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Church Blogging #21
“GOD IS PROBABLY SPEAKING” THROUGH THESE MESSENGERS OF PEACE
By Nick Mottern
On Sunday, April 26, 2009 Martha Conte, Margaret Eberle, Nora Freeman and I attended Hitchcock Presbyterian Church in Scarsdale, NY in our bannering campaign to encourage Westchester County clergy and congregations to actively oppose the US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.
We found a remarkable openness to our message among the congregation and the first occasion in more than a year of church visits in which a pastor made an on-the-spot revision of the day’s sermon to include our witness.
In the conclusion of his sermon “God Is Still Speaking”, the Rev. Dr. John W. Miller said: “God is probably speaking through these four people who appeared today to bring a message of peace.”
The warm welcome was in harmony with the sunny Sunday morning of our visit and the blossoming trees and flowers in the residential neighborhood that is the setting for the large stone church complex.
As we entered the church sanctuary we were struck by the open, free feeling of the high, cream colored vaulted ceiling and the pastel colored stained glass windows with modern, abstract patterns from nature. The interior of the sanctuary looks new, and we learned that the church underwent major renovation after an arsonist’s fire in 1986.
The front of the sanctuary is dominated by the wood pipe organ case, perhaps 25 feet high, holding silver pipes. The Bach fugue being played that morning nearly overwhelmed, and enabled, the loud chatting of parishioners as they filled the hall. By the time the service began, about 150 had assembled, largely a white congregation but with a significant number of Asian and African-American parishioners.
At the point in the service for the “Greeting of Peace”, when people in the congregation welcome each other to church, shaking hands or embracing, we exchanged greetings with those in the pews around us and then moved to the left side wall of the sanctuary, holding high two banners. The first read:
JOIN US – HELP END THE WARS!
U.S. Soldiers Killed Wounded
Iraq 4,277 31,010
Afghanistan 653 4,500
Cost of War From US Taxpayers
OVER ONE MILLION CIVILIANS HAVE BEEN
KILLED, WOUNDED OR DISPLACED
The second said:
PEACE ON EARTH Good Will to All Luke 2:14
After about a minute, Reverend Miller, invited the children in the congregation to come forward for their morning lesson before going to church school, and then he turned to us and said: “Thank you for sharing your message with us.”
While we were standing with the banner, an Asian woman came up to us and, smiling, shaking our hands, thanked us for coming.
We then folded the banners and returned to our seats.
In his sermon, Reverend Miller said that there is a tension between those who feel that God continues to speak to an evolving human mentality and religious interpretation and those who believe that God laid down ideas long ago that must be obeyed and that “there is nothing left to hear.”
God speaks through the Scriptures, the pastor said, for example, telling the “wealthy and the mighty that the Kingdom is not them” but for “the hungry, poor and peacemakers.”
He said that God also speaks through the Holy Spirit, and “we are dream-catchers for one another.”
God, Reverend Miller said, wants “another world” where walls are torn down and swords are beaten into plowshares. “It is costly,” he said, “to put ourselves on the line for justice and peace,” and “it is a struggle to trust in God with our very beings.”
And he concluded, as noted above: “God is probably speaking through these four people who appeared today to bring a message of peace.”
“God is still speaking. Are we listening.”
In leading the “Prayers of the People” just prior to the end of the service, Reverend Miller said “prod us out of our complacency” and after offering prayers for the sufferings of specific parishioners he prayed for “peace in the world” and for Americans and Iraqis in Iraq, which had just faced “one of the bloodiest weeks”, and for those suffering in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka and “all those places where war is known.”
As we rose to leave the church at the end of the service, a woman in her sixties came up immediately to thank us for coming. Martha met her several years ago and knew that she had two grandsons, not brothers, 20 years old. One is opposed to the Iraq War, the other joined the Marines and will ship out to Iraq in May.
The Asian woman who came over to us while we held the banner also greeted us, as did several others. At the social hour, a woman said she appreciated our witness and the way we had done it. All of a sudden we appeared with the banners, she said, and then almost as quickly the banners were taken down; she spoke of the witness as though it were a kind of magical manifestation.
We left the church feeling that the pastor and congregation are perhaps the most unified congregation in embracing and practicing of a peace message of any that we have encountered.