gather chairs in a circle and invite people to stay for conversation and to learn each other's names. Because among the 100 or so people who worship on Sunday mornings, they don’t know each other well. They tolerate the children, and the old woman with dementia with food in her hair, and the young professionals, but they don’t connect. It seems that Finns are not big on asking each other first names. And since the city has changed so much, the old ways don’t work so well. The Old Church cannot be the Same Old Church.

When people keep to themselves, it’s hard to form community or talk about what it means to be Christians. The Pastor’s idea was seen as really shaking things up. No one apparently thought he was drunk when he announced it, but I was told that he was not raised Lutheran. It turns out before he was a Lutheran pastor he was … Pentecostal.

These experiences point up the dynamic we find ourselves in at times- we’re not sure what to consider temporary or permanent, old or new. In our wrestling with this, we don’t always really connect with each other. It’s like we speak different languages. We can look right past each other and past now, believing at times we know how God will act. Or that some other time past or future is what really matters.

In the end, those considerations turn out to say a lot about us and not really much about the grace and love of Jesus Christ or the power of the Holy Spirit we celebrate this day.

We live knowing Jesus has risen and will come again. But we live now. And in this time, we are really all temporary churches. But like the disciples we’re promised  the Holy Spirit to help us live out the mission. To be God’s church now.

Because living in the movement of things are constantly changing is not the easiest thing. The Book of Acts calls what happened that Pentecost a miracle. The fact that everyone could understand, each in their own way was a miracle. In all the languages of our lives, we hope to be understood and loved but how we communicate can seem like we’re really all speaking different languages. It’s just as likely that we and those around us imagine being able to connect with God and to be understood, and living in all this change takes nothing short of a miracle.

Into this place God sends the Spirit. And it starts with prayer.

What happened that day 3000 alone came to believe and the church began to spread, started with prayer. Those disciples gathered in the room were not all alike. Or inherently gifted. They came from different perspectives, not always seeing eye to eye, waiting for Jesus, but not quite sure what’s coming next or what to make of it. And really by nature not of one mind. But when they gathered and prayed, God entered.  The promised power of the Spirit came in prayer. And I suspect not as they expected. Coming to and working through all kinds of people, with wind blowing and fire flaming, and amidst them the voice of God stirring it up. The power of God transcended it all as those languages burst forth and people began to understand God’s language- love for all. That is still God’s mission.

We are a part of this chapter of God’s power and mission. Sometimes we talk about figuring out the church’s mission.

I think Pentecost reorients that conversation. God has a mission-go and make disciples of all nations, draw people into relationship. This is God’s mission. The gift of the Holy Spirit is not a mission. God doesn’t give the church a mission. God gives the mission a church. And gives us the power and a place in it. To be what God’s wants here and now. Even when it feels temporary, uncertain, unpredictable, or unfamiliar.

And God gives us a language of love, power and grace. And the connection to it all is prayer. Part of why I shared the stories of Finland is I saw connections to this place. In the history of God in this place, the Spirit blew and people were convinced that there would be a Sunday school. But then, not just a Sunday school chapel, but a real church. And the Spirit has continued to blow, using a rich variety of people and ways to help people grow in Christian faith and unity. Not to make us all be the same, or speak the same, but to draw us together in the Spirit as God’s family in all its diversity. And I continue to be amazed at the work of the Spirit in and through you!  We’re a small group through which God affects many. Young and old, new and long time, and everything in between. God’s Spirit is still moving, bringing power. My prayer is that God continues to stir us to be the Church that dares to call itself the Church of the Holy Spirit-reminded of our mission and the gift of community, proclaiming the Good news of God’s love, power and grace.
And I pray this will be our prayer -together.     

