I was excited and honored to take part in the Yale Congregations Project in New Haven, Connecticut 21-26 June along with my colleague Melanie and my friend Brian. We comprised the team from St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia. I tweeted during the seminar, too, using the hashtag #YaleCP.
The day began with a very different kind of Morning Prayer service. The chairs were cleared away from the hard wood floor of Marquand Chapel at the Yale Divinity School, and in their place we found a large labyrinth, various prayer stations around the room, a smaller "chapel" area for meditation, and 17th century King James Bible (from the rare books library, on loan for our service).
There were various ways to present our prayer concerns in writing as part of the stations, there was a bowl of water, there was an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Shells were available as tokens to carry on one's pilgrimage through the labyrinth. There was colored cloth. There were many candles. This was a very rich service, and there was much to engage with. This non-verbal approach to our daily prayer was a striking change from the other liturgies we celebrated together, and the music was also radically different.
Much of the music was provided by an iPad app that allowed all present to create the music that was heard in the chapel. A clarinetist skillfully wove long improvised lines into the texture of the sounds of the app, and gradually this acoustic improvisation came to the fore. It was a beautiful, seamless transition, one that embodied the kind of experience that the service created: a richness of image, symbol, and prayer finding a calm, collected (and collective) center.
We continued centering ourselves in four plenary sessions -- the most we had understaken in a single day -- that focused on Tyson House, St. Olaf, First UCC of Northfield, and Colbert Presbyterian.
Tyson House wants to -- without being anything but humble about it -- share their tremendous gifts in liturgy and music with their supporting Episcopal and Lutheran congregations and the wider church. This project is incredibly exciting to me given the very clear vision and intentionality of this community.
St. Olaf wants to focus on liminal architectural space outside their Chapel, and together we explored the myriad ways that this could be undertaken. The conversation flowed freely, and many specific suggestions were offered.
To add to the fun, Melanie, Brian, and I took part in a video interview about the Congregations Project during the lunch hour. We're going to be church rockstars, just you wait!
First United Church, Northfield is seeking, in Bach's words, a "well-regulated church music" for their congregation. They're identifying a certain tenor that works well, and they're striving for more of the same. This context is a bit challenging to me because the attention span of the children is, to some degree, used as a barometer of their success, and this kind of high-energy worship production would be exhausting to me after a while.
Colbert Presbyterian is also focused on students, but not as a campus ministry, so their challenges are somewhat different than that of a Tyson House or a St. Olaf. But there was a great desire to reach out and engage these students in their full life of liturgy, and together we explored how to move in this direction.
A potpourri of diverse music at Evening Prayer brought what was a very busy and very wordy day to a close.
A few more quick words, ones heard throughout the day:
“We know more than we can tell” –Michael Polanyi #YaleCP— David Sinden (@sinden) June 25, 2013
“There is a logic of imagination as well as a logic of concepts” – T. S. Eliot #YaleCP— David Sinden (@sinden) June 25, 2013
If you want to be a believer there is a cross. #YaleCP— David Sinden (@sinden) June 25, 2013
I, for one, was glad for a leisurely dinner, a quick trip to the used bookstore, and then a quiet night in to recharge for Day 6, the final day of the seminar.
But I want to offer a word about that quick trip to the used bookstore, because it seems that in New Haven everything conspires to make you think all the time.
One of the plenaries this day, and I hate to admit that I can't remember which one, referenced a line from Thornton Wilder's Our Town, a play I'm crazy about. The line is from the end of the play when Emily Webb is recounting all the things that she loved about her life in Grover's Corners:
"Good-bye, Good-bye world. Good-bye, Grover's Corners....Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking....and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths....and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth,you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it--every,every minute?"
Shelling out a few coins for a well-loved copy of this profound drama, and spending a bit of time with it before bed was the icing on the cake.
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