Occupy Trinity Wall Street: Part 4 of 4

Sunday, December 23rd, Trinity Wall Street held it’s final forum at the office complex at 74 Trinity Place on “Jesus in the Margins”. TWS’s site states this last session “continues by exploring economic marginalization. Bryan Parsons will look at Situational Ethics, the prophet Amos, and the goals that Occupy and the Christian movement have in common. How does Christ call us, and Occupy encourage us, to look at humanity first when considering another? And what is the place of movements in influencing secular society to create space for all people to live happy and productive existences?”  Those familiar with this blog and the OTWS community remember Bryan Parsons arriving intoxicated one night to trade alcohol for cigarettes. Clergy, Matt Heyd, commented in November that it was time for these people to leave. It was getting cold, after all. It was cold for those shepherds who kept watch, and the parables often read in Advent are about waiting in faith. This is the time of year during which we are reminded that it is God’s decision about what happens in our lives. Our work is to wait in faith. Rather than deciding what’s right for those on the street, it might be the “churchy” or priestly thing to do and bring blankets. a hot meal, counsel for the troubled.

Some of those sleeping in front of Trinity Wall Street are part of the Occupy Sandy efforts – it’s an easy commute to Brooklyn or downtown and the Diocese of New York (not Long Island of which Brooklyn is a part) has forbidden volunteers from sleeping in the churches.  It has been observed that the space in front of Trinity Wall Street could provide a warehouse for provisions, but that space is locked up tight.  This time of year, it’s dramatic and telling – lots of square footage empty, with signs posted about the area being under surveillance, and tourists following red umbrellas touring the adjacent graveyards.

The spiritual illness at Trinity Wall Street has metastasized and those charged with oversight are cowed by Trinity’s wealth. Like so many stories in holy scripture, riches keep a person or an institution sick.  Christmas Eve marked day 200 of Occupy Trinity Wall Street.

OTWS Five Marks of Mission

Real Estate and the church

OTWS under surveillance

Occupy Trinity Wall Street: How it Started – D17

Part 2 of 4

On December 17th (D17) OWS gathered near Duarte Square for a celebration. A number of people climbed a ladder and trespassed. It was clearly street theater and civil disobedience-Santa Claus and Miss America were first over the ladder. One bishop, three Episcopal priests, a nun, and two Roman Catholic priests were arrested with others.

The lead up to the event involved Bishop Desmond Tutu releasing two conflicting messages regarding Occupy Wall Street and generating questions regarding his intentions, Katharine Jefferts-Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, and Bishop Mark Sisk. Jeffets-Schori’s and Sisk’s letters on December 16, 2011 can be found HERE.

Reverend Earl Koopercamp crossing the ladder into Duarte Square on D17.

Reverend Earl Koopercamp crossing the ladder into Duarte Square on D17.

Unfortunately some attending clipped wires on the fencing, committing vandalism. Few of the 52 trespassers who were arrested, tried, and prosecuted at the insistence of TWS committed any vandalism. The majority of vandals ran away when the NYPD appeared.

That day the fence was pushed down on the crowd outside the no trespassing zone by the NYPD while other officers kettled the crowd from the street side, thus terrorizing observers.

People who were exercising First Amendment rights were beaten up by the NYPD in the name of TWS and by extension the Diocese of NY. The statement from the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church added an ironic overtone: “Seekers after justice have more often achieved success through non-violent action, rather than acts of force or arms.” The Church remained silent on the violence perpetrated against those who were merely observing non-violent actions.

Collaborating with the District Attorney’s office, TWS and CEO/Rector Cooper began work on prosecuting the trespassers to the full extent of the law. During the course of the most visible trial (held June 10-21) it became evident that Trinity Real Estate, its CEO Cooper and staff enjoyed a cozy relationship with the NYPD as well as the DA’s office. For example, vans of police in full riot gear were parked at the ready for 5 hours in advance to arrest people for “possible trespass”. Will Gusakov, a master carpenter who designed and built the ladder but did not trespass, was arrested blocks away from Duarte Square and put on trial . One of the ways taxpayer money paid for protection of Trinity Wall Street’s private assets.

