Taking Communion



Rowan Williams’ Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer: “We take Holy Communion not because we are doing well, but because we are doing badly. Not because we have arrived, but because we are travelling. Not because we are right, but because we are confused and wrong. Not because we are divine, but because we are human. Not because we are full, but because we are hungry.”



15-03-02/29From Rowan Williams’ Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer: “…Jesus is not only someone who exercises hospitality; he draws out hospitality from others. By his welcome he makes other people capable of welcoming. And that wonderful alternation in the Gospels between Jesus giving hospitality and receiving hospitality shows us something absolutely essential about the Eucharist. We are the guests of Jesus. We are there because he asks us, and because he wants our company. At the same time we are set free to invite Jesus into our lives and literally to receive him into our bodies in the Eucharist. His welcome gives us the courage to open up to him. And so the flow of giving and receiving, of welcome and acceptance, moves backwards and forwards without a break. We are welcomed and we welcome; we welcome God and we welcome our unexpected neighbours. That, surely, is one of the wonderful and unique things about the Holy Eucharist. We invoke Jesus and his Spirit, we call him to be present –and we are able to do this only because he has first called us to be present.”




From Pema Chodron’s The Places and Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times: “The Buddhist teachings tell us that over the course of many lifetimes all beings have been our mothers. At one time, all these people have sacrificed their own comfort for our well-being, and vice versa. … the point is to consider everyone we encounter as our beloved. By noticing and appreciating the people in the streets, at the grocery store, in traffic jams, in airports, we can increase our capacity to love. We use these aspirations to weaken the barriers of indifference and liberate the good heart of loving-kindness.”


Great Beauty


From Wendy Farley’s The Wounding and Healing of Desire: “Weaving Heaven and Earth: “The great beauty that is ourself is drawn to the great beauty that is God, just as a roe is drawn to water in the desert. With nothing but our thirst to guide us, we who have “been scorned and `buked”‘ walk past and through the beauties of the desert always onward toward the Great Beauty. This beauty beyond all knowing and naming pulls us out of ourselves and toward ourselves and in doing so pulls us most intimately and scathingly toward the world. It is impossible to be drawn to the beauty of Christ without entering more vividly into the beauty of everything else.”


Expanding Circle

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From Pema Chodron’s The Places and Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times: “The formal practice of loving-kindness or maitri has seven stages. We begin by engendering loving-kindness for ourselves and then expand it at our own pace to include loved ones, friends, “neutral” persons, those who irritate us, all of the above as a group, and finally, all beings throughout time and space. We gradually widen the circle of loving-kindness. The traditional aspiration used is “May I and others enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.” In teaching this I’ve found that people sometimes have trouble with the word happiness…To get at the heart of the loving-kindness practice we may have to put the aspiration for happiness into our own words…The aspiration of a woman I know is that we all learn to speak and think and act in a way that adds up to fundamental well-being.”


Reading the Bible


From Rowan Williams’ Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer: “So reading the Bible is about listening to God in Jesus –which is what Christians ought to be doing in all circumstances anyway. It is letting the Holy Spirit bring you inside the story of how God related to the ancient Israelites and the first Christian believers –letting the Holy Spirit bring you inside that story so that you recognize it as your story. Suddenly these bizarre and exotic figures from the ancient Near East look you in the eye, and you recognize your own reflection. You see that they are indeed like you and you are like them. Reading the Bible is about building analogies between then and now, and recognizing in them your story. And developing and maturing in the reading of the Bible involves coming to recognize patterns of faithful and unfaithful response to God in the light of Jesus. That is what begins to happen when you make Christ the centre and focus of your prayerful reading.”


NYAPC — Becoming a Sanctuary Church

On March 21, 2017 we joined hands and in prayer with 60 other Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Unitarian and Humanist congregations (and about 200 people at the the rally) to launch the DMV (District-Maryland-Virginia) Sanctuary Network.    It was a glorious day to celebrate our unity in diversity and our pledge to support the most vulnerable in our community.  Perhaps you are wondering how we got here?  How did we become a Sanctuary Church?  Here is my (Alice’s)  perspective on how we became a sanctuary church, joining his historic and Spirit led movement.  

