by Charles LaFond
We had so much fun at our Pledge Campaign kickoff!
What a party we had together to celebrate our life as a parish church! We gathered in our sanctuary, draped as it was with ten-foot 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 spent days preparing. We stood on our little 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 our own buffet 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. With a Bellini in one hand and bread pudding or grits (or both) in the other, we told our stories of soul-soothing in a healing 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 crazy costumes – pirate hats, pink boas, crazy massive toy glasses, purple sparkly hats, green wide brimmed hats with feathers, Yoda masks, Darth Vader face masks, tiaras, crowns, floppy jester hats – 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. Hundreds of pictures. Hundreds of post cards expressing love notes to God about our church community.
This fun day – this campaign kickoff for pledges to fund our Cathedral mission in 2017 – this action of eating together among the dead – this act of leaving our photo and our slogan of love on a wall – this was replicating an ancient practice! A first century practice of our early Christian brethren. In the more than 60 catacombs under Rome lay at one time 6.5 million dead Christians. Their families crept often into those caves- partly to remember their dead and sometimes to escape Roman persecution. Our early Christian brethren gathered there under Rome 1,900 years ago 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 in 2016 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 we drank. We wrote our story and we took our photos and we posted our pictures and our statements – our modern 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. It was ancient and it was modern. And it filled so many people with enthusiasm that 90% of the first couple hundred pledges increased.
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 did 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 new “willing wall.” Something in our Cathedral shifted. 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 healing.”
“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 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. And we have asked each member of our congregation to join us in the “Our One Percent” program in which members of our congregation are being invited to increase their pledge by 1% of their income. And they are doing it!
Unlike those first centuries of the church, we do not face execution for being Christians. But church life is still not easy as the modern church molts into something God is making new. We no longer face the burning stake or branding from hot coals. 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 to live and thrive and fund our mission while having fun!
May each pledge be a statement of willingness to be church and to live life together and thrive 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.