Friday, May 17, 2013

Powering down, Porvoo, and Final Looks

After the sojourn to Tallinn, complete with a return home in the fog ( which I must say was mildly rattling- you know you potentially could hit something when the foghorn is on fairly rapid repeat and you can see nothing out the window)- we decided to power down.
The girls were thrilled with the chance to SLEEP IN! After all, they did come straight from finals, and they are not normally morning people by choice. In the morning while they caught up on sleep, we walked into the Esplanade and had a leisurely coffee and bun at the Café Jugend. It is conveniently right by tourist information for those who might travel there, and is also one of the places with the large and lively sidewalk café areas. And on sunny days, the chairs end up all arrayed to face the sun and drink coffees, tea, wine, what have you. Later Cat and I did this and it kind of felt like we were lizards sunning, but happy lizards.
I got a chance to take some more of those pictures that filled my Facebook page.
Then we got the girls to be awake and vertical and took an afternoon bus to Porvoo.
Before saying anything about Porvoo, I must say that Finland has the most amazing transport system and for things like city buses, trains, trams, and ferries, there is a website you can visit where you pick your method of transport, intended destination and time desired and it will tell you all routes and ways, and also where there are disruptions. And getting day, multi day, or week passes is absolutely the way to be. You don't even have to show them all the time, just get on and off. But know that if they ask, you best have in on your person or there is an 80 euro fine.
But really, it says a lot about the Finns that this system exists, and works.
On the other hand, for buses out of the city, there is another website, though equally useful, and we could know the when and where of both local and express buses to and from.
We did learn that city buses and non-city buses leave from different stations. Which we had been told but forgot, but in spite of ourselves we were on the express to Porvoo, on time and on our way.
I suspect however that Michael secretly was a doubter until he finally saw a road sign that said Porvoo. After all, we were not in Helsinki anymore, and there was that possibility I had got it wrong.
You can also travel by ferry to Porvoo, though the trip is longer, and on a cool or breezy day, it will not feel like the best option.
When we arrived at Porvoo, on yet another sunny day, we decided that lunch was in order, and after walking the short blocks from the bus station, we were in the old town of Porvoo in all its glory. Seeing a café that offered "comfort food" we decided to enter Hanna Maria, which was exactly as billed- large and very tasty portions of lightly battered whitefish, pork in a tomato sauce, mashed potatoes, and my favorite- salmon and potato soup!  I later learned that fish soup was the culprit in starting the Great Fire of 1760 started by a cook making fish soup.
In any event, every one thoroughly enjoyed the food, which came with some choices for salad, and fresh bread, and homemade ale or water. And coffee- always, coffee. It is estimated that each Finn consumes 10 litres of coffee per year.
Feeling comforted and nourished and restored, we moved on to walk through the old town of Porvoo, which, like Tallinn, is an exquisite slice of history, as well as a great center for art and handicrafts. We of course went to Porvoo Cathedral which took its present form in the late 1400's. While we there the organist was practicing for an upcoming concert. The cathedral plays an important role in Finnish history since it is here that the Diet of Porvoo met in1809, setting the stage for Finnish autonomy. When the tzar visited, the townspeople had constructed a walkway from his lodging to the cathedral some blocks away so he would not have to suffer the indignity of getting his feet wet!
The house where the tzar stayed also hosted Swedish King Gustav III but apparently he did NOT get a walkway.
Many of the other structures date from the 1700's and serve as galleries, shops and museums
Walking around the stone streets that slope down toward the river, one can appreciate both the view and a look into another time. Along the river are deep red painted shorehouses that were used to store cargo for onloading and offloading from ships. There is also statues dedicated to Albert Edelfelt and J.L. Runeberg. Edelfelt was an artist who went off to Paris to study art, but immortalized views of Porvoo in his paintings. Runeberg was the national poet, and is not only the subject of a statue, but a Day in February, and Runeberg torte, a tasty treat with raspberry filling.
Since we heard that a trip to Brunberg candy was in order, we stopped by only to see the tiny place swarmed with Indian tourists. We did sample the salted licorice only to learn we were not fans. As we left, we connected with Elise, who as schedules would have it was on a work day trip to Porvoo!
After we had a good laugh, she shared that they had just had yummy treats at Café Cabriole. And since it was by the bus station, we headed over for a coffee and treats- caramel apple cake, chocolate pinapple torte with raspberry and vanilla sauces, a chocolate cherry tart and the necessary Runeberg treat! Of course part of the fun was ordering based upon what you thought you might be getting, and each was not only beautiful to look at but definitely worth the recommendation.
After our bus ride home, dinner at home- even on vacation there is a "clean out the fridge" night. And  sauna time!
And then for our last full day, we took in last experiences. we had been walking around our island in one direction, and decided to take the opposite side. Not only were we
 rewarded with great views of the harbor, but also the ice breaker fleet. I was reminded of the sign I had seen as we were motoring through the commercial port area- " We make, and you break- the ice."
We walked through the shops and the necessary pilgrimage to Stockmann, the flagship department store. Mainly window shopping but checking out all the fashion, and buying a Moomin mug and Angry Birds mug for the girls-each Finnish cartoons.
Finally we were treated to an invite for dinner at Elise's place. She met us at the train station and we traveled on one of the new trains to her neighborhood. There are many areas where the buildings of condos and apartments are clustered around walking paths, park areas, shops and transit. As the transit line moved farther out, the development was planned accordingly- what a concept, eh?
We took a short walk from the train stop to Elise's condo, and enjoyed a yummy dinner on her terrace for the official "opening of the terrace" since the weather was nice! And we got to sample cloudberries with ice cream and cloudberry liqueur along with our meal. we walked through the area for walking/biking/running, and a community garden area where some plots were well underway and others not so much- rhubarb was up and onions and potatoes started.
We were absolutely blessed to be able to spend time with Elise on our trip- she helped us get oriented, and shared her time and her insights, and her hospitality. Our trip to Finland would have been a good one, but her accompanying us in so many ways, offered us a depth of experience we could not have otherwise had. While we had known each other her one semester at LTSG, we both agreed this time was a great extension of that connection now several years ago and I hope to return the favor someday!
And it was great to see Finland when there is sun and grass. My two prior trips were in January. Even now there is not much dark time. At the height of winter, it is never brighter than dusk and in the height of summer, in some places, it is never dark. On a personal note I was glad to know that I had not only packed the right adapter and surge protector, I packed the right neck protector. In Finland, everyone has a neck scarf, either around their neck or tied to a bag- men and women. As someone who only travels with a carryon- neck scarves allow me to believe I am really not wearing that black top again.
Finally, I must say that I asked us all to go out on a bit of a limb and use AirBnB to find a flat, rather than book a hotel. Helsinki is a delightful place. Helsinki is an expensive place for lodging. We probably would not have taken the trip if we had to book two hotel rooms for the week at 200 euro a night. And we were not euro hosteling it.
Our booking exceeded expectations in every way and provided a wonderful base. If you are looking to travel, it is a viable option. And now, having returned on another delightful Finnair flight, it is time to do laundry and write that sermon...