Immigrants and Refugees Welcome.”  In resistance to the Executive Order banning refugees from the seven majority Muslim countries and discriminating against Muslims, for the last two months those have been the words on our sermon board on both sides of our church.  Until the Executive ban is fully rescinded, until ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is no longer directed to raid immigrant homes in our community, and until DACA (Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals) candidates no longer live in fear of unfair deportation, that sign will continue to hang prominently in front The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington DC.  As Christians seeking after God’s justice and because of our physical positioning, just four blocks east of the White House, we feel this deep calling to stand up as a Sanctuary Church.

The Background of Becoming a Sanctuary Church

Last spring Kathy Doan, a ruling elder at The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church and a long time advocate for the immigrant community, and Maricelly Malave, Co-Founder of Sanctuary DMV (District Maryland Virginia), met with me to share an involving need for churches and communities to join the New Sanctuary Movement.  They shared the history of this ancient practice for temples, churches, and even whole cities to declare themselves as a place of refuge for people accused of crimes in which they feared unfair retribution. They shared that the US churches first used Sanctuary as part of the Underground Railroad helping slaves pass to freedom during the Civil War.

In the 1970s, when refugees from the Civil Wars in Central America began to come to the United States seeking shelter, the US government did not recognize them as political refugees seeking asylum.  Many were deported and faced death squads on their return.  In response to this dire situation the Sanctuary Movement was formed.  At its peak, there were over 500 member congregations. In 1986, the Sanctuary Movement won the inclusion of Central America as part of our immigration laws.

Starting the summer of 2014, we started seeing the return of the humanitarian crisis with thousands of unaccompanied minors fleeing violence and forced gang participation in Central America seeking safely in the United States. Moreover, eleven million undocumented persons are living in the United States, many who have lived here for more than ten years.  These members of our community — these friends, family members and neighbors are all at the risk of deportation.

In the fall of 2016, Kathy and Maricelly gave an Adult Education class presenting on Sanctuary movement. In October, the Session, the governing board of the church, voted to form a task force to study what it would mean to sign on as a sanctuary church.  Days before the Inauguration of the current President, by a vote of Session, The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church joined in with over 400 churches across the country to make the following public pledge:

As people of faith and people of conscience, we pledge to resist the newly elected administration’s policy proposals to target and deport millions of undocumented immigrants and discriminate against marginalized communities. We will open up our congregations and communities as sanctuary spaces for those targeted by hate, and work alongside our friends, families, and neighbors to ensure the dignity and human rights of all people.

This pledge affirmed the church’s role in the Sanctuary movement consistent with the church’s mission to be an inclusive justice seeking congregation trying to live out Jesus’ command that we welcome the hungry, the naked, the estranged and the outcast.

In signing the pledge, the church committed to hang a immigrants welcome sign out front of the church, to connect the church with those working in the field, to educate ourselves and then advocate for the needs of those seeking sanctuary, and to inform immigration service providers that the church is willing to provide sanctuary.  Due to of all of the details that still needed to be discussed, in January the church did not commit to physically housing individuals or families.

Where We Are At Now

Since January 20, we have seen policies, words, and inaction out of the current administration that deeply hurt immigrants, refugees, and both the Muslim and Jewish communities.  We are hearing immigrant neighbors say that they feel so scared that they are afraid to go to public spaces.  Some are afraid to send their children to school.  We have felt that our Christian faith has been deeply challenged, and that the justice of God is under deep threat and abuse.

In joining the Sanctuary Network a congregation needs to pledge support to one of 4 areas. Short of hosting ourselves, we have committed to the other areas.

