Category Archives: Glad You Asked (GYA)

Good Questions

The two questions I hear most often around church these days are, “Are you back at work now?” and “Did you ever leave?” It’s funny that those questions can be asked simultaneously. Well, yes and yes. But I think maybe I need to explain.

I love that I work in a place where I can go on maternity leave and never really leave. What a gift that I never wanted to! In terms of attending church, Anastasia and I never really missed a beat—but neither have Sunday mornings been work much at all for me over the past few months. Faithful volunteers have picked up all kinds of slack so that I could attend church with my family and focus almost exclusively on worship and caring for Anastasia. I am exceedingly grateful to the people who have taken on those responsibilities for me—thank you! I am gradually figuring out what it looks like to reassume all of my Sunday morning responsibilities as I continue to have my hands full—literally—with my little girl.

In the meantime, even as I was recovering from a c-section and adjusting to life with a newborn again, I was chomping at the bit to get back to work and fellowship with coworkers that I love so dearly. Anastasia attended her first staff meeting at three weeks old; now, at twelve weeks, she’s a veteran staff member! As any new mom will tell you, having grown-up outlets for using your brain and engaging in conversation about anything other than feeding schedules and diaper changing is vital to her sanity and identity as a human being. It is yet another good gift, then, that I am part of a staff that not only has welcomed a frequently uncooperative newborn into the fold but has allowed me to continue to participate in prayer and work together even when, in my sleep-deprived state, I often have very little to contribute. This, too, is an adjustment process—even as I figure out how to coordinate nap schedules with staff meetings, I am learning what it looks like to maintain vital contact with coworkers even as I do much more work from home and often at odd hours.

If you know my family and our story at all, you know how much of our life has been interwoven with the life of All Saints Church. How appropriate, then, that it was only a few weeks into my tenure on staff that we learned of Anastasia’s impending birth; in fact, I spent nearly every spare moment of our staff retreat last summer sleeping off the miseries of the first trimester of her life. Now, a year later, I anticipate her tagging along with us on retreat, Lord willing, and I hope she’ll be the one doing a lot of sleeping! Even as this church family walked with us through every moment of Eliza’s life and death, born as she was just a few months after we first joined this little group called All Saints, what a joy it is to have you all walking with us as Anastasia joins the family—and even the staff!—too.

So I suppose, then, no, I never really did leave. And yes, I’m back. Thanks for having me.

-Daniele Jackson

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The Stations of the Cross – A Devotion for Lent

You may have seen the announcement in the Sunday Bulletin or in the KNN that All Saints will be offering the Stations of the Cross on Sunday, March 27 at 6 PM, and Wednesday, April 6 at 7 PM (also, the sanctuary will be open over lunch on the weekdays for you to pray the Stations by yourself if you would like).  Some of you may be saying “Stations of the what?  What in the world is the Stations of the Cross?”  Good questions!

The Stations of the Cross are a traditional devotional practice during Lent.  Back in the early centuries of the church, Christians made pilgrimages to Jerusalem in the days leading up to Easter.  One of the things they did as they prepared to celebrate Easter is they walked and prayed along the traditional path that Jesus traveled from his trial to his death on the cross and then to his tomb.  Over time, different “stations” were identified where Jesus said or did something important along the way.  Some of these stations are found in the Scriptures–here Jesus was condemned to death, there Simon of Cyrene began to help Jesus carry his cross, there Jesus was nailed to his cross, etc.  Other stations seem to have grown out of local traditions about other things Jesus did as he carried his cross.  Eventually, over the centuries, the stations were set to be these:

1.  Jesus is condemned to death

2.  Jesus takes up his cross

3.  Jesus falls the first time

4.  Jesus meets His Mother

5.  The cross is laid on Simon of Cyrene

6.  Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

7.  Jesus falls the second time

8.  Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

9.  Jesus falls the third time

10.  Jesus is stripped of His garments

11.  Jesus is nailed to the cross

12.  Jesus dies on the cross

13.  Jesus’ body is placed in the arms of his mother

14.  Jesus is laid in the tomb

As you can see, Stations 1, 2, 5, 8, 10, 11, 12, and 14 come directly from Scripture.  The remaining stations are based on those local Jerusalem traditions that I mentioned above.

So, the Stations of the Cross are basically an extended meditation on the Passion of Jesus (his trial, suffering, death and burial).  They are especially associated with Lent because that’s the season in which, through special acts of prayer, self-denial, and service, we enter into Jesus’ Passion, so that at Easter we can also enter in a special way into Jesus’ resurrection.  We suffer with him, we bring our suffering and the suffering of others to him in his Passion, so that suffering can be transformed just as his suffering was transformed in his resurrection.