NYPD protects Trinity Wall Street's private property

NYPD protects Trinity Wall Street’s private property

At the end of the trial, one defendant, Mark Adams, was sent to jail. Adams was the only defendant who is Muslim, born in Pakistan. Adams joined OWS after his home went into foreclosure.

OTWS began in response to Mark Adams being sentenced to 45 days on Riker’s Island. After rallies, vigils, and teach-ins themed around “Forgive Us Our Trespasses”, Jack Boyle, a D17 defendant, initiated the occupation/sleep-in. The occupation gained momentum when Adams began serving his time in prison on Riker’s Island.

Parishioners at TWS were told Adams’ sentence was related to offenses other than trespassing on the vacant lot. However court records show that Adams went to prison solely at the insistence of an Episcopal parish in the Diocese of NY.

Adams served time in the heat of July just as General Convention made resolutions to increase ministry to those in prison and while the 5 Marks of Mission were embraced as a standard to move missionally forward in the 21st century. Trials for trespassing continue today-most recently for Charles Meyers-TWS’s accusations compounding on other “infractions” and generating prison records for young men and women based on inflated charges.

Interviews with those involved with Occupy Trinity Wall Street and who have been sent to Riker’s Island at the insistence of Trinity Wall Street and CEO/Rector James Cooper can be found HERE.

The OWS community has a well-organized, dedicated group who visit those in prison, write them, and provide support. On release, the OWS community finds them shelter mostly in the form of couch surfing and facilitates access to social workers and therapists who donate time.

As of this writing no one behind bars because of TWS has been visited by Episcopal clergy to include the primary colluder with the NYPD and DA, CEO/Rector Cooper. No offer of shelter or of psychological counseling have been proffered despite TWS’s considerable assets.
Duarte Text Box OTWS

Occupy Trinity Wall Street: How it started

 

Trinity Wall Street Moral Gate

“Trinity Wall Street could be the moral gateway between Wall Street and Main Street.”

OCCUPY TRINITY WALL STREET: OVERVIEW

Since June 8th the sidewalk in front of Trinity Wall Street (TWS) has been location central for prophetic witness.  People affiliated with Occupy Wall Street (OWS), calling themselves Occupy Trinity Wall Street (OTWS) are occupying that doorstep 24 hours a day.

WHY?

At least 10 and as many as 30 people are sleeping on the street-an activity completely legal in New York City and protected by the U.S. Constitution. These men and women bear witness to the inequities wrought by the greed of Wall Street calling attention to a deformed capitalism that does not respect the dignity of every human being but looks on all Creation as a source of personal profit and production. For Episcopalians the significance of this sleep-in is sacramental. Yet rather than welcome the presence of these prophets or offer any kindness, TWS has harassed, humiliated, and sent protesters and homeless youth to jail and the hospital. This was done in the name of the Episcopal Church, notably with the tacit acceptance of the Diocese of NY.

 HOW IT STARTED: D17

When OWS was violently rousted in November, 2011 from the encampment at Zuccotti Park/Liberty Square, it lost a home. People were fed, educated, and community was being built. A national voice of outrage was embodied. A new vision of democracy was evolving–inclusive and horizontal-it was oriented towards peace, justice, and mutual aid. Without a home, OWS would have a difficult time working on this vision. OWS approached Trinity Wall Street, particularly CEO/Rector James Cooper, in December to discuss the possibility of occupying one of its many Manhattan real estate assets–a vacant lot on Canal Street and 6th Avenue known as Duarte Square. Like the time when St. Paul’s Chapel was a sanctuary for recovery workers after attacks on the World Trade Towers, Trinity Wall Street, by destiny, was at another a nexus of history.

Encouraged by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges, retired Bishop George Packard was asked to facilitate dialog between OWS and TWS. With the exception of token gestures, CEO/Rector Cooper would not enter into discussion. OWS was told ground would be broken on a new building in May, 2012. OWS gathered support from the local Community Board and residents surrounding Duarte Square; made plans for a healthy encampment; and promised it would move out when ground was broken in May. Several members of the OWS community went on a hunger strike to call attention to this prophetic moment and a need for sanctuary. TWS and CEO/Rector Cooper only answered with a corporate line about plans for private property.

