I was silent for 8 minutes and 46 seconds yesterday. I stood there with thousands of others outside the court house in my hometown. It is the same court house where now Senator Lamar Alexander kicked off his presidential campaign. Before then, the biggest event ever to happen in my hometown was when Sam Houston introduced himself to Andrew Jackson. Yesterday was one of those events. And it was a worship experience. It was Church. It was one of St. James’ “pure and undefiled” religious experiences.
What Happened To Church?
I have not attended Sunday evening worship services in a long time. I am a mainline Protestant, after all. They have ended for the most part. At the present time, the church building where I attend is closed. We now are making plans to reopen and worship within them again. I have “gone to church” via online worship both pre-recorded and live streamed. Each morning I have had private devotions. Kathryn and I held a brief service of Holy Communion together once. Attending worship “in person” had not happened for me since March 8th. Nothing else is quite like worshipping in person. (See the entry Re-opening the Church)
And then there was a call.
It was a call that responded to cries from the hearts of those who are in pain. It was a response to a plea for life. We can say it was a divine call. Or we can say it was a response from people of good conscience. We can also say both. I attended an “online” meeting the day before to get more information. I already knew I would attend. Other people and I say, “The Church is not closed. We are being the Church.” Now was the time to uphold that statement of faith. (See also my entry Peace, Peace, When There Is No Peace.)
What Happened At Church
Yesterday’s worship was definitely “high church.” It began with a procession. Hundreds of people walked for an hour holding signs and masked in 90F heat. When the procession arrived to the worship site those of us who had already gathered stood in welcome. We applauded the marchers as they brought the Word of God to the steps of the Court House. They demonstrated the Scripture and carried the Message.
There was a word of welcome. We prayed. The Covenant For A Better Community was read aloud. There were testimonies. Someone sang. But it was the Response to the Word that was the most important part of the service for me.
The response was the 8 minutes and 46 seconds of remembering and silent mourning for George Floyd and every other person of color killed by unnecessary police violence. We stood. I removed my hat out of respect. And then, instead of closing my eyes and bowing my head in prayer, I looked around.
What I Saw
I saw people with whom I regularly attended church. I saw other clergy people. One clergy member was someone with whom I visited the Holy Lands. We had witnessed there the terrible treatment of Palestinian Muslims and Christians by the Israeli government. He and I had stayed one night behind the wall that surrounded the “little town of Bethlehem.”
I saw Muslim women with their heads covered standing in silent witness for justice. I saw a small group holding a sign that said, “Witches for Racial Justice.” I had to smile at that. The prayers were offered “in Jesus’ name.” But no one appeared to mind too much.
We were dismissed in “peace.” We were exhorted to remember what we were doing. Gratitude was offered to God and those government officials who helped especially those in uniform. We departed. As we left a police officer, stopped traffic to let us cross. Kathryn and others said, “thank you.” He replied, “Thanks for my job.”
That was a worship event, We were outside and in church. It was the gathering of the peaceable kingdom. There was no hate.