Looking for a perfect fit?

If you’re looking for a spiritual community that’s a “perfect fit,” I have bad news for you: You’re going to be looking for a very long time. There’s no such thing as a community where everyone believes the same thing (even if everyone gives assent to the same creed or “statement of faith”).

Also, there’s no such thing as the perfect community. Communities are made up of human beings. And they’re just as messy as human beings. Not just sometimes, either—all the time, and every community.

So if you come to Grace North, you won’t find a perfect fit—everyone around here believes different things. You also won’t find a perfect community. We struggle—with ourselves and each other and with the world. We won’t fit a lot of your preconceptions, and we are guaranteed to let you down now and then. But at least we’re open about it!

There’s good news in all of this, though: you don’t have to be perfect, either. And you don’t have to fit into some pre-determined mold in order to “fit in.” Just come as you are. We will love you.

Come and experience the “good enough” community, where we can all be “good enough” people. No pressure, no shame, and no expectations to be something you’re not. If you find that refreshing, so do we. That’s why we’re here. We hope to see you here sometime, too.

Renewing and Reshaping for greater light and love begins on Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday and Lent are observances of the church which emerged centuries after Jesus. However, as a Jew, Jesus would have known and followed practices of repentance and rededication to God commanded by the Torah. The traditional 40-day period of Lent – which is actually 46 days because Sundays are not counted – is meant to mirror the period which scripture relates that Jesus spent in the wilderness before taking up his ministry.

Grace North will offer our annual service in observance of Ash Wednesday on March 5 at 7pm in the sanctuary. While the service is the traditional Christian observance of the start of Lent (the season of reflection and renewal leading to Easter), persons of all faiths may find resonance with the spirit of this gathering.

On Ash Wednesday we are invited through readings and music to reflect on those ways in which we might develop a nurturing, spiritual focus in the days and weeks to come, and then live prayerfully and humbly into our intentions. If desired, participants may have their intentions held in prayer by all those in attendance.  In this way, our practice is not aligned with the idea of “giving up something for Lent,” which implies sacrifice. Rather, we are encouraged, through honest reflection, to take on a life-giving intention. For some, this will be a walk in wilderness. For all, we hope it is a walk into greater light and love.

Ashes are created from burned palms from last year’s Palm Sunday observance. At the service the mark of ashes may be placed on the foreheads of worshippers signifying repentance of the ways in which we have fallen short of all that God hopes for us. Perhaps more importantly, they are also a reminder of our mortality, and our humble but powerful human potential. Our theme for Lent is a hopeful “Renewing and Reshaping.”  Please join us for Ash Wednesday on March 5 at 7pm, and for worship and Eucharist at 5pm on Sunday evenings.

The Long and Winding Road…

The long and winding road …

Today, as I write, is the anniversary of the Beatles first appearance in the United States.   I am reminded of their wonderful song, “The Long and Winding Road” (Paul McCartney).  Many of you who read this blog may also participate in our monthly labyrinth services here at Grace North.  If you are a new reader, consider this a warm invitation to join in our version of the winding road, our labyrinth walk.  No experience required! – simply an open heart and an hour (or less) of your time.  Your Spirit will be refreshed.  The last walk was particularly moving for me; I always find it to be a powerful metaphor for our spiritual life. 

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Grace North Church Labyrinth

As we deliberately walk the labyrinth in our upper hall, bathed in candlelight and the gentle sounds of our musicians’ instruments and voices, we on both a solitary and a communal journey.  One can’t get lost on a labyrinth path; it is not a maze.  How reassuring!  You simply follow where it leads your footsteps, to the center of the pattern, of your being, to God, and then back out.  I find myself alone, yet conscious that there are people on the path in front of me and behind me.  There are friends and strangers.  As the path loops, I pass new people, and some of the same people, again and again.  Sometimes they are moving in the same direction I am, sometimes in the opposite direction, as each of us follows the turns of the path.  It is wonderfully symbolic of “real life.”  Once I have made my way to the center and spent those precious moments in prayer, I wind my way back out and must actually share the path with those moving to the center, occasionally stepping a bit aside to allow them room – just as we must step aside and allow others a bit of room in our daily interactions.