Mallory Diego Elliot

 Hunger strikers Malory Butler (19-year-old ballet student) & Diego Ibanez, with supporter Elliot Figman on Day 15 of the hunger strike. Mr. Ibanez was a critical organizer for Hurricane Sandy relief, spearheading a volunteer corps that served over 5,000 hot meals a day in addition to other forms of relief.

Coming up: D17 and Duarte Square

Ed Mortimer Text Box

Turn the other cheek…don’t look the other way

When I called on a friend to sing an original song for my wedding, he asked me about dress requirements. ” Oh…whatever. I trust your judgment.  You should know the Bishop of NY will be there and dressed like a bishop.”

“Should we all wear cardboard boxes on our heads as a show of solidarity?”

There is something inherently comical about bishops.  Their outfits are just the beginning.

Bishops become supremely comical when they take not just their outfits but themselves seriously. To observe the behavior of those with egos that put them in the delusional world – one in which they imagine they have authority outside the priests in their regional management districts—is classic comedy. Rudy Vallee in a Preston Sturges movie without the endearing charm.

The latest edition of The Episcopal New Yorker has one with a head scratch asking “Real…or Onion?” The issue,  released in this post-Sandy/Advent/wealth disparity-financial cliff/climate change crisis/people leaving TEC to find God elsewhere time was devoted to Real Estate!  And it’s not dedicated to actual real estate issues in New York, a city with home health care givers, families, and shop clerks living in shelters; a metropolitan area with a disproportionate amount of empty homes for every homeless family. No, the bulk of the issue is dedicated to diocesan real estate, the problems of its upkeep; the Bishop’s Message culminating with the observation that “the Church’s property can be a problem, but it is a nice problem to have.”

What a punch line! It’s one of those real-life instances that if you heard it in a movie about a clueless, quasi-villainous religious leader, you wouldn’t believe it real.

Coincidence?  On November 17th, I handed out broadsides at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine during the Diocesan convention that told the story of ongoing harassment on the steps of Trinity Wall.  In addition to shining the light on the spiritual sickness that has infected Trinity Wall Street and its staff, the intention was to initiate a horizontal discussion regarding the responsibility the church has when it comes to its properties.

The content of the broadside will be posted on this blog in the days to come. Until then, you can check out interviews with those who have been sleeping on the front steps of Trinity Wall Street HERE.

The broadside was written primarily to give voice to those who have been sleeping at Trinity Wall Street since June 8th and suffered harassment in the form of beatings, theft, verbal insults, and more from the NYPD and the Trinity Wall Street staff. Some have been put in jail at the insistence of CEO/Rector James Cooper. No one – and no one means no one – from Trinity Wall Street parish has offered so much as a glass of water let alone visited those in prison. These people are my friends and comrades. They are the friends and comrades of every person who leads a spiritually intentional life. Naively I thought that if Cooper’s and Trinity Wall Street’s colleagues and supervisors (i.e. bishops) were aware that there were homeless, hungry, troubled people treated like chattel on the church steps they would be held accountable in some way. They would have the opportunity to heal the spiritual sickness that for so long has infected Trinity Wall Street.

More importantly this is a time when the institutional Church has to evaluate honestly and quickly whether the way it maintains itself is sustainable or even Christian.  It has got to realize as so many of us have, that the Spirit-led life of commitment to Jesus includes finding the service on your doorstep. In Trinity Wall Street’s case and the Diocese of New York that is not metaphoric.

You can read the Diocese of New York’s puff piece here, keeping in mind George Orwell’s thought on PR – Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.

As you read, carry with you this protective amulet of The Word from John 18:37 – “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

To whom does Bishop Mark Sisk listen?  To whom does CEO/Rector James Cooper listen?

Jesus would have us turn the other cheek not look the other way.

December 31, 2011

The New Year blew in a month or so ago along with the Occupy movement. A tempest of blessed confusion and change, it began quietly in the sea of summer, advancing to the shore of public awareness, and gaining more momentum after the brutal international raids on Occupy communities in mid-November.  Two days later, 30,000 (a low estimate) marched across the Brooklyn Bridge in joyful solidarity on a cold night. All ages, vocations, a few carrying signs that read “Screw us and we multiply.”

Now that was some candlelight vigil – Welcome Advent!