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Escape to Estonia

Escape to Estonia is what many Finns might call it. There is this fascinating thing- Russians come to Finland for better groceries and Finns go to Estonia for cheap alcohol. I am not sure what people go to Russia for. Anyway, we managed to successfully navigate the trams to the Tallink terminal and were surprised just how many people were there for a Monday. Going over it was mainly senior citizens and some families. And lots of cars and trucks carrying various loads of people and merchandise. As soon as people hit the ferry the shopping and eating began along with some low level drinking and gambling albeit at 10:30 a.m. We found that the cushiest couch was in the pub by the door to the outside where the smokers went. The wind was however blowing away from us which made it a nice hangout. When we arrived a couple hours later, it had, disappointingly started to drizzle which reminded us we had all left umbrellas and jackets behind. First stop was for two light jackets and one discount umbrella- orange, brown and turquoise is apparently not a popular color combo- it  was cheap.
Once we found our way into the Old City, things were great. However, compared to Finland, Estonia is a bit of a mystery. Not only are there few signs, they are not at all travel friendly, with the exception of the large and very clearly marked bars, super alcohol stores, and my favorite combo- the alcohol, tobacco, exotic dancing and hookah lounge.
We eventually meandered in the right way, but there could have been more to guide us.
Our persistence paid off, however with the absolute historical treasure trove of the old city. I easily took over a hundred pictures and could have taken many more. The stores, churches, and concentration of buildings is quite impressive. It actually took some time for us to take it in, and to let the swarm of people headed for eating and drinking to get started. I am not criticizing these behaviors but there really was a swarm effect. And in some ways, there was a Ren Faire meets Epcot quality at times in the main square's activities.
There are however, many sidewalk cafes, and shops, as well as people dressed in period-ish costumes leading street games, and serving food. There were also some good shops with handicrafts in addition to the requisite souvenir shops.
Once we wandered around the main streets and side alleys, we were ready for a coffee and treat break. While there was one shop that heralded its mention in the New York Times, we found a less well traveled but delightful shop with caramel cake, Sacher torte, and tasty cappuccinos and macchiatos. And it was peaceful.
As our time went on, we found the Holy Spirit Church which was a must-see for me, and after talking with the docent, and explaining I was a Lutheran Pastor of a Holy Spirit Church, was given a chance to stand in the pulpit, and access the chancel normally roped off from tourists. The triptych at the altar originally contained additional folding panels which were closed during Lent, showing only Christ and Saint Elizabeth of Thüringen. The full panels then when opened depict the blood emanating from Christ becoming the sacrament and imagery of the work of the cross.
The central portion of the altarpiece depicts the miracle at Pentecost.
In addition to the altarpiece, the other interesting note was the pulpit which not only contained carved imagery of the evangelists, but as I stood in the pulpit and looked up, over head was the dove of the Holy Spirit, however, unlike other depictions, this one only shows the underside of the bird's belly and feet above the preaching spot.
As we were heading back to the port, school was letting out, and I wondered what it must be like the grow up in this town, surrounded by history but also large crowds of drunks. When we returned to the ferry the crowd on the ride home was significantly different. It was mainly men, who were returning from the day or longer. There were men pushing around shopping carts heaving with cases of beer and other alcohol. One whole end of the ferry was a collective alcohol metabolizing area so it seemed. And there were a few women coming and going. Given that it was Monday I wondered what the weekend must look like.
When we returned, and hopped the tram, I noticed a man who looked like an aging rocker from the 70's- Long reddish hair, black trench coat and T-shirt, and jeans with black and white two tone spiked shoes, and lots of rings. He was pushing a luggage cart with four cases of beer. As he tried to drag the cart onto the tram, the cases slid, and one tore, sending spurting and spinning beer cans on the tram, as the rest collapsed in a heap. He began muttering in Finnish and repeated efforts to shore up the beers failed. The beer began to trickle through the tram where we were seated. As he hoped someone would solve his beer problem he began scooping up cans and offering them around, and then switched to English saying this was the first time he ever bought beer from Tallinn. At each stop as the door opened a beer rolled out. When we left he was still trying to salvage the rest of his purchase. At least for him the escape to Estonia did not have the ending he hoped.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day in Finland-who knew?