That last sentence really gets at what so powerful for me in the Stations of the Cross.  Through praying the Stations I begin to learn what it means to suffer with Christ, what it means to suffer as a suffering servant, what it means to give over to Christ all the suffering and hurt and crud that I am carrying for myself and for others.  The Stations challenge me to understand and to bear my suffering and the suffering of the world in light of that singularly most important moment in the history of the universe: the moment in which Jesus carried all the suffering and hurt and crud of the world straight into the tomb and, as the conqueror of sin and death, left it there.  And because he is the conqueror who has left it there, I too can leave it there.  By the grace of God and the power of the Spirit, I too can be more than a conqueror over the suffering and hurt and crud in my life.  Not a conqueror in the sense that I will ever be immune or impervious to my suffering or the sufferings of others.  Rather, with Christ I can be a conqueror in that no matter the suffering I encounter, I can know that suffering will never have the final word in my life.  Christ will always be there to redeem, to give meaning and purpose to that suffering (even when the suffering is so bad I can’t begin to fathom what possible meaning it might have, or how Jesus could possibly redeem it).

I’m reminded of the last few lines of one of my favorite passages of scripture, the Canticle of Zechariah…

In the tender compassion of our God,
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.  (Luke 1:78-79)

This good news is truer than true precisely because in his Passion, Jesus walked the way of darkness and the shadow of death.  He blazed a trail for us to follow, so that we can step with him into the glorious dawn of light and life and peace.  The Stations of the Cross provide us a way of walking that path with Jesus.

There is a lot more that I could say about all this.  I know folks who find the Stations profoundly meaningful in ways I haven’t even begun to mention here.  But it is far better to pray the Stations than to talk about them; it is far better to come face-to-face with Christ the Suffering Servant Lamb of God than merely to think about him.  So I heartily invite you all to give the Stations a test-drive.  I don’t think that you’ll be disappointed.

-Paul Marvin

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feeding the lambs

“What are the fourth and fifth graders doing up there in the front of the sanctuary?” As I’ve heard this question many times recently, it occurs to me that unless you’re a parent of a fourth or fifth grader, very few of you know why those children are suddenly doing something so different during the Children’s Church hour. I’m excited to fill you in.

The “what” of what they’re doing is easy to answer: they’re learning to participate more fully in the worship service in general, and more specifically, they’re learning how to engage with the sermon. But the “why” of what they’re doing is perhaps the more interesting answer.

For as long as I can remember, All Saints has offered Children’s Church programming for children up through fifth grade. The goal has been simple: to disciple and feed and nourish our church’s youngest members in a way that is more accessible to them than certain parts of the service, specifically the readings, sermon, and prayers. It has always been a high value in this system for the children to worship with their families, so Children’s Church takes place only during those times in the service, allowing children to begin the worship service with their families and to be present for communion as well.

As for how that time has been used, the content has varied over the years. Naturally, as the church has grown, so has our population of children, so classes have formed and re-formed and curriculum has changed along with those shifts. We currently have a class of preschoolers and kindergarteners working on The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, a class of first through third graders working on the David C. Cook Bible-In-Life Anglican Edition curriculum, and a class of fourth and fifth graders working on an experimental curriculum that I have designed.

The goal of all three classes—and indeed of the entire program—is decidedly not babysitting, not keeping the children busy so parents can hear the sermon, not providing flashy multimedia-style entertainment so the children can have fun. Of course, those things are going to be a part of whatever we’re doing: we’re glad to give parents some space to be fed themselves, and any program involving children had better involve some fun if the children are going to engage with the material! But the ultimate goal of our children’s ministry at All Saints is for our children to build and grow in their own faith, ultimately leading to confirmation and full participation as adults in the congregation. The work that the children are doing in each of our three classes forms a piece of that process; together, I hope all these pieces prepare them to enter the youth ministry and confirmation class as seamlessly and naturally as possible.

In The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, preschoolers and kindergarteners are experiencing a Montessori-style liturgically-based curriculum focusing on spiritual formation in which they interact in a very hands-on, child-accessible way with the Scriptures and liturgical traditions of the church. As they listen to the parable of the mustard seed, for example, each child is given a mustard seed to hold and examine—Look how small it is! Imagine a great big tree coming from such a small seed! As they fold and unfold child-sized linens for the altar table, they learn why some are green while others are purple or white. Conversation after conversation with parents reveals that what the children are learning in this class transfers directly and immediately to what they experience when they return to church. They’re coming to understand—in a way that is translated to fit their developmental “size”—what they experience every Sunday. It is a powerful foundation for their newly-beginning lives in the church.