The Occupy movement brings with it provocative topics for discussion and action.  A few of its principles include anti-consumerist, anti-corporate, anti-hierarchical world views. Along with these are many pros: the movement is deeply spiritual – to be close to an action and the leadership involved is to experience something akin to another Great Awakening. Those involved are dedicated in a way we have not seen for some time in America to principles of community and caring, and respect for the dignity of every human being.

It’s about occupying space, interior, exterior, positive, and negative. With occupying space comes the question “What is public property, what is private property?”  You hear the call and response around the country:  Whose streets? Our streets! Whose park?  Our park!

If we were to ask a group attending a Sunday morning liturgy and started chanting “Whose church?” could those attending chant back as confidently as Occupiers “Our church!”? Or more accurately “God’s church!”?

That question –“Whose church?” – has been at the center of this blog since its beginning.  The great divide of wealth that has been increasing over the past 30 years has been mirrored in the institutional church in terms of power and control.  Control born out of fear. Economically, a few parishes hold on to their privilege while the poorer parishes start filing for the equivalent of unemployment benefits or even hospice care.

One of the things that, in my opinion, have shocked the 1% is the proud claim “We are the 99%!”  They’re confused – the meme is that everyone should want to be the 1% and if you’re not there, well it’s not only your fault but you should be striving for that particular gold ring.  We are expected to wait by the gate of envy, sites set on McMansions and bumper sticker colleges, producing another generation of dislocated masters of the universe.  They never consider that among the 99% are those who teach the children, heal the families, clean and repair the belongings of the 1%. And the 1% can’t see the truth before them:  the work of the 99% has more cultural and spiritual value and personal satisfaction than manipulating  abstract false derivatives or collecting interest on inherited investments.

In my experience, the wealthier parishes are content with “church as club” served with a palate-cleansing sorbet of charity in between courses. The less wealthy – kept from understanding the freedom that accompanies poverty – are frequently wannabes. This occurred in a parish our family attended for a number of years. It was small – maybe 75 on a big festival day – but it seemed sincere and our daughter had friends in the Sunday School. Flawed as it was, it was there for a few years of her formation.

Then money got in the way. The wealthiest parishioner fell in love with the notion of labyrinths. I suppose one should give her credit that she spent her time between trips in the mini van picking up the kids reading about the history of labyrinths instead of lunching and shopping.  She decided that what this tiny parish needed was a 50,000 dollar labyrinth – averaging a little over 1,000 dollars for each head attending Sunday morning.

The desire for more took the form of a capital campaign. Not one to fix the roof, get the asbestos out of the classrooms, but one that had a wish list determined by a few for the few more:  a new pipe organ for the organist (a relative of the rector), an upgraded kitchen, and a columbarium.  But first on the list was a fancy consultant who called in the various family heads to read us the wish list and ask us to which project we’d like to contribute.  During the discussion, it was mentioned that the campaign was considered successful as 50,000 had already been raised….for a labyrinth.  Needless to say, people found better things to do on Sunday morning since they had been left out of the discussion and had money targets painted on their backs.

The labyrinth still is there, private property of the church.  It’s empty most of the time. There is a more rustic, community-built labyrinth three miles away by the water that is open to everyone.  A few years after leaving, while on staff at an Episcopal church nearby, I suggested that the youth group walk the labyrinth.  No clergy or parents knew of its existence. We tried to make an appointment. No one answered our messages.  The parish web site says that those who have a divine experience while prayerfully on its path can send a letter via snail mail to the woman who donated it.

And that was a moderately middle-class parish suffering from the wannabe ethos. An ethos identical in intention with that of reality TV shows. Four miles north is a different, wealthier parish that embodies “church as club”. When the local high school performed Les Miserables (Les Comfortables present Les Miserables!) the choir director had the professionals in the choir give free private voice lessons  to the high school choristers. He then purchased a booster ad in the program congratulating them as they had gotten leading roles. When the same choir director moved on, the Anglophilic search committee chose from a short list of four the one who came from the UK subsequently paying over five thousand dollars in visa fees. Let’s add to the cost of collusion in this elitist endeavor the fact that the church had to bear false witness  in order to hire outside the US.

Whose culture?

What is public culture and what is private? Whose church? God’s church?