  1. Hosting:    Actually taking a member of the community into sanctuary on the church property.   OR/ Supporting another congregation that is hosting a person in sanctuary.
  2. Accompaniment: Going with a member of the community to an ICE check in to be the eyes and ears on the ground as well as offering support and care.
  3. Rapid Response Network:  Being part of a network of people who respond when one of our neighbors’ homes is raided by ICE.
  4. Providing Know Your Rights Presentations for allies or immigrants

More on these 4 specific areas will follow in further articles.

In this New Sanctuary movement, as per the pledge, we have committed to stand along side all people who are under threat and vulnerable. These communities include the Black Lives Matter Movement, the Muslim community, the Jewish community, the LGBTQI community, and women.  Everyday we are seeking to see how we best live into this pledge.

Here is how we believe we have been in action thus far:

On the steps in front of the sanctuary days before the Executive Order (EO) was put in place, we hosted a press conference put together by Church World Service, The Presbyterian Office in Washington and Faith in the Public life — standing up against the then proposed EO barring refugees and discriminating against Muslims.  The words from Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, the new Director of the Presbyterian Office in Washington resonated with me: “Now is the time for the faith community to stand up for immigrants and refugees.  Now is the time to stand up for our common humanity.”


Since then, we have created petition asking Presbyterian members of Congress to stand for their faith and against the EO.  We sent in the petition with over 1,100 signatures from our congregation and from churches across the country.

Our church has joined in the “No Muslim Ban” protests against the Executive Order. We have gathered in front of the White House, at the steps of the Capital and at the Washington Monument protesting the current administration’s policies against immigrants and refugees.  We from age two to eighty have gathered after church walked the just four blocks over to the White House to add our voices to the many in protest.


We have shared the Session’s decisions with the congregation in worship and in our weekly newsletter.  The Sanctuary Taskforce has continued to gather and attend city wide meetings at All Souls Unitarian on how we can best live into our commitment and support both the immigrant community and places of faith. At those city wide meetings, members have began to train in Rapid Response Network training and Accompaniment training.  Kathy Doan has provided a workshop at the National Capital Presbytery Open Space to engage other Presbyterian churches in this network.

Additionally, we have begun to train the church staff  on how to respond if someone seeking sanctuary comes to our door.  Already we have visitors from Iran and Mexico wanting to learn more about our work as a Sanctuary church.

Looking to the future where there may be some very real need to take a long standing member of our local community into sanctuary, we have begun the planning of the necessary details:  where the person would sleep, shower and eat. We have also planned for legal representation for the church.  All of this planning takes a lot of time!

We continue to learn and discern where we are called and how we live into our new identity as a Sanctuary Church. We know it will not be easy and there is risk involved. But from the short time of becoming a Sanctuary Church, we have witnessed new well-springs of activism and engaged faith in our congregation. We hope that you join us in this calling too, and that as sisters and brothers united in one faith, one baptism, and one Lord, we may together to live into our shared faith where all are held up as beloved children of God.

For more information and for sources for this article, please visit:





Alice Tewell

For more information email alice.tewell@nyapc.org
















Mysticism, Social Action and Reconciliation

On Saturday, March 18, Rev. Lionel Edmunds gave the first talk in a four-part series, “Spirit and Action: Learning from Howard Thurman,” sponsored by New York Avenue Presbyterian’s McClendon Scholar in Residence program.



Just move on up, for peace you’ll find,

Into the steeple of beautiful people

Where there’s only one kind.

–  From the spiritual “Move on Up,” by Curtis Mayfield

 Mayfield’s lyrics “capture in song our topic today,” said Rev. Edmunds as he began his talk on the spirituality of Howard Thurman and Thurman’s book, Jesus and the Disinherited. Mayfield, a contemporary of Thurman’s, expresses an African American spirituality: “Our spirit is traveling in an upward way, expressed in music, dance, and also social justice. … Acts of social justice and reconciliation are spiritual acts that move us toward that beautiful steeple of beautiful people.”

For Thurman, social justice and reconciliation came from a “profound spiritual root,” said Edmunds. Thurman’s prophetic witness was an “overflow of mysticism, a response to a personal encounter with God.”

