Days 17 and 18: crossing into another world …maybe?

Yesterday I took a day off from everything, blogging as well it seems. After an easy morning I set off downtown with no plan other than to wander, watch people, drink coffee, eat food and drink some beer.

My wanderings took me into various conversations with some people. Some people sitting on the street, some people campaigning on an anti-Obama campaign, some people serving in various shops. I came across some quite interesting people who shared parts of their story, and they seemed interested in mine being from England. I spent some time wandering around Pike Place and drinking coffee here and there.I ended up paying a return visit to Kells, watched some football with a beer or two before returning (after a good Ardbeg)  via a good bus transport system to the hermitage where I live.

Today it was an early start for a Sunday as I was collected and taken to St John the Baptist Church in West Seattle, where I was invited to share what I do in Rochester and answer a number of questions. In some ways it was like crossing into another world, and it some ways not (if that makes any sense at all!?) The service was fairly familiar as some of the liturgy was similar, although I have noticed a great use of the Nicene Creed here, but a version that omits the filioque clause. It was quite odd at first to see it like this when we visited the Urban Life Church and I must admit that I added it myself this morning as it is something that I feel should be there. There’s a comment that can ignite a few centuries of argument! For me, this morning, to not say those words ‘who proceeds from the Father and The Son’ seemed to hold a sense of incompleteness.

I have noticed other differences between the CofE and the Episcopal church, some that I consider good: such as the permanent diaconate; some that I don’t like: such as the omission of the filioque clause; and some that I wonder about: such as higher stipends (I discovered last week that ordained people here have a stipend just over double that given in England) as I wonder what message this gives about how church uses money. Although… if there are ever a shortage of priests here it makes a move look attractive!

All these things are interesting to reflect upon – the differences between culture not just across the Atlantic but within the US itself. No doubt my last few days here will give more time to reflect and engage a little more before I return home.

This evening I will attend the COTA Eucharist, which will be my last service here, at least for this trip.

Day 17: reflect, write, cocktails

I’ve had a pretty quiet day today with very little people interaction and so I feel quite tired and drained. I love being with people, and hate having to think and write.

Today I have got to grips with what I wish to say on Sunday nightin the homily part of the service. I guess I have found it a challenge to be able to speak about something in a different culture which I do not really understand. I will be looking at the 1 Cor 13 passage on love, so there is lots to pull out but the listeners will be glad that I am focussing on a small part.

This evening I went to Sacred Cocktails with David at Chanatee’s. We were competing with a party so it was not a great turn out but we had a good chat about the idea behind sacred Cocktails and what it is all about. David mentioned that cocktails in Seattle was getting bigger and bigger; I think the same must be the case in England as withing minutes of joining the Sacred Cocktails Facebook group, 2 friends had commented along the lines of ‘we can do that here in Rochester!’ Maybe we will!

As I look ahead to the next few days I think I am really looking forward to going home. I really like Seattle, but I feel like I have been away quite a long time and just want to be home now. I’ve gained a mass of stuff here and, I hope, made some friends that I will stay in touch with; but there has also been a sacrifice to be here. The family have missed me and I have missed them and we have all missed out on the last 3 weeks of each others lives, which is hard to explain but feels really weird. I think wwe all feel quite disconnected from each other, and I don’t like that feeling.

Tomorrow is Saturday which is a quieter day again. Not too sure what I am going to do tomorrow but think I will go downtown and hang out at Pike Place and Capitol Hill and see what I notice. If anyone wants to join me, give me a shout or drop me a text!

Day 16: a real American home

I have had more great conversations today and I am really being struck by peoples willingness to give up time to meet with me and share their story of how they became involved with COTA. Today I ahve met up with Meghan and then later in the day with Brian.

It has been great to listen to their stories and discover how they became part of COTA. Meghan and Brian were my last two interviews. Over the next few days I hope to use the time to review the interviews and experience of COTA, as well as write a homily for Sunday’s service.

