Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Church of the Beloved

Do you remember the Wedding Camp that Tom and I went to over Labor Day weekend in 2011? Tara, the daughter of Tom's closest friend, married Nathanael at Ghormley Meadows Christian Camp in Naches, Washington, and invited their family and friends to join them for the weekend. I've never been to another marriage celebration so relaxed or so sanctioned by community as Tara and Nathanael's.

Tara and Nathanael

So why bring it up again, three years later? Because the couple is a part of Church of the Beloved, a Christian community in Edmonds, along with many of the folks we met at the wedding. Ever since that weekend we had wanted to attend a service there, and last Sunday evening we finally had a chance to worship with them.

Housed at Rosewood, a century-old house that, over the years had been a hunting lodge, a brothel, a place to train German Shepherds -- Nathaneal pointed out the tree under which Rin Tin Tin is said to be buried -- and a nursing home, had fallen into disrepair when Ryan Marsh, pastor of Beloved, inquired into purchasing it. Set in a residential neighborhood in Edmonds, the large house with several bedrooms now provides housing for renters as well as space for Sunday evening services and other church-related activities.

Rosewood Manor

A community garden fills much of the back yard, as well as children's climbing toys and a sand box.  If neighbors want to use a patch of the garden they are welcome to it. The chicken coop is empty at the moment.

Here's what the Beloved's website says about itself:
Have you ever been invited to share a meal with someone you didn't know well where you felt truly welcomed? You've been there, right? 
Stories are told around a common table; warm dishes are shared among strangers and friends; laughter, drink, or a song stops time just long enough to remind you that you are human and you are not alone. 
We think God would show up to a table like that -- and that He has, and still does. 
At Church of the Beloved our name reminds us of our purpose in the world, to be loved and to be love.
Everything about our experience Sunday told us that this group of folks is intentional in the way they live in the world, just like we experienced at Wedding Camp three years ago.

They are a people who work together and play together and fellowship together. At camp everybody found a job to do, working in the kitchen, helping set up for the wedding, cleaning up, whatever. There was plenty of time for hiking or paddling a canoe, playing bocci or doing the zip line. And eating in the dining hall gave us a chance to fellowship over a meal.

Helping set up for the wedding reception

Taking my turn in the kitchen

Not where you usually find the mother of the bride on Wedding Day!

Announcements on Sunday included an upcoming potluck and an invitation to show up next Sunday to  dig a ditch. The theme of the service was Confession and after the message people could respond at any of three stations. One was a table where people shared their thoughts on confession. Listening in, I was moved by their openness to the Lord and to one another.

Two things stand out as fundamentally important in the life of the Church of the Beloved: children and holy communion.

Several children came in with their parents -- a darling curly haired girl wearing wings, toddlers, a young boy who joined the pastor at the communion table and mimicked his hand motions. Some were demure, some grew restless; all were welcomed. Partway into the service they were dismissed to Godly Play, but they came back in time for communion.

The communion table was set when we arrived. In the middle of the living room, with chairs and couches all turned to face it, the table was a large slab of a tree, maybe 8 or 10 inches thick, with an irregular edge and the rings of the tree highly polished. It was set on four tripod legs and held two cups and the bread. When it was time for the eucharist, Ryan filled the cups, gave instructions, consecrated the elements and made the invitation.
The table of Jesus is your place of gathering.
Here you are welcomed, wanted, loved.
Here there is a place set for you.
So come all you who thirst and hunger for life.
All you whose souls cry out for healing.
All you who are weighed down with worry.
All you who go hungry in a fat land.
All you who search for meaning, or belonging but cannot find it.
Jesus invites you.
Draw near and trust that God is with you.
The children came first, gathering around the table. Pastor Ryan squatted down, handing each one the bread and speaking to them of Jesus' gift. They found the lady with the juice and dipped their bread. A mother whispered something to the pastor and he placed his hand on her small girl's head and prayed for her before she took the bread from him. The tenderness of the moment didn't end with the children. Each one who came to the table was offered all of God's grace for all of our needs.

When the service came to a close, we were sent home with this blessing:
And the blessing of God,
Host of Creation
The blessing of Christ,
Guest of humanity
The blessing of the Spirit,
Source of Communion
go with you
for the sake of the world.

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