Mysticism, Social Action and Reconciliation – A Talk by Rev. Lionel Edmunds by guest blogger Meg House

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.

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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.”

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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?

PCUSA Invitation to PCUSA Members to Sign on to Petition against EO Barring Refugees and Against Muslims. Please sign if you haven’t yet

Dear fellow Presbyterian Church USA members, ruling elders and teaching elders,

In the midst of so much national turmoil, we have been heartened this week that we have seen so many of you fighting for the cause of justice in our churches on behalf of immigrants and refugees around world.   We write to you today as members of the PCUSA with a request for you to sign onto a petition from members of our denomination to stand up in one voice against the Executive Order suspending refugee resettlement.

It is our conviction that Jesus stood with the most vulnerable in his midst on account of his belief that God is alive in the world seeking to transform the situation. In our present circumstance as Christians it our calling and duty to stand up with the immigrant and the refugee.  We believe the executive action issued this week titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” is unconscionable and goes against all that we stand for as Christians and as citizens of the United States of America.

Kathy Doan, a ruling elder at The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, and Executive Director of the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, wrote the linked petition to our fellow Presbyterians in Congress to oppose the Executive order suspending refugee resettlement program and discriminating against Muslims.  On Sunday morning January 29 many members of The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church signed onto the petition.  It is being mailed on January 31.

However loud our members’ voices may be, as proud members, ruling elders, and teaching elders of the PCUSA, we believe we are the most effective when we speak together united as one body of Christ. We believe that it would be most impactful if members of the PCUSA around the country would also sign on to the petition.

Would you sign onto this petition?  Would you share it with your friends and networks who are part of the PCUSA?

https://docs.google.com/a/nyapc.org/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdAobkDEbqBClQ3GoMbBrj3VtqKvvxNG6lHYfPV6c4pv7g7Wg/viewform?c=0&w=1.

After you sign onto the petition, will you also contact your Congressional representative?  To be connected to your representative in Congress or the Senate, call this number (202) 224-3121.  You will need to call the line three times to be connected to your representative and two Senators.

Many thanks and blessings,

Roger J. Gench, Senior Pastor

Alice Tewell, Associate Pastor

Kathy Doan, Ruling Elder

Miriam Dewhurst, Clerk of Session

Ann Rose Davie, Parish Associate

Frances Taylor Gench, Parish Associate

Emily Rhodes Hunter, Parish Associate

Linda LeSourd Lader, Parish Associate

Matthew Schlageter, Parish Associate

Taylor Allison, NYAPC Member

NYAPC Joins Sanctuary Movement

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Photo taken in front of the church on 1.25.17

On January 10, the Session, upon the recommendation of the Church’s recently formed “Sanctuary Taskforce” agreed to join hundreds of other churches, many of them Presbyterian, in signing the following 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.

See the pledge here.

This pledge affirms NYAPC’s place as a part of the larger “Sanctuary” movement, which the task force believes is consistent with the church’s mission to be an inclusive, justice-seeking presence in Washington, DC and the world.  However, the signing of the pledge does not commit the church to physically housing individuals or families.  The Taskforce recommended deferring any decision on a public grant of sanctuary to a particular individual/family until such an individual/family has been identified.

The Session also charged the Sanctuary Taskforce with developing and implementing specific steps through which NYAPC can fulfill its pledge to be a “Sanctuary congregation.”  Initial ideas from the Taskforce include:

-Scheduling and publicizing an “immigration services day” on a weekend at the church to connect families in need to legal, social work, and other relevant service providers

-Identifying individual members interested in “Sanctuary”-related mission work, which could include individual volunteer work (e.g., pro bono legal, social work, or other services) or participation in larger “Sanctuary” efforts/activism led by the PC(USA) Office of Public Witness, Washington Interfaith Network, or other organizations

-Informing immigration service providers of the church’s willingness to consider providing “sanctuary” to an individual or family, and developing a recommendation for way(s) in which the church might do so (e.g., physically housing a family vs. providing a family with resources or identifying external housing).

To learn more about the Sanctuary Movement and how you can help to support the efforts of the Sanctuary Taskforce, stop by our table at the Mission Fair on Sunday or email kathryndoan@yahoo.com

-Kathy

(Ruling Elder on Session)

Thank You Notes from Our Weekend Guests (Jan 20-22)

Here are a few thank you that our guests who came for the Inauguration and the Women’s March on Washington left behind:

We cried with joy when you said we could stay.

-Rev. Jamie Haskins, Director of the Center for Faith & Service, Chaplain, Instructor of Religious Studies at Westminster College, Fulton, MO

BIG SHOUT OUT to New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in D.C. They opened their doors to tired, cold, hungry marchers with full bladders. Their message was love, love, love and inclusiveness. No proselytizing or choosing sides, just service and Christianity as it was meant to be. They are an “inclusive, justice-seeking church.” This marcher thanks you from the bottom of her heart and honors your commitment to service!

We received coffee, hot chocolate, and cookies, donations only. They also opened their door to overnight guests at no cost. Here is their message on the website:

We invite you to march-day hospitality: Members of the church will stay at the church to serve as hosts for those seeking to warm up, use the bathrooms, charge a cell phone (limited plugs), or join in conversation. We will have hot beverages and snacks available for our daytime and overnight guests. Our sanctuary will be open for prayer and meditation. All guests from any background or belief are most welcome inside the building! #newyorkavenuepresbyterian

-Lynelle Morgenthaler

Thank you so very much!  You were all awesome and welcoming, upbeat and amazing.  Thank you for providing food and sanctuary for all of here for the march!