The day ended with sharing a meal with one of the community groups. We had dinner, drank, laughed and shared stories and I very quickly felt part of the group. Outside of my host home, this was the first real American home I had been invited into and so it was quite a special time – the food and company where pretty cool too! It’s a shame that experiences like these are always over too quickly … but thank you people for the invite and kindness.

Day 15 further thoughts

I got to meet up with more people from COTA today (wednesday)and this is really helping me to get more of an idea of what COTA is and how it is seeking to discover how to be church.

This morning I met up with Jana in what has become my favourite coffee shop here, and I learned a lot about how she found COTA. It was again a privilege to be able to hear someones story.  I also learned loads about how COTA is funded as she is the treasurer too. There is a desire for the community to become self sufficient, mainly from within COTA itself, but with lots of students or those just starting work most people here do not have a lot of income. I was surprised, though, to hear that between a third and half of all funding comes as regular monthly giving from the COTA community. I think that is pretty impressive and gives a solid foundation to move from.

This afternoon I sat in on the staff meeting and gained more insight into what goes on. I was able to reflect on the services that I have experienced and could share that, from my perspective as a newcomer, they were excellent. I felt very much at ease, knew what to do and was able to use the experiences to engage meaningfully with God. the ambience of the services, in particular, has been something that I think has been very helpful in allowing people to rest and worship in the grace of God. Nothing has been forced or hurried, but instead we have gently moved through the liturgy and music together, meeting with God on the way.

I’m just off to officiate at Vespers in the abbey. I like the opportunity to do this as it is a service that I really love to be part of.

So today I have experienced more of how COTA ‘ticks’. Tomorrow I have 2 or 3 more interviews and then I will start to re-listen to them and look for common insights and connections – buit before that I will need to spend some time praying and thinking on the lectionary passages for this weekend so that I can write a homily to give on Sunday night.

Day 14 … reflections and chance meetings

Tuesday started with Matt and breakfast at Portage Bay Cafe. I interviewed Matt while I mounted an assault on my massive pancakes – which caused me to need no lunch, and quite a small dinner!

It was good talking to Matt as ever. He is another one of the very creative people here at COTA and at the moment leads the Liturgy Guild of COTA which is responsible for developing the liturgy for the seasons. He has a great vision for liturgy being both accessible and meaningful in a way that helps people connect in a real way with God. It was good to chat with someone else who is passionate about creative liturgy but has the freedom that many of us don’t to be able to develop things. I am in a better position than most at home, as I have a little permission to be creative with certain bits of our liturgy, but if we are to seriously engage with people outside of our churches then this permission needs to be far wider spread than it currently is.

Following my time with Matt I met up with Eric, another great guy from the COTA community., We had a great conversation about the strengths of COTA and how he and others connected with he community. He initially connected through a chance meeting with Karen at a monastery. This made me smile as I think back to the fledgling community we have at home. I think it is amazing how chance encounters and conversations result in things like churches developing. God seems to be at work before our plans and somehow things seem to come together.

I guess, though, I am struck by the fragility of it all. I reflect on conversations I have had and am very conscious how just a few minutes either way would have had different results, i.e. the conversation would not have happened. Is it chance, or is it a God engineered encounter? There’s a question!

For dinner, Ned took mye for a Mexican experience in Fremont – that was cool and very much appreciated. The day ended with Ned, Jeanette and Karen in Kells – a great Irish bar where we got to hear Liam (Ned and Jeanette’s son) sing. A good end to a good day.

day 13 … connections

Monday was another really interesting day.

I explored another neighbourhood, Wallingford, a little as I needed to find a post ofice to send home the obligatory postcards. On my walk there i passed the Episcopal Bookstore so decided to have a nosey on my way back. It srprise3d me in that it had a much better stock tan my local bookshop – even a supply of stoles…. although I was able to contain myself and not buy any ;-). There was even a section with Archbishop Rowan’s books which caused a smile as I couldn’t even find one in the bookshop at home! A purchased a couple of things to bring home.

