Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A Brief Meditation on Preaching on World Events, by The Rev. Peter J. Van Hook

I face a dilemma any time there is a human tragedy or other public disaster or calamity. I find myself caught between my commitment to a Sunday service that is focused on God’s grace and our thanksgivings for it, and my responsibility as Priest and Pastor to help you make Christian sense out despair, shock, and confusion. (As an Extrovert type I also have a need to talk about my own reactions and feelings, and sermon preparation is often a place where that happens for me.) These two things are not in any essential conflict. It is just that the present form of our worship and our community life do not provide easy avenues to reach a resolution.

I have long felt, and been committed to, the liturgical philosophy that most people when they come to St. Mary's Church they are looking for sanctuary. Sanctuary in this sense means several things all at once:
~ a safe place where a person can come—to a worship service or to a meeting—and know that they will be respected in their person, just as they are.

~ a congregation in which children are recognized and received as full and responsible members of the worshipping community.

~ a congregation in which differences are respected, and where the question has at least equal importance to any answers.

~ a worshipping community that recognizes the transient nature of much of our membership, and is careful to allow those who are hurting to have space and time to heal, and is also diligent about letting any person know that they are welcome in this place.
These elements of sanctuary sometimes conflict with this pastor’s need to address the concerns and feelings we sometimes bring with us to church.

For example, the week after the terrible tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina, I wanted to explore with you themes like the source and power of evil, the contemptible nature of violence, the power of symbols to incite action, our lack of concern as a society for the mentally ill, and the sense of powerlessness we feel when confronted by acts of destruction. But… There are children in church! There are people there who are themselves hurting and need a word of comfort and solace! There are people there who are visiting for the very first time, and I do not want to give a bad impression! There are people there who might disagree with my analyses, and preaching does not give any opportunity for dialogue! These people and many others I have in mind each week as I prepare for worship and preaching. These concerns even affect my choice of hymns! In other words, I sometimes feel stuck.

Part of my vexation is the reality of this congregation’s life: we have very little in the way of Adult Christian Education, nor do we have a prayer group or other fellowship groups in which these conversations might otherwise take place. Our recent efforts at building two different groups around the study of The Catechism in The Book of Common Prayer is an effort to begin to build back what once, many decades ago, was robust Christian Education program at St. Mary's Church. Later this summer we will be adding another ongoing adult program, but that information is for later.

My solution to my dilemma is that I would have a number of different groups meeting at various times and places to do different things: study group, prayer group, young adult group, a dinner group. Coming together outside of Sunday at 10:30 AM provides opportunities to create and maintain relationships, to build trust and community, and to hear one another’s concerns and thoughts. I just do not have the slightest idea, at this point, as to how to get from my dilemma to more opportunities to meet and talk.

Your thoughts and observations would be most welcome.

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