“A Ministry of Place” by Deborah Sokolove

March 28, 2021

photo by Sheri Bergen

Palm Sunday

Today is Palm Sunday, and, as we just heard, today’s Gospel readings begin with Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, while all around him people are waving palm branches and shouting “”Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Holy One! Blessed is the coming reign of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Or something like that.

I was baptized at Seekers Church on Palm Sunday, 1990 — 31 years ago. Looking back on that day, I had no idea was I was getting into.

All I knew was that I needed to be baptized in time for Easter, so that I could fully participate in the celebration. I had been coming to Seekers for Sunday worship for only a few weeks—just long enough to have taken a 12-week course in what was then called the School of Christian Living (now, the School for Christian Growth) called “Introduction to Seekers.” Peter was the teacher, and Dave was the representative from Learners and Teachers, referred to as the “shepherd” of the class.

Peter and Dave did their best to tell us about mission groups, but they just sounded like committees to me. It wasn’t until about a year or so later, when I joined Learners and Teachers myself, that I began to understand the power of a small group that meets regularly for prayer, deep personal sharing, and common commitment to some area of the life of the church. In the years that I was a member of Learners and Teachers, I had a very troubled work life, and Marjory, Dave, Margreta, and a couple of other folks who are no longer part of Seekers not only heard my pain but offered me healing and forgiveness for my failings, while we all worked together to plan and support the weekly classes in the school. One of the things I discovered is that you learn different things about a person through shared work than you do through what they choose to say about themselves, and both are important to loving relationships.

Eventually, I left the problematic job that had brought me to the DC area, and quite literally rediscovered myself at Wesley Theological Seminary. As my studies there tapped into a deep love of liturgy, I regretfully left the shelter of Learners and Teachers and began to explore Celebration Circle, where I have happily been a member ever since. As I had in L&T, in CC I found a deep sense of home as we laughed and cried and supported one another’s journey, all the while planning and supporting the worship life of Seekers. In both groups, this combination of shared work and spiritual accountability has deepened and enriched my life in ways that I never could have imagined before I tried it.

As I’ve mentioned in an earlier sermon, it used to be unheard of for anyone to be a member of more than one mission group at a time. One of the requirements for a mission group is that at least two of its members need to be Stewards, in order to provide continuity with Seekers traditions within the group as well as maintaining connections among the various groups and with Stewards as a body. If, as sometimes happened, a mission group found itself with only one Steward, rather than force it to disband, another Steward would sit in on the meetings until either one of the mission group members became a Steward or another Steward felt called to join it permanently.

Following this principle, I became one of the founding members of the Time and Space mission group without leaving Celebration Circle, once again not knowing what I was getting into. I thought I was just lending a temporary hand, but it turned out that in Time and Space I learned to stretch in new directions, and the combination of deep, personal sharing and shared work to which each of us is called has worked its mysterious magic in ways that I would never have expected. Now, after 15 years or so, I’m still there, and I’d like to catch you up on what it’s been like for us in this year of pandemic.

Those of you who read my Inward/Outward piece last week know that I’ve been feeling like it’s been Lent all year. In it, I wrote of my unwillingness to take on any new spiritual disciplines for Lent this time around, complaining

Hasn’t this whole year been an extended spiritual discipline of looking for things to be grateful for while restraining my resentment at being unable to keep up with my comfortable routines? Hasn’t the whole winter, at least, been a long slog of staying indoors except for a chilly hour of outdoor exercise, of never sharing a meal with friends or hugging people I love, of fear that I might never see my distant children or grandson in person again?

It is not only my personal life, though, that has been disrupted. Like other mission groups, Time and Space also been feeling the strain. Today, I’d like to pull back the curtain a bit on the way the ministry of the Time and Space mission group has been affected by this year of restrictions. Our Call begins:

The Time and Space Mission Group is called to fill Seekers Church building with bountiful life, and invite the gracious use of time and space.
We are called to love our building in the service of ministries and missions of Seekers Church and other groups.
We are called to be a bridge between Seekers and other users of our building, fostering communication with them and with the wider community.
We are called to welcome other groups and individuals and invite them to explore a deeper relationship with Seekers Church.