In the David C. Cook Bible-In-Life Anglican Edition, first through third graders are engaging in a more traditional Bible study style curriculum, again sized just right for them. The Bible stories they share weekly follow the seasons of the liturgical church, which means that while their parents are in church experiencing and learning about Lent, for example, the children are doing the same. When Maundy Thursday rolls around this year, you can count on the lower elementary student sitting nearest to you to be able to explain the significance of foot washing and its spiritual significance in the lives of Jesus and his disciples. As they read and engage with these stories, the children are participating in activities and conversations that encourage them to apply the spiritual principles in their own daily lives—what does it mean, for example, to “wash the feet” of their families and friends at school, where literal foot washing is likely not an option?

Finally, with these experiences as a backdrop, the fourth and fifth graders have begun using a curriculum I designed to help them make the transition from Children’s Church to full participation in the service. As you may know, in sixth grade children remain in the service throughout and are also invited to begin the process of preparing for confirmation. As fourth and fifth graders, then, it is important for children to begin to experience the parts of the service that have as yet been inaccessible to them. Rather than an abrupt change—one Sunday a fifth grader in Children’s Church, the next a sixth grader in the service—my goal with the new materials has been to help our older elementary students ease into this transition. Thus, the activities in the binders I have provided for the children are not meant to serve as a distraction—coloring and word searches and such—but rather as an aid to entering into what they’re hearing. Different note-taking activities and spaces for drawing and writing about what they’re hearing along with plenty of blank paper and writing utensils are provided; Bibles and bulletins are also available for those who choose sit in the front with me and their classmates, while others remain with their parents and use their own Bibles and bulletins to follow along. In tandem with these guided activities, these upper elementary students meet every six weeks as a Children’s Church class to talk about what they’ve been learning and what has been challenging; in addition, they meet along with their parents and various members of the clergy for monthly lunches to further broaden these conversations. As I mentioned earlier, this program is experimental; thus far, I have been pleased at how the children have engaged with the service and have stepped up to the very real challenge of participating in a new way.

Please keep our church’s youngest members and the many, many volunteers who serve and care for them so faithfully in your prayers. And the next time someone else’s preschooler accidentally wraps himself around your leg, mistaking you for his parent, take a minute to bend down and ask him what he learned in Children’s Church that day. You might be surprised at what you learn from his answer.

-Daniele Jackson

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A Subscription Fix

Frustrated that you haven’t yet been able to subscribe to us with the existing options?  You’re not alone.  From the newly modified “How to Subscribe” page:

1a.) Some people have been having issues with using WordPress’ built-in email service.  If this is you, you can use an outside service like Feed My Inbox.  To use that particular service, click this link to their site, enter “blogasc.wordpress.com/feed/” in the top box and then your email address in the bottom box.  No account creation is necessary and there is no cost.  They will send a confirmation email to the address you provide, which you can click through, and you’ll be signed up within a couple minutes.

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GYA: Gestures of Worship, Part III–The Bow

We are now three posts into answering the question of what the physical gestures of our worship mean.  In post 1, I offered a definition of our physical movement in worship as “visual, bodily invitations to worship God with our whole selves,” and in post 2 we discussed the ancient posture of prayer known as “the orans.”  As you can tell by this post’s title, we have now arrived at “The Bow.”

Above is a piece of artwork from a Greek Orthodox church in Illinois.  Note how these great saints bow both to the cross in their midst and to the enthroned Christ above them.

At All Saints, the first bow you will notice is that many members of the congregation bow as the cross passes them in the processional.  In the movement of the cross up and down the middle aisle at the beginning and end of the service, a bow recognizes God’s work of reconciling humanity-to-God and human-to-human through the cross.

Next, when approaching or even passing nearby the altar, you will see folks make a solemn bow (‘solemn’ practically meaning ‘deep’ and ‘at the waist’) to make clear that we don’t take for granted the gift of our God truly residing in our midst and inviting us to share at the Lord’s Table.

Internally, in my personal experience, bowing toward the altar and cross before leading the congregation in the Prayers of the People has an effect on my heart and mind, helping me to be more collected and more fully aware of the important work of prayer that we are undertaking.  I know the same experience is true for many of our readers and those who help serve Communion.

Yet another traditional time to bow during the service is at the mention of the name of Jesus in the liturgy (yes, a lot of bows possible there) or when we speak together of His Incarnation, for instance, in the Nicene Creed’s “For us and for our salvation….”

So, we’ve talked a lot about bowing now, but the question may still be, “I really don’t feel comfortable with that.  Do I have to do it?”  With bowing in particular, it is easy to feel that we look silly.  It feels foreign to us.  It’s not contemporary American social convention.  We may have theological questions (and if you would like those addressed, please email us, or talk to one of our clergy, as I can’t really address them in the course of this particular post).