Another delightfully sunny day here in Helsinki. We checked the route planner site for the Number 4 tram so we could know when to be at the stop and when we'd arrive in relationship to when we wanted to be at the church where we were meeting Elise. True to American mentality, our daughters wondered why we were at the church about 25 minutes before the service would start- because that's when the tram runs. Some of us (me) spent the time walking around the park that surrounded Vanha Kirkko (The Old Church). Public spaces like this are popular gathering places for picnics by day and informal partying by night, as the left behind evidence of cigarette packs, beer boxes, a pizza box and other items strewn among the  grave stones suggested. Already there were two men clearing it all up before church.
When we came into the church, I was struck by that fact that it, like the National Cathedral was plainly designed, except for the organ, the altar and the pulpit which were gold leafed and ornate. I later learned that both the old and newer churches were designed by the same man. We were not greeted by the greeters but were given worship books with small worship folders. At the front of the church, all of the hymns and liturgical pieces were listed on four very large boards. The bulletins themselves are reused week to week. No printing of the entire service in the bulletin.
It being Mother's Day there was a special choir performing as well as the organist, and the music was outstanding. In Finland, all church musicians are provided extensive training in music and performance, there being no such thing as an itinerant musician. All are then employed by the Church.
The presiding pastor welcomed everyone explaining that we were having special Mother's Day music by the second best choir. Not sure what that was about but they were great! Elise sat next to me translating parts of the service so I could follow. I did manage to sing the hymns in Finnish though I could only pick out a few words- Hosanna, Jesus, Lord, amen. It was very different listening to a whole sermon in a language I do not understand and getting a synopsis. But apparently the opening story in the sermon had to do with a mother who used to be critical of her daughter and what she picked out to wear to school when she was a teen, and then someone pointed out to her that the last words her daughter heard every morning before school were negative. She didn't believe that it was a different time. She decided to change after this and her observation that one day when she picked her daughter up she saw that she was dressing like all the other girls her age- times had changed. The rest segued into the reading from John about the Holy Spirit and who we believe and how we respond. I think.
At one point in worship the parish announcements about children baptized and people who had died was provided. The custom is that baptisms occur in the home or after worship on a Saturday or Sunday. It is the law that all children be baptized or at least their names registered within three months of birth.
After worship, worshippers were invited to stay for coffee and Mothers Day cake and mothers were given roses. A large porch area as well as some indoors tables in the stairwell were set up. After cake and coffee, we met the preaching pastor, Pastor Arto. Arto, being Arthur in Finnish. He shared that this church, called now the Old Church, originally had no name. It was intended by the Tzar that the Lutheran church would be adopted and a cathedral built, and that it should be built on the highest point. That church now is the National Cathedral. But while it was being built, there still needed to be a church and so this church was built. And on maps for years it was identified only as "temporary church." Because it was only temporary. But then after the cathedral was built, this wooden framed church remains, and since the cathedral was the New Church, this other became the Vanha or Old Church. And the painting behind the altar of Jesus blessing children was originally intended for the New Church but the tzar thought it too juvenile, so it was placed here at the temporary church.
Pastor Arto noted that after worship they are having a "Sharing time" where they gather chairs in a circle in the nave and invite people to stay and have conversation and learn each others' names. About 100 or so people worship on Sunday mornings but they do not know each other well. And it seems that Finns are not big on asking each other first names. As a result, people keep to themselves and it hard to form community. Now they have a way to get beyond culture and relate.
Not all that different from people back home.
The Old Church is one of 5 churches in the Helsinki parish. They collectively publish a weekly newspaper of events in all of the churches and in the city, as well as individual flyers for individuals parishes.
After some hugs, we moved on to get changed and head to Suomenlinna, the island fortress by ferry. As we were waiting for our tram back to our flat, a specially painted silver tram with decorations pulled up, and the doors opened. There was a singing group on the tram and others handing out roses to all the women for Mother's Day. They stayed for about a verse of their song and then moved on, as spontaneously as they had arrived.
Every where you looked there were women with flowers and the shops were all closed this day.
When we took the full ferry out to the island, we assumed that it would not be very full and that the places to eat there would be open and available. Wrong.
Lots of people had some with friends and family for picnics. Still others had booked up all the restaurants that take bookings. And it turns out there are a fair number of people who live on the island in the historic housing.
But we did find one of a couple small cafes that offered light fare. We got the last of the bowls of tomato mozzarella soup, and some other light treats. It was all very tasty and arty, as we sat surrounded by glass and fabric art for sale in a small renovated outbuilding called Café Icecellar.
Suomenlinna began to be constructed in the 1700s when Finland was still a part of the Kingdom of Sweden and is listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site. The guns still face west as a reminder of later Russian rule in the 19th century. It is built on separate islands off of the coast of Helsinki and has served as a base in the war of Sweden and King Gustav II against Russia which later would surrender to the Russian army in 1808. It then served as a Russian garrison for 108 years. It was badly damaged in the Crimean War. In 1906 a rebellion was a part of the Russian revolutionary movement.
On December 6, 1917 Finland declared independence. During the Finnish Civil War a prison camp was set up and the fortress was then overtaken by the Finnish government in 1918 and renamed Suomenlinna.
Also located here is the Suomenlinna Church which was built as a Russian Orthodox church but later converted to an Evangelical Lutheran Church, and doubles as a lighthouse. It is ringed in upended cannons. One of the museums on island is the Military Museum showing weaponry an uniforms of Finnish defense over time.
As we walked around outside, one could see people flying kites, taking advantage of the breezy day, and children and families out for picnics and dinners.
After we returned home, we could see Dads and kids at our little play area, and I began to make dinner for us since, of course, we did not have a booking. But spaghetti and salad and artisanal bread are on offer. All of which I could start once I figured out the wall switch for the stove circuit. :)
And our roses are in the vase.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Finnish Adventure-Part 2