Wealthy parishes are, of course, in wealthy towns. The parishioners reflect the demographic of the area. Taxes are high; real estate in many of these areas has not been affected by the crash so far. When I say high, I mean crazy high – like the taxes on the rectory alone in our town would be the equivalent of the average American family income.

Whose building? The parish’s building. Well…the Vestry’s building for a while. But with tax exemption there ought to come some community responsibility.

Here’s a proposal and a challenge to all those who do not go to church – and there are so many of us: work for local legislation  stating that a church does not receive tax exempt status unless it proves it is doing the work of the Gospel – particularly Matthew 25.  And then, if the parish makes the cut and achieves tax exempt status determine what its responsibility should be to the greater community.  What’s the exchange for city income deprivation?  A little give-back like ensuring the church’s real estate, grounds, meeting rooms, libraries, and even worship space are open all the time.  To a person of faith, all is God’s world and there is nothing secular. With real leadership and vision everything is sacrament and blessing, a banquet table to be shared by all.

Another challenge to those still attending church regularly: occupy your church. Not warm the seats on Sunday morning, or go to a few classes, or feel guilty because you missed that choral evensong, but really question who and what is “church”.  Do you have a nursery school that is open just 3 hours a day and caters to the tennis mom set? How many working mothers could use affordable full-day early childhood education live surrounding your church? A lot.  Stop the music style arguments. Now. Instead, ask who is singing our music, chanting our psalms. Educate upwards. I once heard a rector respond to the question “Is your new call high or low church?” that the church preferred a more relaxed style of worship, but she would be changing that as soon as she could. Whose pastor?

Are you in one of the churches on life support? Open the doors, define Christian community historically, and embrace the changes The Holy Spirit has in store for you. It will be sweet or raucous or both and indeed divine.

We cannot rely on those who have visible power in the church hierarchy to change things. They have too much self identity and comfort tangled up in the status quo. Take the recent kerfuffle over private property between Occupy Wall Street and Trinity Wall Street.  The Bishop of New York and the Presiding Bishop both chose private property over people, the latter clumsily asking Occupy Wall Street to “put down their arms” – not even stepping into the ministry of wisdom – and the NYPD exercised their typically brutal response.  Who was acting in holiness?

“If you consider the holiness that is God’s,
you can be sure that everyone who acts in holiness
has been begotten by him.

See what love the Father has bestowed on us
in letting us be called children of God!
Yet that is what we are.”

We are the 99% in the pews or out. Whose church? The church of the children of God!

Institutional Church To-Do List: Interact with tradition

Musical Theatre is calling out – the photos above are from a production of Fiddler on the Roof with an all-Indian cast.

Tradition is the handing down of beliefs, customs, rituals, stories.  This is good news for the observant Christian – we have such a wealth of gifts from the saints who came before.  We can interact with all these solid prayers and practices to enlighten each generation, and nourish our own faith – deepening in response to the Living God who moves among us.

However, what most people encounter on a Sunday morning is not an encounter with the numinous but a museum. Even a canon in a cathedral observed “There are an awful lot of museums in this diocese – museums with floor shows!”  Churches that ignore the tradition of the power of baptism, for example,  preventing a gathering around the font or not discussing the implications of this sacrament.  Or  The Episcopal Church’s tendency to worship the Book of Common Prayer instead of the content.  The canticles that dance through a Morning Prayer service cry out for savoring are read as if they were disclaimers at the end of a pharmaceutical ad.

We put the Living Church in a bottle. When the word tradition is brought up in staff meetings, it is typically used in reference to the chorister tradition, the organ tradition, the tradition of aisles and pews and formality.  And it is almost always used in reference to a “tradition” that occurred for 50 years maximum on a cloudy island in the Atlantic – Victorian England.

Christians have 2,000 years of global traditions to draw upon.  Traditions that don’t require “things” or program.  Traditions like hospitality, holy listening, true stewardship, or the surety of change.

When your foot hits the tarmac at the Honolulu airport, without every seeing an orchid you know you are in a verdant paradise by the smell and texture of the air.  One year I was in St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Honolulu for Advent 3.  There was not a hymn or a prayer that recognized our location on the globe. Even odder was the announcement  that the greening of the church for Christmas would be delayed as the shipment of pine from Seattle hadn’t arrived.  Whose tradition was defining this worship?