For plenty of us, though, it comes down to a certain unnameable strangeness: “Bowing to the cross feels weird.”  Very practically, I would encourage you–this coming Sunday, when the cross passes by in the processional, try a bow as an act of worship.  See how it feels.  Pray about it.  Try it the next week too, and perhaps a third week.  Don’t be afraid to experiment with new things in worship.

And then, don’t just keep your experience and your thoughts to yourself.  Strike up a conversation about it with other folks you know at All Saints, other Christians in your life, or one of All Saints’ clergy.  It’s fine if bowing is not for you, but it has been a wonderful deepening of worship for many believers.

With Jacob saying “Truly God was in this place!”, with Moses taking off his shoes beside the revelation of God in the burning bush, with Mary in her “How can this be?!”, we too are so blessed by God-with-us that we need to do something with our bodies to express how the Incarnation of Jesus Christ changes everything.  For the historic church, this has often been a bow, a more practical version of the truly appropriate falling on our faces before God.

So, to return to the language put forth in the first installment of this answer, what is the ‘invitation’ of the bow?  The bow’s invitation is to remember and to celebrate how great is the mystery of the Holy One who has become one of us, and who truly delights to dwell with us in the midst of our worship.

Grace and peace,
Rev. Nick Jordan

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GYA: Gestures of Worship, Part II–The Orans

In the last post I began answering this question: “What do the hand gestures used by the celebrant during worship mean? Why do people cross themselves?“, asked by E.

In the end I wrote that these gestures are ‘visual, bodily invitations’ to prayer and to worship.  So let’s translate one of the most-used invitations, the ‘orans position’:

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Christian artwork from the 4th c. in the catacombs under Rome

The ‘orans’ is an ancient posture of prayer (‘orans’ is Latin for ‘prayer’), with hands lifted up toward God.  You’ll see the celebrant return to this position throughout the service, especially during the Eucharist.

A similar position to the ‘orans’ is, of course, already familiar to those of us from many Christian backgrounds as a posture for passionately expressive worship:

So why do we do this, whether we call it ‘orans’ or ‘lifting up our hands’?

The most concrete answer is that by lifting up our hands, we are living into a posture of prayer and worship found in Scripture.  Psalm 134, among other Scriptures calls to us, “Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the LORD!”

Of course, I don’t think most of us who have raised our hands in worship have regularly thought of it as an act of obedience to Scriptural prescriptions for worship.  The more powerful force at work may be that we have been created to worship God, and that one primal, gut response to our knowledge of the presence of God is to use our bodies to offer praise.

The orans reminds us that when we worship and when we pray, we are reaching our hands up to a Father who delights in us as beloved children.  Luke 11:1-13, for one example, tells us that as we learn to pray to God, we are also learning how deeply God loves us.  In this brief passage, Jesus’ teaching the disciples how to pray (The Lord’s Prayer) is back-to-back with his teaching that the Father delights to pour out the gift of the Spirit.

The orans is a gesture of child-like eagerness, of expectancy that truly God loves us and desires to inhabit our praises, of offering ourselves to God (the child who wants to be picked up and held), and of readiness to receive.  When the celebrant raises hands in the orans, it reminds us that we are in the presence of God, that we are being invited to pray and to worship.

Grace and Peace,
Rev. Nick Jordan

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GYA: Gestures of Worship, Part I

What do the hand gestures used by the celebrant during worship mean?  Why do people cross themselves?

Dear E,

Thanks so much for emailing us.  These are important and huge questions for any of us worshiping at All Saints.  Because it’s a big question, I’m going to be breaking it down into several parts.  This first post is about the theory, and the later posts are more about the practical.  To begin…

Early in C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters (now for sale in both normal and awesome versions), in an imagined series of letters from an experienced demon to a younger one giving advice on how to trip up a new Christian, the experienced demon writes that one very important way to cause people to stumble is to get them to assume that their bodies don’t matter for their lives in God:

At the very least, they [both Christians and humans in general] can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget, what you must always remember, that they are animals and that whatever they do with their bodies do affects their souls.

There are, of course, plenty of applications for what our bodily actions have to do with our souls, but I want to lift up one point: God created us with bodies and called this creation good, very good in fact.  God desires us to worship not only with our hearts, not only with our minds, not only with our spirits, but with our bodies as well.

And so we come to the short answer to your question: The hand gestures used by the celebrant are visual, bodily invitations to worship God with our whole selves.  The Christian act of crossing oneself is to participate in worshiping God with our whole selves.

Until the next post on this topic, it might be fruitful to think about the gestures and actions that already are familiar parts of worship for most Christians, liturgical or not.  Like this one, for instance:

Check back soon as this series continues, or add us to your Google Reader.

Peace in Christ,

Rev. Nick Jordan

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