I met up with Steve Ridgway for lunch. Steve works with Open Doors and I was connected with him through Al, another Open Doors worker, who I was ordained deacon with in September 2008. Al and I kind of connected and have stayed in touch as we were both interested in each others roles following ordination – him in the middle east and me in the pubs! Steve and I had a good time talking about our roles and the settings we were in and how God had led us to where we were. Steve has not long got back from a trip to Gaza, supporting the church which is under serious persecution. We had an interesting chat together. Steve also bought lunch – so even better!

Later in the day I met up with Lacey, who is the Music Director at COTA. I have been really impressed by the quality, creativity and authenticity of the worship I have experienced. (that sounds like a line for an essay…) COTA as a whole is brilliant at involving people. It is a church where people are actively encouraged to become participators and welcomers rather than remain consumers and welcomed. There is more than that as well though. I am seeing more and more than people within COTA really believe in and have a passion for what they do here. People like Lacey are very talented and that passion for worshiping God in an accessible and real way is quite contagious for others, who then want to join in as well.

I later met up with Kristian;was another great chat which reinforced what I am hearing over and over again. COTA is a church that welcomes, is deliberate in its mission to Fremont, and is serious about involving as many people as possible.

As I reflect on the last few days I think I am seeing that COTA is not just a church of young people guided by the ‘more mature’. COTA is a church of young decision makers and, in essence, COTA develops in the way that these decision makers take it, with the guidance of Karen and others. I wonder if actually what I am seeing here is a pretty good outworking and understanding of the priesthood of all believers?

Day 12 part 2

This afternoon and this evening I have spent time with different parts of the COTA community and I am learning more and more that they, as a group, love each other and enjoy the company of each other.

At 3.00pm I joined the Liturgy Guild. This is a group of people that plan the liturgy for the services. COTA develops seasonal liturgy to reflect the liturgical seasons. Today we were looking at the lectionary readings for Lent and trying to develop the liturgy and practice that COTA will use in the services throughout lent. This was a small but creative group as they sought to find ideas that would help people to connect with God in a significant way and so leave the service changed in some way becasee of an authentic encounter with God.

In remember Karen saying a while ago people wanted the liturgy to change each week. After working with them the practice is now agreed to be seasonal. We are currently in Epiphany and the liturgy and practices for the services reflect that. I like the idea of liturgy and practice for the season. In the Church of England we already follow that practice in the daily offices, but I like the creative ‘write your own’ and ‘curate the service’ approach which I think as a community we can pursue when we start to become more established.

I’ve just realised the excitement this afternoon brought shows me that I love liturgy. I think it is a way we can easily connect with God and express our love in a language that means something. The word, if you don’t know, means ‘work of the people’ and it is pretty impressive how COTA creates this so that it really is the work of the people. The trust from Karen towards this group is amazing too.

After the guild meeting we had COTA Eucharist at 5.00pm. Another creative service. I am not a fan of music in worship. I know its been said by many before, but I do find myself increasingly more frustrated with the songs that people sing in lots of churches. They are not just ‘I love Jesus like my girlfriend’ type songs … but I think it is the shallowness and bizarre theology of some that give me concern.

Despite my aversion to music in worship I find Lacey’s curation of the woship in COTA to be sensitive, stunning and challenging. We sing words and chants that mean something and that allow us to become aware that we are in the presence of God. I am meeting with Lacey tomorrow and look forward to hearing from her about her story and why she leads in this way.

The service tonight was fantastic. It was simple yet profound in a way that allowed us space with God. The structure, or ordo, that COTA uses is great and the ‘open space’ section after the homily, where people can reflect ina  variety of ways from using icons to watching video, acknowledges that we are not all one and the same.

COTA is going through an interesting time and the last meeting of the day was after the Eucharist when I joined the group that are making plans for a morning service. COTA is in good shape, it is in the community in various ways and now looking to move from 1 to 2 services on a Sunday at the abbey. I enjoyed being part of the discussions and hearing peopels ideas and dreams of getting this service of the ground.

It’s been a packed and really good day, and I am strting to learn more and more about the COTA community, particularly as options for interaction with people with COTA seem to be increasing.