The photo above is of Andrew Nilsen and his fiancee Emily, who both did an excellent job as campfire leaders at the recent Young Adult Retreat at Samish Island. They are a young couple who graduated from Graceland University (a church affiliated university in Lamoni, Iowa) this past spring, and then spent the summer with the church's WoRLDService Corps. Andrew spent three weeks in Argentina and three weeks in Colombia. Emily's assignment included two weeks each in Hawaii, Fiji, and New Caledonia.
To my stunned amazement, the Community of Christ offers our version of "the Peace Corps" in several places around the world for a bargain price of $700, which pays for airfare and six weeks accommodation and meals at the assigned locations. Basically, volunteers stay with church members and provide some kind of ministry. Its not so much missionary (we go to other countries to convert others) as much as it personally transformative (through our exposure to other cultures, we come back changed and hopefully more aware about how our actions affect the world at large).
Last Sunday, Andrew and Emily had one of the most creative, inspiring church services I have ever seen. If church was like this EVERY SUNDAY, I'd definitely be more excited about going each week. They had chairs arranged in a large circle. The beginning exercise was having people go to one side or the other if they were men / women, white / non-white, employed / not employed, born in the USA / born overseas, raised in the church / converts or non members, etc. It was a lot of back and forth movement. The theme of the week is "Unity in Diversity". Andrew spoke about his experiences in Argentina and Colombia this past summer. Emily shared about her experiences in Hawaii, Fiji, and New Caledonia. She said that her experience was like "Eat, Pray, Love", with Hawaii being the "Eat" portion, Fiji the "Pray" portion, and New Caledonia the "Love" portion, though she admitted to not having seen the movie or read the book. For her, Fiji was the most difficult part of the experience because the church congregations there are too pentacostal for her. I can relate, as that would pose a problem for me as well. I didn't like the pentacostalism that some Southern members of our church do in church services I had attended in Atlanta. Like it or not, our church is a modest, Midwestern church that is not too showy and Southern religious traditions tend to be very showy in their church services.
Andrew had the congregation write a short note on a piece of paper, which he would collect to send to members of the church congregations in Argentina. I drew a cartoon and wrote a mix of Spanish and English, basically thanking them for being a part of this Community of Christ. During the children's moment, Emily had children create bonds through rope that became intertwined. This was a brilliant exercise, because it illustrates how much stronger bonds become when they are interwoven. The final segment had some people walk around touching those of us seated in chairs with our eyes closed, based on prompts, such as: "touch someone who makes you laugh." "Touch someone you want to get to know better." It was a little uncomfortable for me to sit there with my eyes closed, wondering if someone was going to touch me, because I have always been the kind of person who has a need for boundaries. I really do not like being touched by people, because it induces a defensive posture within me. Only those I feel comfortable with, such as family, close friends, and ladies I'm attracted to, can touch me without my instinctual recoil reaction going off. Anyone else, though, was liable to make me jump or pull my arm away. So, this was a little bit uncomfortable...but it was a good kind of uncomfortable, since I was in a safe place that my church community is for me. I think its a good thing to be pushed out of our comfort zone at times.
We went through this exercise a few times, until everyone had a chance to be the anonymous touchers. The closing hymn was a song called "Weave", which fit the theme well. Basically, this service was well thought out from beginning to end, with the various activities, testimonies, and song selections. I know that it takes a lot of thought and planning to create a powerful worship service that is outside the norm and is consistent with the theme at every level. I was impressed.
On Saturday (yesterday), I went to the Daily Cafe in the Pearl District for a new young adult spiritual group being formed by Bob Pranaat, who is a young church member but does not go to church (neither does his wife, though both are members who attended Graceland University). He wanted to form a group that was inclusive and generational (no Baby Boomers!). There were nine of us. Two are friends of Bob who are not members of the church. One of the guys had dredlocks (always cool!) and said that he was a Mormon for a few years until he left the church because of problems he found in that church. We had a good discussion. Though I am sad when young people give up on the church and don't attend, complaining that there are no young people who go, if more people attended, they might start attracting young people. I understand, though, because when I first moved to Portland, I was disappointed by the Portland congregation's lack of young people and the stand-offishness of the pastor. The church service is boring and I haven't gone back since Christine moved to the Netherlands (too many painful memories, as that congregation will always be associated with Christine in my mind. She was the biggest reason why I attended church after I met her). The Tuality congregation is further away, but I like the people and especially the pastor.
When Bob saw me at the Daily Cafe, he said, "Your Facebook posts crack me up!" Aw, that was good to hear. I always worry about crossing the line with some friends, but no one has defriended me lately. Yes, I can be political, which offends my conservative, Beck-loving friends, but oh well. If people don't value differences of opinions, then they aren't worth having as friends. Bob seems open to what this group might become. He basically sees it as a spiritual support group, with good conversations and friendships forming. He's aiming for Saturday evening twice a month. I'm glad he took this on, because I had wanted to start one but never got around to it. My biggest frustration with church is the insistence that it follows the Sunday morning, hymn sandwich format. Its boring and some people actually like sleeping in on Sunday mornings. My secular friends have their Sunday morning rituals (wake up late, breakfast in bed, reading the Sunday newspaper, watch the political talk shows). I envy that. Saturday night church works for me. And earlier this year, I attended both a Bruce Springsteen Eucharist and U2charist at an Episcopal Church on a Saturday evening. People are willing to attend an outside the box church service at a different time than Sunday morning.
One thing I appreciate is knowing that our generation really does seem to have similar ideas on what church service could be and working to transform how we view worship service. Though Bob seems to have in mind a more Christian "on the edge" style of worship service, I'm willing to include other spiritual ideas as well, beyond Christianity. I didn't bring the subject up, but I am interested in possible discussions about ideas like Law of Attraction, reincarnation, Near Death Experiences, etc. I even thought about suggesting a movie outing to see Hereafter, starring Matt Damon as a psychic, which opens on Friday, the 22nd. I can't wait to see it. I'll probably be at the first showing on Friday. Seeing the movie as a group and having a discussion afterwards would appeal to me...but I don't know how open minded the others are to ideas that are beyond the realm of traditional Christianity (the ironies of these "on the edge" Christian cell group ministries! Complaining about being excluded from the traditional services, but not so much open-minded to ideas outside the realm of what is considered "Christian").
I had asked Bob if he invited Rachel and Jarom, but he had not. He said that he did not want to interfere with MAYAs, but MAYAs is practically dead. When Christine moved away, the group pretty much fell apart. Rachel and Jarom did their married thing and I got involved with a hiking group in the Tuality congregation. I think what Bob wants to do would revitalize MAYAs. There is no trademark on the name (Metro Area Young Adults) and as one of the founding members of MAYAs, I would say, let this be the rebirth of MAYAs.
With that, I had one of the most Spiritually significant weeks of my life (Andrew and Emily's awesome church service on Sunday, the Law of Attraction group on Monday, the Nick Bunick lecture and booksigning on Monday, the Don Clarkston lecture on Friday, and this new young adult spiritual group on Saturday). Here's to plenty more!