After breakfast, we met up with Elise, who I met when she and I were both studying at THE Lutheran Seminary at Gettysburg. She has lived in Helsinki for over 20 years and graciously met us at our flat, bearing maps, and walking tour information, and assistance of all kinds, prepared to share her city with us.
We began by walking to Uspenski Cathedral, taking in its beauty and breathing in the scent of the many beeswax candles lit by visitors. I still think of the long version of the Exultet and thanking God for the bees that make the wax for the candle. But, I digress...It did offer a chance for me to show Alex Old Church Slavonic, an earlier form of the modern Russian she is studying. From the elevation of the cathedral, there was an expansive view of much of the city and harbor area.
From there, Elise showed us around the city, pointing out which ferry terminals go to Stockholm, and various landmarks, including the Diocese House, and buildings for the Lutheran Church in Finland. She took us through the market in the harbor where I learned that the "fish from Lapland!" are actually a specific and tasty fish. We journeyed past some of the oldest buildings, to Senate Square, where we saw the University of Helsinki, the Ministry of the Treasury, and the national Cathedral (Lutheran) where she became a part of the roster of the church. On the way into the cathedral we were interviewed as a part of the EU's money at work, a survey about tourism and spending behaviors. Our interviewer was a student at University from England who hopes to stay in Finland beyond graduation.
We stopped at a local market where I got a lesson in labels, so we can avoid future mixups, and we purchased some Karelian pies and blueberry pastries to have with coffee and tea at her office. The Karelian pies are rye flour pastry and rice concoction- we now mark that off our bucket list! They were tasty!
Over our treats, we talked about the Lutheran church in Finland and how in part its commitment to each parish having a pastor, and also youth workers and deacons, lift up the post World War II importance of helping young men find work to do, as well as caring for youth. It was fascinating to learn about pastors spending the day at places of employment and in schools, providing care, and the thousands of people who are employed by the Church- over 20,000!
We also saw that unlike in this country, the Church has developed faith formation resources that all parishes use, not only for indigenous language speakers, but also various immigrant- Russian, Chinese, Spanish-speaking, etc. And how these same resources are available online. Sparing people from having to create curriculum much less do it in a variety of languages. !! It is entitled "To be a Christian in Finland" and explains not only basics of Christian belief, but also the church in Finland particularly. She and her co-workers are helping provide the faith to youth in wonderful ways!