I have a personal theory about why the tradition the Episcopal Church particularly draws upon is so limited.  The forty out of two thousand years that make for the narrow definition of tradition are the height of the British Empire.  It is a class and power high for those in the class and power structure and perpetuated solely by the shrinking population of those who benefit from being higher up the food chain.  It bamboozles those seeking a spiritual path, confusing the activities of sacraments and living and studying the gospel with inane arguments about high and low church.

And like all things associated with imperialism and hierarchy, it sends the message that some are better – or at least more in the know – than others.  The disenfranchised are allowed in only if they play by the rules.  Rules made up in a time and place very far geographically and spiritually from the Nazarene Rabbi, Jesus.

The de-churched have rejected – perhaps subconsciously for the moment – this museum/private club with a floor show, choosing more useful traditions such as the pilgrim’s or prophet’s or mystic’s path.  Meet you on the road!

Advent 4: Snapshot of a parish

The first snow of 2009 in the northeast hit Saturday night and it was memorable. It brought to the present bits of my personal history with snow. An early memory was the time I tied with twine my grandfather’s ancient cross country skis brought from Sweden. Alone, I went out into the woods to explore. There, a storybook red fox crossed my path. We looked at each other for a while in silence. When the fox had had enough, he went on. I remained still, imprinting this on all my senses.

The nucleus of our spiritual journey is to find such moments – now. Jesus says “the Kingdom of God is coming, the Kingdom of God is here.” Faith tells me to walk with the belief that bidden or not, God is present.

The now of today incorporates snow cleansing the landscape, priming me for silence, awe, and the expectation that there are encounters yet to be. Today also asks me to be support for a local church’s Christmas pageant. I dig out the car, keeping in mind a promise I have made – particularly to 12-year-old Ryan.

Unloading a large bag of props for the pageant, I skate-slide my way across the parish parking lot’s tamped-down snow, walking in with focus. Passing the middle-aged female priest with cropped grey hair, she head pans a cheery “Good morning!” in my direction then goes right back to her conversation with another staff member. She’s ticked off the “welcome everyone” box on her to-do list. How would my experience have changed if she had walked with me? Or her experience had she had displayed some curiosity about the unfamiliar person who walks in such confident, familiar way through the halls?

I am spotting some of the props in the narthex when a couple in their late-forties arrives with the stomping of boots and other physical cues that the weather outside is frightful. Beautifully frightful. The husband wears a navy cashmere coat, a wool-silk reversible scarf nattily draped by the collar. His wife wears a full-length fur. Maybe sable.

“Ah Margaret! Don’t forget it’s our turn to bring up the elements!”

Yes, arrive wearing the cash equivalent of what could sustain a village in Micronesia for several years so you can tick off your Church duty as the one to bring up the symbols of Christ’s sacrifice and communion with the family of all humankind.

Halfway down the aisle in the nave I pause to light two candles. There are some things heavy on my heart. When I stand after my prayers, a different woman in a full-length fur, an expensive camera with a 5-inch telephoto lens around her neck, walks purposefully down the aisle. I am in transition, my eyes teary. She looks me full in the face, smiles brightly while saying “Good morning! Welcome!”

In this house of prayer and worship, everyone lives in the Land of the Oblivious. Well, nearly everyone. I encounter next the associate priest who smiles with his eyes rather than his teeth, asking me if there is anything he can do to help.

“No, thank you. And how is your stamina during this season?” I ask. “Enough time for your family?”

“Oh, you know how that is, but we’ll have time together over the break.”

This is a wealthy parish, founded by robber barons and early 20th century tycoons. These are the people who hated FDR for betraying his own class and there is a charism of that ethos. The parish is sustained by those who employ economic practices that continue to crush the poor and obliterate the middle class. The pulpit was silent when it came to the illegal invasion of Iraq, the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. The relatives of those responsible for those policies might be offended.

The children on parade today may be the descendants of those robber barons – certainly many are the offspring of parents who enjoy the fruits plucked from the Wall Street system. At the moment, they are innocent, but the parish colludes with the culture in broadcasting messages about their “specialness”. There are the mission trips which pad college application c.v.s; the well-funded traditional chorister program which separates the sheep who bleat on pitch from the goats who are cast aside; rewards in the form of high-profile moments of recognition for the confirmation class attendees who obediently jump through hoops. When the children of this parish graduate from high school, the parish newsletter will print which public – or in most cases prep – school each one attended next to the name of the college the student will be attending.