Please join us in the peace of the labyrinth on Friday, February 28, 2014.

A bike path with a different view, same destination

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POSTED BY CAROL BARRIGER, Sabbatical Minister, Grace North Church
I am always fascinated by the way in which communities continually reshape themselves.  While we may be “creatures of habit,” as they say, settling into patterns of relationship, I believe there is something within us which seeks out new connections, and defies expectations.  We are not as fixed as we might imagine.  Those new connections change and shift us.  We are touched by the personalities and quirks of those whom the Spirit has placed in our path.  We are moved, challenged, irritated, and comforted.  But we are not the same.  We do not get to choose all of our new connections in advance.  If we did, we might never choose the challengers or irritants!

However, it’s also true that despite changes there is a remarkable solidity to community.  That is how I experience Grace North.  I am so grateful for the thorough welcome for my sabbatical ministry here.  There is great willingness to step up where there is a need to be filled, and to embrace the experience of different leadership.  Actually, it’s not so different really.  Our openness to all and our Eucharistic liturgy are sturdy anchors.  Yet the flow reminds me of bike paths I have known, paths that run parallel to accustomed roads.  The bike paths offer different terrain, and different views, maybe a bit of meandering, but the direction and destination are the same.

In our case, that direction is the continued opening of our hearts to God and the deepening of our sensitivity to the movement of the Spirit.  This is our Epiphany theme of Discovery and Discernment.  Our worship, with a wonderful camaraderie and music ministry, sustain that.  And yet we have the benefit of hearing the cadence of new voices, and sharing in our ever-changing stream of prayers, joys, concerns, and blessings.

We invite you to be a part of our grounded yet progressively open and flexible community.  Labyrinth Grace North ChurchOur evening Labyrinth service returns on January 31 at 6pm, in the newly refurbished Labyrinth Hall at Grace North Church.  Join in a time of meditation, connection, and reflection with music and candlelight.  At our regular Sunday, 5pm worship on February 2, we observe Candlemass, the blessing of our candles, and the blessing of St. Blaise, physician of souls and bodies.  I hope to see you there.

What God Wants for Christmas

As the holidays approach, the Santa displays start going up at the malls, and soon we’ll be seeing long lines as children wait their turn to sit in the jolly old elf’s generous lap to tell him what they most want for Christmas. In our way, most of us do this, whether we’re clicking Wish List buttons on amazon, or answering our parents or siblings’ inquiries, “So, what do you want for Christmas?” At the same time, we’re wracking our brains to come up with good gifts for the people we love most—and having an especially difficult time with some.

In the midst of all of this—what you might call the annual holiday flurry—I don’t believe I’ve ever heard anyone ask, “What does God want most?” After all, Christmas is supposed to be about Jesus, specifically about his birth. Why did he come here? People rarely travel for no reason, after all, and if you live elsewhere, a trip to earth isn’t something that you undertake lightly.

The classic (read Calvinist) answer to the question is “Jesus came so that he could die to save sinners,” which makes even me shudder, and I’m a pastor. I don’t think Jesus came intending to die. I think the Francisicans have a much cleaner, less complicated—and therefore, much more likely—notion of why Jesus came: Because God wants, more than anything else, to be close to us.

I think having a God “out there” isn’t actually very satisfying—for human or for God. We need a God who is with us, among us, in the midst of us. And I think that what God most desires, more than anything else, is intimacy. Intimacy with us. Intimacy with you.

You might think that’s scary, but I think it’s loneliness that’s really scary—maybe even for God. So this Christmas season, as you’re wrapping gifts, consider what you might get for God, keeping in mind what God wants most—you. In the words of my favorite Christmas carol,

“What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would give a lamb;
If I were a wise man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give him, give my heart.”

Merry Christmas everyone. And please come and celebrate with us, if you can!