All of God’s Children Got Wings. Mysticism is a fairly recent word in Christianity, Edmunds said, noting that you won’t find the word in the bible. But it has always been a part of the faith. “It’s natural for a bird to fly and it’s natural for a Christian to be a mystic. … ‘I got wings, you got wings, all of God’s children got wings.’ Whether we use them is another thing!”

Edmunds emphasized mysticism’s connection to the world. “Some folks think mysticism means that you got God on your quick dial,” he said, and that it’s about the personal “God told me to tell you.”  But it’s connected to the political, he argued, quoting Isaiah. “In the year king Uzziah died, I saw the Lord” (Isaiah 6:1). Isaiah’s encounter with God was intertwined with what was happening in Israel’s political life.

An Overflow of Spirit. While Thurman didn’t call himself a mystic, saying the word had come into vogue after his own experiences, Edmunds noted that Thurman’s spiritual life fits the classic definition of mysticism offered by Bernard McGinn: “Mysticism is more about presence that it is about ecstatic experiences.” It’s always a process, a way of life.

Edmunds urged contemplation in silence: “At its root, prophetic activity is an overflow of what’s going on in your spirit. … Cultivate a quiet time, get in touch with your spirit, and that’s going to help in you in your activism.”  Edmunds said it takes at least 13 minutes for the body and mind to become quiet — “And you shouldn’t be listening to Morning Joe!” In addition, various tools, what Thurman called “clotheslines,” can help with distracting thoughts. Edmunds held up his own homemade rosary, and noted that words, scripture or lines from songs can be helpful.

Pray Without Ceasing. You don’t need a class, he said. “Just take the bird out of the cage, and it will fly by itself. The Spirit takes natural ascent to be in the presence of God.”  It’s about fostering an awareness that you can carry with you into your day. That’s what Paul meant by “pray without ceasing.”

Mysticism isn’t just individual; it is communal. And communities that have been oppressed “are uniquely positioned” to understand the teachings of Jesus, said Edmunds.

While Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited is often called black theology, “it’s about spiritual theology that transcends black liberation. It’s human liberation,” said Edmunds. “It’s beyond feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, it’s about liberation from anything that tries to deprive me of who I am as a child of God.”


This was the first talk in a series of four sponsored by the McClendon Scholar in Residence Program. Please join us for future programs!

 April 8, 10 to noon, at Luther Place Memorial Church
Rev. Karen Brau of Luther Place Memorial, Spiritual Activists: Five Lessons for Today
 May 6, 10 to noon, at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church
Rev. Bill Lamar of Metropolitan A.M.E.,  The Spiritual Work of Prophetic People
 May 20, 10 to noon, at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church
Rev. Joe Daniels of Emory United Methodist, Where Do We Go From Here?

Closing Down


From Pema Chodron’s The Places and Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times: “…even in the rock-hardness of rage, if we look below the surface of the aggression, we’ll generally find fear. There’s something beneath the solidity of anger that feels very raw and sore. Underneath the defensiveness is the brokenhearted, unshielded quality of bodhichitta [compassion]. Rather than feel this tenderness, however, we tend to close down and protect against the discomfort. That we close down is not a problem. In fact, to become aware of when we do so is an important part of the training. The first step in cultivating loving-kindness is to see when we are erecting barriers between ourselves and others. This compassionate recognition is essential. Unless we understand—in a nonjudgmental way—that we are hardening our hearts, there is no possibility of dissolving that armor. Without dissolving the armor, the loving-kindness of bodhichitta is always held back. We are always obstructing our innate capacity to love without an agenda.”


Tied Together

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From Michael Eric Dyson’s Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon To White America: “But so much of what ails us—black people, that is—is tied up with what ails you—white folk, that is. We are tied together in what Martin Luther King, Jr., called a single garment of destiny. Yet sewed into that garment are pockets of misery and suffering that seem to be filled with a disproportionate number of black people. (Of course, America is far from simply black and white by whatever definition you use, but the black-white divide has been the major artery through which the meaning of race has flowed throughout the body politic.)”