Kindred in Christ,
A couple of weeks ago, I was grabbing coffee with someone who had never observed Lent and was curious about doing so for the first time as part of the U Gathering UMC community. They asked why people gave things up for Lent. They explained that as an outside observer they had viewed this specific practice as legalistic and based on shame—kind of like “toxic diet culture, but for Jesus!” And while religious legalism and fatphobia have certainly distorted the tradition of spiritual fasting, the healing journey of Lent is anything but these harmful practices.
Lent is the 40-day period (not including Sundays!) of “spring cleaning for the soul.” It is a time when we are invited to reflect and ask, “What things, habits, or norms have taken ahold of our lives in unhealthy way?” And so, some chose to detox or fast from things like drinking too much alcohol, scrolling too much on the internet, or anything else that seems to be negatively affecting or even controlling their lives. The idea behind giving something up for Lent is not to try to become more holy or lose weight; rather it is to allow ourselves more space to be made more fully alive in God. And after Lent is done, if we choose to return to the practice of drinking alcohol, or surfing the web, etc. we can do so with greater balance and freedom, having allowed the false hold and security that those things offered us, to die. “New Beginnings invariably come from old false things that are allowed to die” ~ Richard Rohr.
As many are already aware, our time of hosting weekly worship gatherings on Sundays at the Masonic Lodge ended abruptly last week. This was an unexpected end to a weekly practice that provided us grounding for the last two years. This was something that none of us imagined giving up for Lent, and yet here we are. And while the space was not ideal, and we were already looking for a new location to better fit our weekly gathering needs, I personally grieve and will miss the rhythm that space provided us as a gathering community. Yet that space was never our true home, nor was it our church. We, the gathering people, are the true church. And in having to let it go of a temporary home, we now find ourselves allowing more space for God to emerge a new beginning of greater life.
As we have mentioned elsewhere, we are in hopeful conversations in securing a new interim location that will better suit our gathering needs. We are hoping to have a new location by Holy Week and Easter. In the meantime, beginning Sunday 2/25, we will start hosting house church / small group gatherings on Sunday mornings at 10:30 AM in various members’ homes across the city, in lieu of one regular service. The idea is to gather in intimate small groups around tables, and learn how to be church in new / ancient ways—around brunch, potluck, spiritual reflection, song, and fellowship. More information and an opportunity to RSVP will be made available next week!
While it may feel like we are giving up formal Sunday services for Lent, know that we will still very much walk the journey of Lent together in a new way. When we do gather again on a Sunday as one congregation in our new location, it will be as a more connected and more fully alive community in God.
Rev. Paul Ortiz
Happy Black History Month!! This Sunday we kick off our new series, Making a Way. Considering the popular African American saying, “making a way out of no way”, we will study the lives of some of the Black heroes of the faith who inspire us with their holy resilience, creativity, and witness. We will particularly consider Black Methodists who often called the church to its best ideals, and trusted God’s justice making love, even when there seemed to be no way forward. We hope to see you in-person or online!
Kindred in Christ,
I once had a therapist that was an ex-nun. While no longer part of a religious order, she was still a spiritually profound person. She considered mental health her current ministry. I greatly appreciated her on many levels.
One of the valuable things I learned from her was the importance of remembrance—both in my actions and prayer life. She suggested that when I felt anxious, I should think back to a time when I felt similarly, and ask myself, “Did things turn out as bad as I had feared?” Usually the answer was “no.” Moreover, she invited me to reflect upon what had helped me in those past situations. It usually involved turning to spiritual practices and reaching out to others. Remembering how God and my community had showed up in the past empowered me to turn to them in the present and caused me to be hopeful about the future.
As we join our nation in remembering the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the many ways God used him to help bring about greater racial equity, may we connect it to the many ways God is still calling us to advance the work of justice and liberation today. While the problems and injustices we face in the present are daunting and at times disheartening, may we remember that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Change takes a long time, but it does happen with the help of our faithfulness and participation.
Join us this Sunday as we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and continue in our series The Epiphanies of Epiphany. We will explore how not to remain frozen by our fears, but to respond to the Gospel’s invitation to “come and see” what is possible with God and community in the way of Jesus (John 1:35-46).
Rev. Paul Ortiz
Kindred in Christ,
I am excited to begin our new series, The Epiphanies of Epiphany: A Series About Finding God in the Ordinary. Epiphany comes to us from the Greek word “epiphaneia,” meaning “appearance” or “manifestation,” and refers to the ways we encounter the divine in our ordinary human lives.
For most of us the beginning of a new year tends to focus our attention on the future. For some of us that focus is expressed in our New Year’s resolutions, the intentions we have for our life, and the plans we make. Others of us may not make resolutions but we still have hopes and wishes for the coming year, and we consider the possibilities of what the year might hold for us. Some of us simply want a clean slate, a fresh start, a new beginning.
In whatever ways this gets expressed or experienced, it touches a common longing or desire within us. We seek something we don’t have. We want something different. We are aware of an absence.
You might be wondering what absence has to do with epiphany. At first, they might sound mutually exclusive. But what if the experience of absence and the accompanying longings and desires are the beginning of an epiphany for you?
Maybe epiphanies are the means by which God expresses God’s longing and desire for each of us. Maybe they are God calling and guiding us into deeper communion with each other and Godself. Maybe an epiphany is not so much an “Aha, I got it” kind of moment as it is an “Aha, it’s got me” kind of moment. It’s a moment that awakens us to the deep desires of our hearts, touches the longings of our life, and fills the absence in such a way that we get up and leave transformed and equipped to transform the world.
Join us this Sunday as we explore this theme deeper and consider the Baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:1-17). Hope to see you in-person or online.
Rev. Paul Ortiz