Our service of Christmas Carols & the Christmas Story is December 18 at 7pm, and our Sunday Christmas celebration is December 29 at 5pm.

—Pastor John Mabry
Thanksgiving Day 2013

What?? A dog-friendly church?

I’ll never forget when I first started attending Grace North Church. Francora, one of our older parishioners, was sitting in the pew, and alongside her was her dog, sitting up straight, and stock-still, watching everything. I thought it was great…if eccentric. Then one Sunday I noticed that another of the parishioners fed the dog half of his communion bread on the way back to his pew.

I didn’t know whether to be outraged or fall over laughing. I chose to laugh, and I haven’t been sorry. Ever since, we have been a church where dogs are not only welcome, but are referred to as “canine parishioners” and afforded pretty much full rights—excepting the right to vote at parish meetings. We have done requiem masses for pets who have passed on, we pray for them in worship, and as pastor I visit them and anoint them when they’re sick, just like any other parishioner.

I no longer think it’s eccentric. It is, in fact, a simple recognition of the fact that our pets are not expendable hangers-on, but beloved members of our families. Further, we recognize that animals matter to God, and are loved by God. Finally, to care for animals in such a way reminds us that we are not the center of the universe, that in fact, we share this world with countless species, all of whom matter, all of whom are worthy of our respect and care.

Dogs are most visible in our community, of course, and you will find them in attendance at almost every service. Cats are theoretically welcome—but they’re rarely as interested in the social aspects of worship as dogs are. But the one day that we pull out all the stops and encourage everyone to bring their non-human family members to church is the Feast of St. Francis.

In the past we’ve had dogs, cats (always in a carrier, please), gerbils, hamsters, parrots, and even a llama! Things rarely get that exotic, however. But regardless of who shows up, we pray for them, bless them, and celebrate the essential place they have in our lives.

Sometimes I think pets love church more than people do. Why not bring your pet and see if he or she agrees? We celebrate the Feast of St. Francis at 5pm on October 6th. Hope to see you there!

What does it mean to follow Jesus?

Ever since the very beginning of the Christian faith, there has been a great controversy over who Jesus is. The early Jewish Christians believed him to be a human prophet, the equal of Moses. The early Gnostic Christians believed him to be a spiritual being on a mission of cosmic espionage. The Pauline school decided to split the difference, insisting that he was somehow both fully human and fully divine.

The great creeds may have thought they settled the matter, but there are still lots of people who veer to one side of this continuum to the other. And as far as Grace North Church is concerned, that’s okay.

We don’t have a “definitive” answer for who Jesus is, or what his mission was. In fact, we fully expect that “who Jesus is” will change for each of us as we journey through life. There’s no need to nail it down, because the spiritual life is always evolving.

Some of our folks believe he was a great human teacher. Others in our congregation believe he is totally divine. And the rest of us fall somewhere in between.

Wherever you fall in your opinions, you’ll be welcome here.

To us, you are a Christian if you read Jesus’ teachings and find there meaningful wisdom for your life. As Christians, we seek to follow Jesus—regardless of who you think he is or was.

And what does it mean to follow Jesus? Simply to do what he did: to love our enemies, feed the hungry, befriend the lonely, visit the sick. To follow Jesus is to recognize that everyone has a spiritual birthright—every one of us has a relationship with God, no matter what we’ve done, what social strata we come from, how “pious” we are, who we love, or what we believe or don’t believe.

All are welcome. All are loved. All are invited to join us on this journey. We’ve got a great leader, after all, no matter who you think he is.

All religions are weird.

I’m a great fan of religion. I’ve spent my life studying religion, reveling in it, teaching it, living it. I love it because religion is an infinite well of weirdness. No matter how deep you go, there’s no end to the weirdness. No matter how much weirdness you uncover, there’s still more weirdness to unpack. This is just as true of Christianity as it is any other religion. 

Christianity might seem less weird than, say, Hinduism, with their elephant-headed god Ganesha, but it isn’t. It just seems more normal because we’re used to it. God became a man, allowed himself to be killed, and then rose from the dead? Yeah, that’s pretty weird. You don’t even need to bring the bird into it. 

