March 30, 2013

Reflections: Easter sunrise service a Christian gathering with nonsectarian spirit

By BILL GREGORY

Since 2000 a random group of 30 or 40 has come together for a sunrise service on Easter. I put a sign up a week before Easter, tell friends who might be interested and welcome whoever shows up.

REFLECTIONS is a column written by members of Maine's faith-based community. Opinions expressed in the column reflect the author's view and not necessarily that of the newspaper.

We gather around a wood fire on Sandy Point on Cousins Island, just to the north of where the bridge from the mainland boards the island. No one asks about religious affiliation. No one asks about beliefs or creeds. It is a Christian service with a nonsectarian spirit to it. We don't take an offering. We offer ourselves in gratitude to the new day and the mystery, power and grace that lift the sun up from Casco Bay once again and continue to create life out of all things and events, even, perhaps particularly, through death.

Two readings have been scripture each year, a Gospel account of Christ's resurrection and e.e. Cummings' poem "i thank thee god." It has become tradition for the Rev. Judith Blanchard, a chaplain at Maine Medical Center in Portland, to recite Cummings: "i thank thee god for most this amazing day: for the leafy greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes ..."

We read other poetry, sing "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today," participate in a simple ritual of rededication to hope and share quiet and reflection in the spectacle of the daily cosmic occurrence made special that day by the central Christian mystery of resurrection.

I suppose this is an invitation to join us if you'd like, but my reasons for telling you of it is to comment on an intersection of spirit that delights and fascinates me these days. It is where seekers in the churches meet with seekers who resist, even reject, anything that smacks of institution.

When I retired from the pastoral ministry with its often counterproductive tasks of servicing an institution and being of service to the wounds of the world, I wondered if anyone outside the church would be interested in matters of the spirit, which are my passion. To my delight I discovered that, if anything, peopl------e outside the churches were as, if not more, interested in these things as people in the church. We live in a time of deep spiritual hunger.

Our churches, Protestant and Roman Catholic, witness Pope Francis, are just now getting over their edifice complexes and back to the work of spirit and justice in the name and way of Jesus. At the same time amazing people outside the day-to-day lives of our congregations are looking, albeit seldom in our churches, to find just what we in the churches are seeking and to various degrees finding there: meaning, community, compassion, justice and a deep and abiding relationship with "everything that is natural which is infinite which is yes."

The church in which I will gather with beloved fellow members for Easter worship at 10 a.m., after the sunrise service at 6:24 a.m., now defines itself as "open and affirming" to all people of all ages, persuasions and sexual orientations. I firmly believe that we are headed in the way of Jesus, by this declaration.

In my opinion, saying we are "open and affirming" is all well and good, a first step, but what do we do then? We open our doors and wait, ready and willing to offer genuine welcome. The problem with this is that we wait inside the buildings that are the symbols of the abuse of authority and violation of trust that keep so many people away.

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