Tending Holy Places

Recently I have been involved in a discussion with a seminary colleague who wrote an article on the over 20,000 member United Methodist Church of the Resurrection’s decision to build a new facility that is smaller and more intimate “where people in worship can see a baptism with their naked eye instead of on a big screen.”  The new building plan includes building a sanctuary that looks more like a holy space and less like a convention center auditorium, including one of the largest stained glass windows in America that will be highly visible from the main highway 2 miles away that flows into and out of Kansas City.  I alluded to a classroom conversation that I remembered from 10 years ago in my response to that friend’s article.  As I recall it, there was a spirited discussion about the role of a minister, and after throwing out several suggestions, someone came up with a descriptor we all liked—it is my role to be a curator of the church.  According to Wikipedia,  “Traditionally, a curator or keeper of a cultural heritage institution (e.g., gallery, museum, library or archive) is a content specialist responsible for an institution’s collections and involved with the interpretation of heritage material.” Of course, this definition doesn’t fully tap into the “pastoral” aspect of ministry, but I think it serves pretty well to describe what a minister does to foster a sense of sacredness in a “local holy place.” 

I wrapped up Dr. Oden’s April 6 lecture by making a connection between the sermon, which had been on “Gospel Hospitality,” and the lecture, which was a world tour of the world’s holiest places.  I told about how I had talked that day with a guest (another minister colleague of mine) who had been told the story of the sanctuary and the people who built it by one of our church members after worship.  (Good job, Mary Alice!)  I proposed that we are the stewards of a place that draws people in—perhaps on a smaller scale than the Vatican or the Ganges River, but a “Holy Place” none the less.  As such, we are commissioned with the charge of welcoming others and caring for the grounds.  All of the world’s holy places have caretakers.  They make the places ready to be encountered, and in so doing facilitate a sacred experience—a new story—to be made by the people who come to them.  I told the church people that rarely a day goes by that someone doesn’t drop in to see and experience our church.  We leave the sanctuary open on weekdays to facilitate this.  I believe Amy Oden’s interpretive sermon and lecture helped us clarify the reason we do what we do here at UUMC, and made me especially thankful for the team of volunteers and staff who make our church beautiful and welcoming.  Especially on this Easter Monday following a Holy Week during which we had around 170 people here for our Living Last Supper and Good Friday Tenebrae, and more than 240 people here for two services on Sunday, I’m thankful for all the time and energy spent by our worship committee to make things prepared.  I’m thinking of our Board of Trustees, and especially of Barry Hargrove, who got out in the courtyard and planted flowers, spread mulch, and refinished our doors.  I’m thinking of our custodian, Greg, who juggled sanctuary preparations with preschool and ESL clean up during a packed week.  I’m thinking of the Calls, who worked to prepare a “sonic landscape” that was enriching as well (and even threw in a regular “Third Thursday” recital that drew over 400 people to our sanctuary on Thursday.)  Through all of these efforts, we have provided a holy place that hopefully made a lasting impact on our guests and visitors.  

Just the Right Blend

A few weeks ago, I was on the way back to the church from Restore Hope, where I had served communion.  I decided to stop by the old church building that had been Grace Methodist Episcopal.  This congregation predated our own here at UUMC, but merged with our congregation in 1928, just six years after…

The Power of Stories

    Well, perhaps it’s because I haven’t preached for two weeks, but I’ve written beyond what I usually give you in one pastor’s perspective and have spilled over into what I will give you in three installments.  All three are inspired by Dr. Oden’s sermon and lecture this past Sunday along with other “touchstones” that…


I’m excited to finally host Dr. Amy Oden here at the church for our Mildred Strokey and Blanche Miller lecture series.  I’m also excited for the great lunch that Bruce and Sheila Powers have planned for us—Bruce is going to be working for days on our Brined and Smoked Turkey—and Sheila is also providing some…

Alternative Worship

Since my first year in parish ministry, when I had a head full of steam and interest in the concepts and issues addressed by the “alternative worship” movement in the United Kingdom, I have looked for ways to expose my congregation to a sense of interaction in worship.  In the remote Ouachita mountains of West…

Pray All Ways

Pray Always/Pray All Ways Reawakening the Senses by Encountering God through Sight, Sound, Smell, Taste, Touch, and Intuition. A six week Lenten series to prepare us for Easter. “Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness:…

Funny How Everything Kinda Comes Together

I’m glad we made the decision to postpone Dr. Amy Oden’s visit as guest preacher and lecturer to April 6.  Her trip from OKC would have been unsafe, and most likely we’d have had a small turnout to hear what she had to say—and what she plans to share with us is important!  As it…

Pew That Stinks

I am pleased we were able to secure a place on Dr. Amy Oden’s schedule to come and be our next speaker in the Mildred Strokey and Blanche Miller Memorial Lecture Series this coming Sunday.  On April 6.  I say “next” instead of “last” because while the original intent of the memorial lecture series was…

Sacred Geometry

From time to time I enjoy sharing with you some art that has come to my attention. Today, I want to make you aware of this beautiful piece of what I’d call “mystical” or “sacred” geometry. In sacred geometry, the number of features in the shape carry symbolic value. A common symbol of sacred geometry…

Estimating Effectiveness

This past week, our staff and several volunteers were working hard on the “End of Year Reports” required by the General Board of Finance and Administration of the United Methodist Church. In many ways, it is a laborious task of which we tend to question the value. However, as I usually tabulate some of the…

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