After our respite, we went on to purchase couple day passes for transit, a SIM card for a prepaid phone Elise is sharing with me, and tickets for the ferry to Estonia. We traveled on the very efficient Metro system where the trains really DO run on time. We also made a pilgrimage to the mecca- not just to Marimekko, but to their outlet! And then followed it up with lunch at a yummy Thai/sushi buffet.
Elise rode the tram with us that circled around the city, providing a good overview we could not get on foot , including the Olympic stadium and botanical gardens, the Russian embassy, and the new Music centre. And she took us to the Kammpi Chapel, a new interdenominational chapel that looks like the hull of an ark, and is intended for be a place of silence. When you enter the worship space, you are enveloped by the curving space of the hull of alderwood circling round, and it is totally silent. As we exited, we noticed that the doors are many inches thick, which literally shuts out noise from outside. Various churches are scheduled to be present and to lead worship on different days at set times, and there is a booklet of information that explains the symbolism and meanings of the church to those unchurched or unsure.
We also then visited the Church on the Rocks, literally hewn from rock, where frequently water runs down the side walls We caught part of a free piano concert before leaving. At then back of the church, In addition to information about the church, there were prayer cards in about 15 different languages- we picked up Russian and Spanish.

Tomorrow, we will be meeting her for worship at the Old Church, and going to their coffee time following, then it is on to Suomelinna by ferry. We also learned that on Mother's Day the groceries are closed and many restaurants are heavily booked. Good to know before hand! We then discovered, thanks to Elise, the location of the underground shopping mall beneath the railway station which is open until late at night. Important since all the others had closed by that time. We had the chance to shop more knowledgeably and then to catch the tram home- it conveniently stops right at our place!
Not feeling like venturing far for dinner, I Googled our island, and we found Wellamo, a very small but tasty place a few blocks from us. Grilled goat cheese on bruschetta and greens with fresh and sundried tomatoes in vinaigrette were perfect!
Then we came back and tested out our sauna- a great reward for a busy but delightful day! We simply cannot say enough how grateful we are to Elise for such a wonderful day, seeing and experiencing in a way we would not have otherwise been able to- it was a real treat! We have also been blessed by sunny days so far-and moderate temperatures in the low 60's. Each morning I can sit in our living room or on our porch and watch the birds tending their nest and give thanks for the beauty of the day.

We have purchased tickets for travel by Tallink to travel on Monday to Talinn, Estonia by ferry for the day.

Blessings for this Lord's Day to you all-give thanks for those who have raised you to be who you are this day!