As the reality of the pandemic set in a little over a year ago, and maintaining a safe distance between people, especially indoors, became the rule, it was not just Seekers events and meetings that moved online. Over the course of a few days, the outside groups who had been using our building for their own worship observances, for 12 Step meetings, for fundraisers and birthday parties, for weddings and funerals, for concerts and dances and yoga classes, for Interplay and Write Night and Community Sing and Band Camp—one by one, they called and emailed and texted Katie to say they would not be holding their events in our building for the foreseeable future. Regretfully, we closed the building indefinitely, putting up signs on our doors and on our website, saying,

Please note that the building is closed to all non-Seekers activities, groups, meetings, etc. until further notice. Please check with space@seekerschurch.org if you have any questions or concerns about this.

In a time of pandemic, when no group could safely gather indoors, we felt that we were unable to carry out our primary call “to fill Seekers Church building with bountiful life, and invite the gracious use of time and space.” Our ministry of place was disrupted, and our new, unstated, call was to carry that disruption for the Seekers family of faith, so no one else would have to worry about it.

During this entire year, the only regular sign of life inside our building has been the Preparatory School, who had come to us on an emergency basis just a few months earlier because their intended new home was still under renovation. While they are using the whole building, instead of filling it with the sounds of children learning, only their teachers come in, each one teaching remotely from a different room. Our rooms look very sad and empty with all of their electronics, files, and materials instead of people.

Meanwhile, Katie, Denise, Peter, Glen, and I have been meeting in virtual space every other Thursday evening to pray together, to share what is going on in our individual lives, and make decisions about who to call to fix what. Jackie Zaballos and her Smart Cleaning crew have faithfully come in twice a week to scrub and dust and do the kind of deep cleaning that they never quite manage to do when they have to dodge all the bountiful life that normally fills the rooms from morning until night, and we have been keeping up with the maintenance and repairs through which we “love our building in the service of ministries and missions of Seekers Church and other groups.”

We have responded to what has seemed like a deluge of roof leaks, broken fence panels and light fixtures, mechanical breakdowns, elevator inspections, and various internet emergencies. Katie continues to field calls, emails, and texts from building users who want refunds for unused reservations or to make reservations for some hopeful future date; Peter has been in the building practically every day to check on things, picking up the mail, meeting with repair people and inspectors, and taking these photos as a record of what has happened; while Denise has dealt with more internet and phone outages than I can count; and Glen has rebuilt two or three fence panels and made improvements to the audio visual system in anticipation of the day it will be needed again. My role is to keep the meetings moving, take notes, and give this sermon.

It has been a long, long Lent. Now, the calendar says it is time to enter Holy Week. In these next few days, Christians remember the story about Jesus having dinner in Bethany (or maybe someplace else), where a woman anoints his head (or his feet) with costly perfume, while in Jerusalem people are plotting against him. Then, we are told, he prepares to celebrate the Passover with his friends, and Judas tells the plotters where they can find him.

Later this week, as Seekers observes Maundy Thursday, we will hear Jesus tell his disciples that we should all be washing one another’s feet in love and humility, and watch as he is arrested during his vigil in the garden of Gethsemane.  And then, on Good Friday, we will remember how Jesus died on the cross, forgiving those who were killing him, and was laid in the rock-hewn tomb that Joseph of Arimathea had prepared for his own burial.

The Time and Space mission group is looking forward to the day when the doors to our building will open wide, welcoming all who want to enter. We pray for the day when we can once again take up our call to “be a bridge between Seekers and other users of our building, fostering communication with them and with the wider community,” and “welcome other groups and individuals and invite them to explore a deeper relationship with Seekers Church.”

When that time comes, our small band of five will once again feel stretched to take care of the needs of the building and grounds that have been waiting to be filled once again with bountiful life. We pray that at least one or two of you will feel called to join us while our business agenda is short and there is plenty of time and attention to get to know one another.

Amen.

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