Note from Rosy: This week you’re in for a special treat! Russ Kerr, my dear friend and fellow UPSEM student, visited Land of the Sky UCC with me last week in Asheville, NC. He agreed to share his gift of writing and story telling with us on the blog this week. Enjoy!
By Russ Kerr, a student at Union Presbyterian Seminary.
I step quickly into a new sacred space anxious about being ten minutes late and only seeing two cars visible to me as I drive up. I think, “uh oh. We’ll be one of five people here and the minister will ask us to stand up and introduce ourselves to the three church members present.” It’s an old cliché and sadly a true reality for some churches. However, not all. We rush inside and immediately my anxiety levels decrease from about 10 to 1 in a matter of seconds. Around me the church is full. The church is vibrant. The church is intergenerational. The collaborative banner hanging behind the pulpit, the rainbow stained glass above the altar, the rock gardens that line the side of the sanctuary, and the hanging white fabric immediately invoke a sense of safety and a sense of trust. And the hour I spent at Land of the Sky felt as I had stepped into the holiest space of my Beloved.
Despite the old narrative that the church is dying, Land of the Sky is thriving. How congregation members respond to this is by showing up and showing out. I saw before me a deep connectional church full of care, love, and support. The image Rev. Amanda Hendler-Voss (one of the fabulous co-pastors) used in her sermon was a congregation member saying, “I have always known we were open, but I didn’t understand affirming until last week.” This brings me to the powerful image used at the church from the previous weekend which I shall forever remember in any ministry context from this time forward. To step into a predominately LGBTQIA church/space after the Orlando shooting is to step into holy ground in prayer that you aren’t colonizing another’s need for comfort. To step into a place that doesn’t just talk/pray/confess about what happened in Orlando but instead invites LGBTQIA members to step into the center aisle of the church as other congregation members laid hands on and prayed for those needing comfort is transcendent.
I was grateful that it was Communion Sunday. Earlier this week my CPE supervisor asked me about what I hold sacred. And later that week, it hit me. The table is what’s center to my theology. For me, the table is that moment we’re gathered around the patient. Me. The nurses. The doctor. The scribe. And this is where we gather. At that table of the patients vulnerability. And like that moment when I dipped my bread into the cup at Land of the Sky remembering Jesus’ death and resurrection, I look up and I say, “thanks be to God.”
So in some places the church is dying. But in others, it’s thriving. And how we will we ever be open and affirming if we’re not learning it in the church? It was a brief moment in time but I’ll always remember Land of the Sky when I think about that Greek word found often in the New Testament, “evangelos.” Good news.