-Janet from Garland, TX

Just wanted to say “Thank you” for your welcoming hospitality during the Women’s March on January 21st, 2017.  My friends and I were tired and thirsty, and trying to find our way around the city before heading  home after the march.  Seeing your doors open, and smiling faces welcoming us to come inside, rest, use the facilities, and even get a snack was such a nice surprise for us.  Your thoughtful kindness and generosity  was inspiring, and just added to the whole wonderful experience that day!

– Regina Keller

I attended the awesome March in DC on Saturday.  As we waited in the dusk for our bus pickup, out of nowhere appeared an angel from your church (can’t remember her name, sorry, but she knows who she is) with a pitcher of iced tea, cups , and a plate of cookies! As much as that was appreciated (and believe me it was greatly appreciated), the further offer of a clean restroom blew me away. I’m from NYC, and can think of only a handful of groups that would have done the same. Words cannot express the full scope of my gratitude, and I’m sure I speak for all who benefited from your incredible generosity when I offer my thanks. Please do me the favor of sharing this with all those involved.

-Sincerely,  Brigid Scott

Thank you to the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church for opening its doors to marchers during the Women’s March on Washington on January 21, 2017!  Your offer of refreshments, and a sanctuary for prayer or reflection was welcome at this difficult time in our nation’s history. Thank you very much! 

Susan Robinson
Ithaca, NY

Come On In (by Angela Williams, YAV)

By Angela Williams, NYAPC’s Young Adult Volunteer

“Come on in, grab a cup of coffee. Take a seat and stay a while. You’ll hear stories you’ve never imagined.”

 

These are the words my friend Bobby* said to a group of tourists who stopped by a few Sundays ago to visit the historic New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. The women walked into the open doors of the Radcliffe Room during the height of our Sunday morning activity. They were seeking spaces where former Presidents Abraham Lincoln and John Quincy Adams worshiped. They likely wanted to take pictures of the iconic stained glass windows that line the walls of the sanctuary. When they walked into the first set of open doors, they likely did not expect to see almost 100 men and women experiencing varying levels of homelessness eating breakfast, drinking coffee, singing hymns, waiting in line for clothes, and fellowshipping with each other and volunteers.

 

I welcomed the women to our church but recognized that they likely did not come to New York Avenue to see the Radcliffe Room. I directed them to the front desk, which they could access either by staying on the sidewalk and entering the next set of doors or by walking through the Radcliffe Room, through the hustle and bustle of life happening in the space. They hesitated, and ultimately opted to leave the foyer and continue on to the main set of doors. Bobby welcomed the group but looked at me to say what we both knew would happen: they would go around. Bobby is one of our guests who doubles as a volunteer. 

 

When I started working in the Radcliffe Room seven months ago, I found my home in the clothing closet. Each Sunday, I arrive at 7:30 am and take the next forty-five minutes to prepare the men and women’s clothing closets while the other volunteers prepare the food. This involves hanging up whatever donations we received in the last week, bringing down supplies from our storage room three floors up, rolling the racks of women’s clothing out to the stage, our designated safe space for women, and arranging racks and bins so guests can easily navigate the spaces. That takes a lot of work, and I often found myself frustrated that I carrying the burden alone. Many guests would offer to help me out, but I always politely declined. I’m a YAV; I can do anything.

 

At some point, my usual helpers started showing up the same time I did, and I finally decided to surrender my self-sufficient ego to accept assistance from those I thought I was supposed to serve. All of a sudden, the burden seemed lighter, and my mood shifted. I could come to the Radcliffe Room every Sunday and be confident that the clothing closet would be ready to open at 8:15 thanks to the help of Bobby, Jaq*, Lee*, Darwin*, and many of the other guests who offer their hands every week.

 

In January, my supervisor, Jessica, and I read Toxic Charity by Bob Lupton, in preparation for the 2016 NEXT Church National Gathering, where he would be a keynote speaker. I found myself questioning my work and mission in church settings, particularly in the Radcliffe Room. Despite the critique he has received, his fundamental shift of how we approach mission resonated with me. Why not welcome guests who want to give back to the ministry? Why not welcome internal investment? Perhaps that was the nudge I needed to truly partner with our guests to blur that line between volunteer and guests, us and them.


At the NEXT National Gathering, 
Aisha Brooks-Lytle powerfully brought the Word, reminding all in attendance that we can’t go over it, can’t go below it, can’t go around it; we’ve gotta go through it. Sharing the good news of Jesus Christ also means that we have to be willing to accept it from others. Living out the Gospel requires us to get messy and be in real relationship with God’s beloved Creation. When we tell the story of a historical church, we can share tales of giants of the faith who advised Presidents, Congress, and the Supreme Court, but we should also include how the fabric of the church is intertwined with our neighbors in places without power. We are called to go through it in proximity with those who are poor, deprived, oppressed, marginalized, exploited, and suffering. The next time someone walks through the first open door, why don’t we invite them to come in, grab a cup of coffee, take a seat, and stay a while? We all may hear a story we never imagined.

 

*Names have been changed.