All that’s missing is the glass case with engraved trophies.

But for me, I have a relationship with Ryan. Here is the Spirit. Here is where I need to read Ryan’s eyes and body language, allowing myself to be changed by being in the moment with this child. He can’t sing on pitch, he’s not aggressive. His readiness point is that he knows how to listen and watch interactively. There is trust in his eyes that makes my heart ootch. I want to be worthy of that trust.

The bulletin for the pageant takes up 8 folded legal-sized sheets of glossy paper, including a color cover with a child’s drawing of the manger. Sixteen pages for a very simple, apocryphal story or non-recycled paper. The pageant passes with moments of adorableness, enough mistakes to prevent any sense of it being canned. There is one African-American shepherd, a Latino Joseph, and an Asian angel. A display of diversity so that the parish can feel it’s not entirely insular. Everyone who owns a fur – and that is a large percentage of the female population – has worn it to church. Enough to costume a pageant sequel with northern fur-bearing critters around the manger instead of cows and sheep. The woman with the camera is taking snapshots.

But Ryan and I are collaborating off to the side making sound effects. Coconut shells for donkey hooves, a different bell sound for each angel, a wood block for knocking on innkeepers’ doors. Ryan is alive – watching, listening, completely off script. Both of us are practicing the productivity of playfulness. Kids are some of the most professional people you’ll ever work with. Ryan takes seriously that he is there to support the story of the nativity. Our relationship allows me to tolerate this community and I am grateful for Ryan for that gift.

I lose all the warm fuzzy feelings generated by the pageant when the priest steps out and tells us what it’s supposed to mean. Another “don’t bother” message from the clergy. Don’t ponder, don’t rest in the mystery of the incarnation. Here’s what he said it’s all about: We are all children of God.

We have announcements, and I am struck by how program-heavy this parish is. There are upcoming speakers, concerts, choir tours, book clubs, breakfasts, and classes.

The Eucharist begins, Margaret and her husband present the elements. Everything devolves into words on paper, laundry lists for me. I pray earnestly for God to help me find some meaning in all this. The prayer is repeated like a mantra and immediately before I am about to receive my prayer is answered. I see an image of the Bodhi tree, intercessions on paper fluttering in the wind, coupled with the sound of the words of one of the Eucharistic prayers where we ask that we do not come to the table with our own sense of righteousness. I receive communion in honor of someone else.

Back in the pew, I have a vision. At least I think I have a vision. What comes to me is this:

The last churches standing will be those that embody “church as club”. They will be a bit like conservatories – conserving tradition drawn from a small region in Northern Europe that coincides with the height of the British Empire. Sixty years of tradition extracted from 2,000. The rector will be selected for his or her capacity to keep pledges up, so that the right club atmosphere in terms of program is maintained. Just enough “learning” and mission to give a sense of corporate self-improvement. To paraphrase someone much wiser than myself: the church needs charity to deflect its energy from justice.

The poor churches will not fade. They will be absorbed into community like salt in the ocean. People will once again “be church” to each other. They will worship in Spirit and Truth. And this is where the world will turn. This is where the fire of hope burns just as it did in a cave a few thousand years ago.

Justice will rise, as it has for generations, from those who seek it the most. The de-churched, divorced from the agenda-driven church, will birth the Kingdom of God. We will acknowledge that we are on a spiritual journey. We will listen to each other and keep our lamps trimmed.

The worship over, I pack up my bags. Ryan runs up to say “Thanks, that was fun.” The associate priest thanks me too with a full sense of sincerity. It is only a moment, but we listen to each other’s holiday plans, wishing each other blessings and restorative time. This is enough.

The day remains cold so that the snow keeps its powdery silence. At home, I have my own agenda to tend to – clean up, prepare for the work week, cook enough meals for the family. But every time I look out the window, I expect to see a storybook red fox.

My soul doth magnify the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God my Savior. Help me to be in the moment, to live with compassion, to be flexible, to stop all agendas so that I may find your Spirit and your will.