57.2 Beyond the Walls
Sally Ann McKinseyAt almost every entrance to a church building, wayfinding signs point to “The Sanctuary.” This is appropriate, of course, because the specific location of this room in the building matters. The four walls of the sanctuary hold and define the...
Christian worship stands at the heart of church life. It is the public veneration of God through proclamation of the gospel of Christ Jesus. Its declared mission is to spread the Christian faith to the ends of the earth in fulfillment of Jesus’ words in Matthew 28:19…
The Conversation: Ojai Church of the Wild was the name of the first wild church I started along with a small group of brave souls who were tired of defining church by a building where we meet. After twenty years as a pastor of traditional indoor churches, I had walked out of the chapel doors and into the sanctuary of the oak trees, leading my community in a worship that might reconnect us with the living world as sacred.
Let us build a house where love can dwell, and all can safely live.” The opening lines of Marty Haugen’s fantastic hymn “All Are Welcome” lays out the foundation of what we as Christians are called to do when building the church of God. In our music we sing songs of welcome, we sing songs of feeding the poor, and we sing about embracing those who are different from us and those who walk a path that is alien to our own.
I once heard Ross Gay, one of my favorite writers, claim, “A poem is a laboratory for our coming together.” Since the fall of 2021, I have held a poetry discussion group at a local continuing care facility. Monthly participation ranges from one to two dozen people. A few of the attendees are members of the congregation I serve as pastor, but the majority would not consider themselves to be Christians. Everyone loves poetry. I call the group Poetry and You…
Attention is the beginning of devotion,”1 suggests Mary Oliver (1935–2019), that prolific poet of the twentieth century who was known for her lingering walks in the woods. This line appears in her reflective essay “Upstream,” in which Oliver records her observations of nature…
When God commissions Moses to lead the Hebrew slaves into rest from their enslavement and to exhort Pharaoh to repent from his wickedness, God identifies as YHWH: “I Am That I Am,” or “I Will Be What I Will Be.” The name is ironic, for it conceals as much as it delivers. The name is intrinsically infinite with meaning—what will God be?
Every week church choirs of all sizes, ability levels, and contexts gather together to prepare music to lead the people of God in worship. What happens is nothing short of a miracle!
Over the past fifteen years, I’ve served three congregations: FPC in Manchester, Tennessee, FPC in Cleveland, Mississippi, and now FPC in Cookeville, Tennessee. In each of these communities I have been blessed to officiate a variety of liturgical celebrations outside of the sanctuary and Lord’s Day worship.
O God, we thank you for the birds of the air and the beasts of the field, for creatures of the sea and creeping crawlers of the earth. We praise you, O God, for the gift of everything wild. The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it!
It is appropriate to celebrate the Sacrament of Communion as often as every Lord’s Day (according to the PC(USA)’s Book of Order W-3.0409). In addition to the members who gather in the place of worship, the community has a responsibility to minister to those members who are unable to participate in person by taking the sacrament to those who wish to receive it.
One of my favorite things to hear as we walked out of my African American Baptist church in North Jersey as a child was, “Yes, yes, we had ‘chuch’ today!” The mothers of the church would intentionally leave out the “r” to emphasize the power of the service and its hoped-for residual spiritual effects on their lives, their families, the community, and maybe, just maybe, the world.
In every time and place, God has called music out of human hearts. I’m an organist, so my primary instrument could hardly be more bound to a specific location, yet the walls of a church can’t confine all the music in the worship of the triune God. A drum circle on the Gulf Coast of Florida initially opened my eyes to the Spirit’s creative nudges when the pandemic prevented us from glorifying God within our beloved church sanctuary.
Most historic, mainstream Christian churches in the United States of America by now should be experts in conducting hybrid or multimodal worship services, but, surprisingly, they are not. Some of them were already good at recording and posting or even livestreaming their worship services before the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. The rest of those churches had the opportunity to learn and develop the art of online worship during the two years COVID kept most churches shut down.
In 2018, the University of Arts London conferred an honorary doctorate degree on the Chicago artist Theaster Gates. He concluded his acceptance speech performing his bedtime ritual, singing: “Guide my hands. Guide my hands. Guide my hands, while I am on this tedious journey. Guide my hands.”
How do we communicate without language? As a writer and publisher—someone who relies on words—this is a question I like to avoid if I want to pay my rent. Two recently published children’s books, Luli and the Language of Tea by Andrea Wang and Quiet Time with My Seeya by Dinalie Dabarera, confront language barriers and find community and love in play, in gathering around a table, and in sharing a cup of tea.