Sunday, August 4, 2013
A Cathedral of Hope
The past couple of weeks I have attended a United Church of Christ parish called the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas. I must admit I have been to few UCC church services. I have been the substitute preacher for small congregations at times but all in all I have never quite 'gotten into' UCC liturgy. But CoH is not your ordinary UCC congregation. It began as refuge for LGBTQ people over 40 years ago. It now has a membership of 4,000 and an average Sunday attendance of 1,200. And last week was the most awesome service I had ever attended that satisfied my need for liturgy, communion, music, healing and prayer.
The music ministry includes not just an impressive choir and organist--it has both, but it also includes a full orchestra at both services. There are impressive professional quality soloists. They have musicians who can adapt to the symphonic genre just as easily as it does to African-American, jazz, country and western and rhythm and blues so that they all become vehicles of prayer and praise. And as a former professional musician, I know that is no mean feat.
The altar party are vested simply but colorfully though not with liturgical colors. There are few distinguishing marks of ministry lay or ordained. But it is clear that lay folk are as much a part of the altar ministry as are the clergy. The building is modern with a the starkness of its modernity but it is warmed by its welcome and its attention to visual aides to prayer and praise. It has screens that carry the words of the music as well as easily read bulletins with notation to follow the music. But there are often images to illustrate the sermon. Today such figures as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Desmond Tutu were before our eyes.
The congregation is heavily male--something I have never experienced before in any church. The age of most is remarkably young though there were enough seniors to make me feel that I wasn't at a rock concert. The sermon by a younger clergyman was on visioning--the parish is in the process of calling a new senior pastor. And he used Dr. King's life and the Dream speech to remind us as well as Scripture to call forth from us a willingness to be prophets of the goodness of God in the world today. It spoke to me even though he was talking about history and I was reliving my own past. But it was heartening to me to see younger pastors willing to take up issues such as racism, sexism and homophobia with the kind of zeal that I had when I was young. But most of all, I knew I had been to a place where people knew the Holy One. Following communion everyone reached for another's hands and we raised them over our heads while we sang a song of thanksgiving and praise. The message was that God loved us and we could love one another and we could be about God's justice in the world.
A friend who has just moved here from NYC met me there and were both moved by both the sense of hospitality and the fellowship. We both wept during the music and at communion. There were even tissues in the pews along with envelops! Talk about hospitality!
At coffee hour my NYC native got into a conversation with a group of twenty-somethings who invited us to brunch at a local cafe. My Yankee friend was rather bowled over with the friendliness. We could have been their parents or grandparents. They were students at a local university. It was a wonderful extension of the eucharist we had just celebrated. The talk was all over the place. The young men talked of coming out and one who was 'not quite out.' In other words he wasn't at peace with himself yet but he was only 18-19. They were interested in how we had lived our lives. For me, it was wonderful to be able to talk to young gay people who didn't have to hide who they were and could be wonderfully honest. They will never have to live closeted and fearful about someone 'finding out'. If the loss of my jobs for being queer has made it possible for them to live honestly, it was worth it. They can have gay friends and be supported by them as they are maturing. Something I missed completely.
What I saw also at the CoH was all the queer folk that have emptied our pews over the past 20 years. I saw the enthusiasm that mainline Protestants have lost by ridding themselves of LGBTQ people. I saw art, music and beauty that has been missing from our churches for almost a generation. I saw a love for God that has been missing in the quarreling that has affected us all in Christianity. I listened to a message that didn't try to dance around Christ's message of justice and acceptance. I heard a song of salvation that hasn't been sung in our churches in some time.
Am I going to forsake my beloved Episcopal Church for the CoH? No. I will go there to breathe the rarefied air of healing and welcome but will return when it is time to speak the word of Christ again. But if TEC is going to be but 'bare ruined choirs' we need to remember that we musht open our doors to those who are different, who are 'other' gifted so that we can be about the message of Jesus once more.