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Finnish Adventure-Part 1

Thursday morning we began our adventure by being picked up by our van driver to take us to JFK for our flight. Reading, PA people-all I can say is thank God for DeSantis. The driver was amazing which is good because traffic and construction were a bear. Conveniently we are all veteran travelers, so getting through TSA was not too maddening. Finnair is a delightful airline whose flight attendants have uniforms designed by Finnish designers, though unfortunately we did not have the Marimekko plane. ;) Flying on Ascension Day must be the trick because the flight could not have been smoother. Alex and I watched international films and were laughing hysterically at a German film whose English title was "The Breakup Man." We highly recommend it.
When we arrived at Helsinki Vaanta, we caught the Finnair bus to the train station in the city center. Things I did not think about. Knew my cellphone was not international. Forgot that this would include my Wi-Fi hotspot. We had made a plan to meet the owner of our apartment at 11, but being extra cautious, I wanted to confirm by phone before we traveled on. Of course my gmail had that conversation too far down to retrieve without Wi-Fi. I decided to try the pay as you need internet, but Google kept insisting that I verify since I was out of country and all the instructions were in Finnish. Eventually, a couple euros poorer, I suggested we grab a cab.
Now, I really should point out that there is a story about fear and trust here. I had gone out on a limb and booked through AirBnB much to the grimacing of my Beloved who was convinced this would turn out badly. We found a cheery and well fitted out flat in a neighborhood just beyond city centre, about a 10 minute walk. On the map it looked farther away because it is on a separate island. More anxiety. What if we got out there and the owner was not there? I did not have a working cell. And could not check emails. Eventually, we just got the cab and went out. We got out and discovered we were on the sidewalk and the two men chatting out front were not who we were looking for, now about 10 minutes late.
We knew that we were meeting the owner's father. But then we also noticed that while we had an address of 2 Merikamasatu, there was a building 2B and 2C... so Michael walked up to the next building and there was Pauli, a gracious older gentleman, waiting and ready to show us our home. All that fretting for naught. The place is in fact even nicer than hoped, and within walking distance of two markets, the harbor, Uspenski Cathedral, the Market, and the Esplanade, and in short, it's perfect!
Our building and others share a common courtyard, and playground as well as recycling area, and the tram is just outside the door. And perhaps most importantly, we have our own sauna!
After powering down for a couple hours, and showering, we headed out to the market to buy some essentials for breakfast and a snack. And the adventures began. We wanted skim milk. I found milk that was 1% maito, which I assumed was 1% milk. But then how to know, of the other two options which was whole milk and which was not. Mystery solved by reading the nutritional box and figuring out fat content. We decided to get some rolls for breakfast and later discovered they were actually meat pies. But we found yummy yogurt and cheese and grapes, and stevia for my coffee, and what Michael thought was sugar for his.
This morning's discovery is that he really bought something like cream of wheat. If you are on FB you can see the humorous surprise photos.
Yesterday afternoon we walked through the harbor market, with its requisite souvenir sellers and food vendors including places serving up hot food mainly comprised of "Fish from Lapland!" which apparently is a big deal. We watched the cruise ships with tourists to and from Sweden and Russia. And grabbed cappuccino at Signora's, which is a tiny Italian coffeeshop, selling not only coffee but Italian culinary items, ranging from "real" pasta and sauces to a variety of jarred fruits and preserves and treats preserved in limoncello. We are a bit of an oddity, the American family on holiday in Helsinki in May. So we have great conversations about the Finnish economy, and the grousing about how, without the Russians plowing 3 million euro in touism and business, the Finns would be in the tank. And how Russian is replacing Swedish as the second language to Finnish and English. Which of course thrills our Russian student, Alex.
We were blessed with warmer and sunnier weather than anticipated. So we took advantage of the chance to saunter around. We made plans for a nice restaurant the first night and decided on Kareli which was celebrating Asparagus weeks, and also had a varied and interesting menu. We are here for the white asparagus time. I had some grilled as a starter but decided not to have the all asparagus prix fixe menu. Everyone is very helpful and proud to share suggestions about places to visit and how to get there.
Up today is a visit from Elise who I met in seminary. It makes me look so continental to my kids that I "know" someone in Finland.
Tomorrow we plan to attend church and then take the boat out to Suomelinna, and tour the island and fortress. Also on our list are  taking the bus out to Porvoo, and possibly the ferry to Tallinn, Estonia. But then again the circus is in town, and that sounds intriguing.
All in all, it has been 30 years since I have been here, but navigating is not as hard as I expected even for this old brain. More to follow!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Come-Be at Home Together

Grace and peace to you, my sisters and brothers in Christ, and I bring you greetings from Holy Spirit Lutheran, your fellow members of the Reading Lutheran Parish at 4th and Windsor. My name is Pastor Carolyn and the first thing I want to share with you is that I am not “from here.” In fact we were joking before worship as someone asked me that exact question. It’s one of the ways we all start conversation with someone new. Are you “from here?” I am not. Most obviously because I am not your pastor here at Nativity. And in fact I have only been at Holy Spirit for 21 months. But I am also not from Reading, or even Berks County. And though I came here from Lancaster County, I learned that even though I lived there for 24 years that is not quite long enough to be from there either. In fact I have lived in three different states, and at about 15 addresses, and to be honest I am not sure where I would say I am from. All of our readings today lift up some aspect of the concept of “home.” For almost two years now, I can tell you that I consider Reading to be my home. We have been settling in to a new house, and a new neighborhood and settling in at the church, and as this has been happening in this part of our journey together, I am reminded of a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. He was speaking to a group of high school students over 50 years ago as they were about to embark on the next part of their journeys, and trying to figure out how they fit into a changing world, and he said, “ We may all have come here on different ships, but we are in the same boat now. “  We are in the same boat now.

