“The Willing Wall” at Saint John’s Cathedral
We had so much fun at our Pledge Campaign kickoff!
That was quite a party we had together to celebrate our life as a parish church! We gathered in our sanctuary, draped as it was with banners of colorful, flowing ink to represent our theme of “story by story” and then we told our story the way our scriptures tell them, we wrote them down. We took ink pens and post cards; and for three minutes after the homily, we simply wrote down a bit of our story – only a few sentences – which answered the post card’s question, printed as it was on a similar background of flowing pink, pale blue, yellow and orange inks floating into flowing baptismal water. We all went very quiet. We wrote and wrote and wrote our story of how our soul is soothed and encouraged by being a church together.
Then we stood up, and after the eucharist we went outside onto the church yard where members of our congregation served a meal they had spend days preparing. We stood on the necropolis – the great paved stone yard beneath which lay the remains of hundreds of past parishioners. We stood with them and we ate rich, dark bread pudding, syrupy on the bottom with brandy, brown sugar and salted caramel and topped with rich, brown, butter-roasted apples. We dug deep into white, stone-ground hominy grits, smooth and velvety, pouring it into deep bowls and then topping it with choices so that the grits became our own story of delight – some ate grits slathered in butter and salt. Some added salted onions, some sundries tomatoes, some grilled mushrooms, others crispy bacon or wide curls of parmesan cheese and some of us piled it all on in a defiant celebration of life.
We drank Bellinis, rich with peach schnapps, champaign and orange juice and with a Bellini in one hand and bread pudding in the other, we told our stories of soul-soothing in a church community. Then, with mouths crusted with salted caramel and shirts spotted with butter, we went over to the photo-booth strewn as it was with costumes – pirate hats, pink boas, crazy massive toy glasses, purple sparkly hats, green wide brimmed hats with feathers, Yoda masks, Darth Vader face masks – all sorts of fun costume accessories which each person carefully chose to express something about themselves and then, in that photo booth, we sat in ones and twos and threes and let the booth take one, two, three, then four photos and saw the strip pop out of the machine for us to take with us.
And then we did what Christians did in the caves and catacombs beneath Rome for five hundred years – we took a thumb tack and posted our crazy, madcap picture strip with the story post card we wrote in the nave, and we posted them – together – onto a wall … a massive wall of words and faces which told an even bigger story of our life together.
In the more than 60 catacombs under Rome lay 6.5 million dead Christians who gathered there with oil lamps to avoid being burned alive by Roman leaders. Deep in those caves, our Christian forbears painted pictures of their faces and of the Bible stories they loved with berry paste, oxides and pigments – creating early icons and graffiti. And next to those pictures, they wrote the slogans of Christian faith, their own one-sentence new testament letters. And they lived together, huddled underground, making what we now know as Christianity.
And so we, as a faith community, did the same thing on Sunday to launch our stewardship campaign to raise pledges to fund our mission – we gathered by our dead, we ate and drank. We wrote our story and we took our photo and we posted one of each on our version of a cave wall in the cave of our nave – in order to stand with 2,000 years of people who have used image and story to inspire faith.
The Willing Wall
And later that night, in the Wilderness night-Eucharist, lit by candles and with incense floating up into shafts of bright evening light, we all stood in front of that new wall. No longer dd we have a “wailing wall.” No. This new wall in front of our high altar – this wall of hundreds of crazy, fun faces and hundreds of matching story cards – this new wall was no “wailing wall.” Instead we began to see emerge before us our “willing wall.” The willing wall was full of faces and stories which we pinned there to say to God and the church and the City of Denver:
“We are willing to keep going!”
“We are willing to be seen as Christians.”
“We are willing to fund this mission.”
“We are willing to let ink flow and to tell our stories with our hands.”
“We are willing, story by story, to have some fun, eat great food and be church in a new millennium of church-molting.”
There will be times for wailing walls. But for the next eight weeks, we will write out our cards, telling our stories for three minutes each week, and we will post those cards on the “willing wall.” And we will be a great church again in a city that needs us to be a great church. Each week we will email a video over eight weeks: videos of of cross-generational people, – videos like this one found at
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aSLPAabBfgs (copy and paste this into your browser)
which tell our story of being church together – a story in which we begin the process of handing the church from one generation to the next.
Unlike those first centuries of the church, we do not face execution for being Christians. But it is still not easy. We no longer face the burning stake. Now we face different lights – the lights of our cell phones demanding we work – the lights of our computers demanding we engage – the lights of our televisions demanding we purchase. We still face distraction, but we will hold our ground. We will live a faithful Christian life in community. We will tell our story by story by story of how God is showing up in our lives. And we will be willing.
May God richly bless the people of Saint John’s as we fund our mission in 2017 with pledges made this fall. And may each pledge be a statement of willingness to be church and to live life together while we serve the poor and marginalized of the city of Denver.
And may God’s story inform our story. And may our story inspire the “Willing Wall” and its inherent joy.