But it’s also profound and wise. This is true of all religions. They endure because they continue to speak to us. They endure because, at some level, no matter how weird they seem on the surface, deep down they are also true. 

At Grace North Church, we are Christians, and we worship in a Christian fashion. We celebrate and contextualize our lives according to the Christian story–and yes, we celebrate it’s weirdness, too. But that doesn’t mean that we think it’s the only way to God, or that it is the only religion that has deep wisdom. Far from it. 

I love Christianity because it’s my family. I love my family, but I don’t think it’s better than other families. I love going to dinner at other family’s houses, and their food is just as nourishing, but I always love coming home, too.

We honor the wisdom of other traditions at Grace North Church by adding a reading from a non-Christian scripture (like the Tao Te Ching or the Upanishads or the Buddhist Sutras) to our regular readings from the lectionary. Sometimes they echo the wisdom of the Gospel reading, sometimes they challenge it, sometimes they throw it into a fascinating new light. 

We cherish our brothers and sisters of faith who belong to other families, who follow other faith traditions. We recognize in them the same divine love we experience in our own faith. We honor them and their wisdom.

We also love the weirdness. We honor it. And, in the spirit of interfaith goodwill, we hope that you can honor what is wise in our faith, and enjoy what is weird about it. 

Wisdom and weirdness. It’s everywhere you look.

What is it about the cross?

It’s a torture device, right? So why do Christians wear it as jewelry, display it on their churches, hang it on their walls?

Partly, it’s just convention—we’re so used to the symbol that the ghoulishness of it has worn off. But when we really focus on it—and the fact that literally millions of people were put to death on crosses—a deep meaning emerges.

The cross tells us that even God is vulnerable. Even God is betrayed, abused, murdered, and mocked. The cross reminds us that there is no human emotion, no condition of life, no injustice or indignity that God has not felt and suffered and shared.

Christians teach that in Jesus, God put aside his power, and entered the world as one of us—small, weak, and vulnerable. He became one with us—not only in our dignity, but in our weakness as well. His solidarity with us was total—all the way to the grave.

Far from being above and beyond us, Jesus has seen everything from our perspective, and his commitment to us is unchanging—even now. There is no human emotion, no pain, no consequence that he has not felt and faced and met head on.

If you want a God who understands you in your most difficult and darkest moments—this is a good one.

But the best news is that the grave did not win. By raising Jesus from the dead, God broke the power that death and sin and hell hold over human beings forever. That is the Christian hope. The cross isn’t a symbol of power, it is a symbol of defeat. The defeat of death itself. 

Would You Like to Come for Dinner?

Whenever my wife Lisa and I meet someone we really like, you can bet that before long we’re inviting them for dinner. It seems like a natural thing to do. Around the dinner table, people open up, you get to know the “real them,” and real friendship begins.

That is why, at Grace North Church, we are so committed to the tradition of having communion every Sunday. The communion table is a dinner table—it represents the table at which Jesus sat with his friends. It’s the table where he broke bread and drank wine with all sorts of people—rich people, poor people, outcasts, insiders, screw-ups and sinners. In other words, folks just like you and me. And at that table, as they ate with him, they began a friendship with him that often transformed their lives.

So we, too, gather around Jesus’ dinner table. And as we eat his bread and drink his wine, we become friends with one another, and friends with God.

If you join us for worship, you’ll be welcome to dine at Jesus’ table, too. It doesn’t matter what religion you are, or what you’ve done, or what you believe—or don’t believe. In our community, we welcome gay people, straight people, and transgendered people. We welcome the young and the old, the liberal and the conservative, the sick and the well, Christians, atheists, Wiccans, Buddhists…and, well, just about anyone else.

Because that’s what Jesus would have done. And because we try to follow him and continue his ministry of acceptance and love, we do this, too. This table is about inclusion. This table is about friendship.

Want to come over for dinner?

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