I think that not only could be said about our journeys, but also about the part of the Book of Acts we are catching up with today which begins, ironically with a ship story and a journey. Paul and his companions have been traveling around the Mediterranean, and while they have some ideas where they want to go, sometimes God redirects them. Traveling into parts of the world where seaports draw together people from lots of different places, and a mixing of ideas as well as trade. Many people drawn to a particular place from a variety of backgrounds and on journeys. The journey of the earliest followers continuing almost as incredibly as it began, when Jesus said, “Come, follow me.” Now in this chapter, Paul has a dream of a man saying, “Come, help us.” And on the strength of that alone, and very little concrete stuff, they embark upon a several days’ journey. And led by the Spirit, they encounter Lydia and her household and they baptize them.

And in baptism, though they have come on different ships, they are in the same boat now. And so it is for us. We are in the same boat, together with Christ in the power and work of the cross and in our baptism. Even your architecture reminds you- if you look up at those exposed beams that curve like the upended shape of a ship. We are in the boat together. And we as the churches of the Reading Lutheran Parish have been partnering together for a very long time. Recently the leaders of the churches here in the city met to ask the question where God is sending us together now? How can we continue to provide a strong Lutheran witness now? What ministries for the sake of the gospel should we undertake? As a part of that discernment, we are now creating a separate nonprofit group called Reading Lutheran Parish which will allow us to more effectively work together in shared ministries in addition to the ministries we undertake as individual congregations. It is another step in the journey. And in some ways this is already what we do. In fact, Nativity already plays a vital role in a ministry of Holy Spirit. Some of you may know, but others may not. Holy Spirit runs an afterschool program called the Doves Nest, three days a week during the school year in which we provide a meal afterschool, as well as homework and literacy tutoring, and other activities. Most of our food comes from the Food Bank, but on occasion we suspend that food because a yummy meal is provided by some of you here at Nativity. We always look forward to it and it is a real blessing! I want to share my thanks for your hospitality and your gift to others for the sake of the gospel. Everyone knows a home-cooked meal is best!

And today we are sharing in this Pastor Exchange with a chance to worship and share together. And I thank you for your hospitality to me today- pretty much a stranger-graciously receiving me, and providing assistance, a drink of cool water, and directions to the bathroom. Simple but gracious hospitality.  We really are in the boat together.

But as easily as I can say that, and it sounds wonderful, the truth is that sometimes we don’t want to be in the boat together. If you have ever been on the “too long vacation” or had the guests that stayed too long, you know. We know who we are supposed to be, but by nature we want our own space. Even Paul feels that way- Lydia’s invitation was not welcomed at first. Paul and his companions were kind of like, “No, that’s OK.” But she insisted. Just as the Spirit at work in Paul drives him to these new places, at the same time the Spirit at work in Lydia brings this surge of hospitality as she invites them to Come- Come to my house. And finally they give in.

And here is where I think that the Book of Acts gives us some useful lessons for our journey. Lydia’s invitation is more than “come to my house.” She is speaking about relationship. She’s saying- Come be at home.  In baptism we are in a new relationship. She is living that belief. Once my family and I were on one of those “too long” vacations to Prince Edward Island. Partway through we stayed at a bed and breakfast in farm country. And the owner had offered to make us dinner, pointing out that places to eat were few and far between. We reluctantly decided to say yes, and expected a simple meal. But he went out of his way- going to the dock for a bushel of fresh mussels, and to the next farm over for fresh dug potatoes, and to another friend for fresh wild blueberries to make a blueberry crisp. It was overwhelming hospitality for the couple days. But by the time we left we had this sense of belonging. We were changed. It felt like home.

Lydia’s hospitality to basically total strangers is an invitation to be “at home” together. It is a deepening of relationship through the Spirit. In baptism they and we are on a journey, but at the same time we are invited and empowered by the Spirit to be “at home” together. In Christ and with each other. It is a deeper understanding of “home.”  We who believe that Christ is with us, are empowered to live into the notion that while we are on a journey, we are at home because “home” is wherever God calls us and wherever God finds us. *

As we continue on together as the Reading Lutheran Parish and in our congregations, I pray that God will continue to draw us deeper into the notion of being “at home” in Christ together. AMEN.

* Thanks to Dr Kristin Johnston Largen for her work on the concept of "home" and being at home in the world published in the Spring 2013 Seminary Ridge Review of Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary!