If it seems like a long time since I posted last, you're right. Once again autumn has been very busy, in part because Glen and I opted to go on vacation at the end of August, leaving me scrambling to get organized when I returned. I know what you're thinking. I could have done all of that work before I left. And I did some. But not enough. Plus I have always struggled with doing planning and prep work way in advance. Add in to that an extra layer of work from the Circle Process we've been involved in as a congregation to discern future possibilities and you see how my excuses multiply.
One enjoyable part of this busy fall has been our experiments with "Forest Church". This UK based movement which I have blogged about before has crossed the pond quite nicely and is going under the moniker of "Wild Church" in some parts. Regardless of the name, at its core is the desire to share spiritual experiences where people connect with the divine in nature. So far we've held gatherings for summer solstice and the autumnal equinox, interspersed with meditation walks in local parkland.
At our very first gathering there were 24 of us celebrating the longest day, concluding with a feast of strawberries and toasted marshmallows. I delightfully discovered what a great combo those are - literally. Toast your marshmallow. Insert strawberry. Eat. It doesn't get much better. Each time we've attracted people from the community, the first time with people simply joining us from the street.
This past month 18 stalwart souls came together for the winter solstice - and they were forewarned we'd be gathering for part of it in the freezing cold outside. After taking time to give thanks for the dark as well as look with hope to the growing light, we decorated a new Yule log and added written prayers for the new year. There was enthusiasm as we went outside and sang a solstice song and told stories around a yuletide fire.
The energy with which people have embraced this "fresh expression" of worship reveals an openness to new ideas that gives me reason to feel promise for the future. There was one significant incident that left me reeling though. As people wandered back inside I was confronted by a participant as having made a racist comment. I could not for the life of me think what I had said but clearly my words had been viewed as hurtful. I listened. I apologized. But I was left feeling confused. Had I misspoke? Was I misheard? It didn't matter. Someone was hurt by my words. I felt the good of the evening had been lost and vowed to be more cautious in my phrasing from then on. As you can imagine, I kept ruminating over the incident for days. Despite all the good comments I had received about the evening, that exchange is what stuck in my heart.
Fortunately for my heart the story doesn't end there. The Sunday prior to the winter solstice, a member of the congregation came up to me after the service and thanked me for my words that day and then said "I have some homework for you. You spoke today about how God's love is all around us and you're right. What I want you to do is say out loud whenever you think of it 'Love is everywhere.' Keep doing it and at some point you will have an experience of that love. Trust me." I thanked her and promised I would. And I did. Most often I would remember when I was walking in the forest with Finley. "Love is everywhere" I'd say, again and again. It made me smile.
Then one afternoon something very healing happened. It was a day between Christmas and New Year. Once again in the forest and once again I repeated a couple of times "Love is everywhere."
For some reason I started to sing "The Little Drummer Boy" and as I did so I felt overwhelmed by love and started to cry. I shared this with Glen who thought it was an odd song to get emotional about. And it is. Most of us remember the claymation Christmas special on TV. Pretty hokey.
But here's the thing. Singing the song brought me back to another moment years ago when I was still in seminary. Over the Christmas break I had been asked to deliver poinsettias for the church and while I was driving Bob Seeger's version of "The Little Drummer Boy" came on. I listened like it was the first time I heard it. All the boy could do was offer his best. All I could do in my future ministry was do my best. And that was enough. All those years ago I felt overwhelmed by love and started to cry. And in the forest I felt the same, invited to let go of what happened at the solstice, to know that I had done my best, was doing my best and that was enough. I was loved.
That was such a moment of grace for me and I hope my sharing may be one for you too. There will be times we do well. And times we'll fail. But we can always trust in the power of love.