Monday, August 1, 2011

Happy 25th anniversary, little mission of Lutherans and Catholics!

Back in June, Mission of the Atonement (a one-in-the-world unique community of Roman Catholics and Lutherans) celebrated its 25th anniversary of worshipping together under one roof.

Did you say Lutherans and Roman Catholics, together?
Yes, you read that right. For 25 years.

How did you find such a church?
In fact, I grew up in this church when it was Atonement Lutheran Church (which was founded 50 years ago). When I was finishing up at PLU and heading off to Japan, the members decided to merge with a group of Catholics in the area to form a new mission congregation. Much of this decision was driven by a desire for growth (as it can be very difficult for small congregations to thrive in a largely nonreligious Pacific Northwest), but soon both the Lutherans and Catholics became extremely excited about the possibilities. And oh yes--I then married a Catholic! We could not have imagined a more perfect spiritual community for our family.

Do you mean that the church bodies actually approve of this?
Absolutely. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is highly supportive and the ELCA Oregon bishop and bishop's assistant frequently visit our community. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Oregon also sanctions our community as a mission parish, and Archbishops William Levada (now in the Vatican), Francis George (now a cardinal), and John Vlazny have all visited.

How does it work?
We are one community, united in our commitments to social justice, ecumenism, nonviolence, lay leadership, intellectual curiosity, and living out our faith through compassion and understanding. We come together for worship and separate for communion.

So get to the party already.
We had a whole weekend of partying. On Friday night we had a formal dinner at a local Chinese restaurant, with speeches by dignitaries and a very handsome emcee.

Me greeting Rod Kastelle and his wife Arlene
(Rod was the pastor at Atonement Lutheran who confirmed me)

Susan Kintner, assistant to Oregon ELCA Bishop Dave Brauer-Rieke
The handsome emcee

Our wonderful pastor, Laurie Larson-Caesar

Father Neil Moore, who "retired" but is still active in our community

The oldest members of our community, Oscar and Mary Olson (who have known me since I was 4!)

Recalling what was happening in 1986 (the year MoTA was born)

One of our dynamic new members, April, greeting Ricki, the wife of a former pastor
Honored guests and former clergy

Former ELCA bishop Paul Swanson, long-time friend of MoTA
On Saturday night we had a party--with delicious food catered by talented community members Susie Snortum and Spanky Hering), music provided by "Consorting with Papists," a game show and jokes, and dancing with a DJ (and an encore by the handsome emcee).

Mingling and listening to the band

Unfortunately no one got any photos of the amazing band ;)
(but that's me and my left half on the right side of the photo)!
Mary and April dancing to the band

Kieran dancing

Mary and Oscar (who both celebrated 90 years in 2011)

The boys decorating the tablecloth in the kids' room

Whirling dervish

Hula hoops on the labyrinth

Matthew and Chris

Hip pastor and husband

Enjoying the music


It was a beautiful (rare) Oregon evening

Dancing to the DJ's tunes

Mom listening to the music
The next day we had special services to honor the community--and the huge, gorgeous 25th anniversary banner was unveiled. Our anniversary theme was "deep roots, still growing."

All the leaves are made from people's hands, traced on fabric

Mission of the Atonement has been a sanctuary of welcome for our family, because of the shared commitment to treating other people with respect and living out our faith and values. Sometimes I have doubts about what I believe. I am put off by a lot in the bible and especially by other people who call themselves Christians. But I appreciate the fact that my community accepts me in spite of my doubts and in spite of my flaws (of which I have many)...and strives to live the gospel of love and justice instead of clinging to law and judgment of others.

To honor our longevity, I wrote these lyrics to the tune of Sara Thomsen's song, "Deep Peace." We sang it as our separation song on Sunday morning:

Deep roots, still growing from the ground
Two faiths spliced in one tree
Our branches spreading farther out
Our blossoms bearing fruit

Deep roots, still growing
Nurturing our souls
Deep roots, still growing
Breaking ground we go

And on Saturday evening, Mike spoke these words he had written as we sang the song together:
Summer, 1986. A handful of brave Lutherans and Catholics dare to believe they can worship together. Not just side by side, but together, guided by the holy spirit.

Things aren’t easy. Numbers are small. But the faithful few continue, yoked to their dream: One community, of two traditions, each maintaining its own identity while celebrating their oneness in Christ.

Some in the church bodies and hierarchies look askance. “Close down that place,” they argue. “Or everyone will be corrupted.”
But the people of Mission of the Atonement work through differences. They learn about the other’s traditions and grow in knowledge of their own.

A pastor is pregnant; Catholics rejoice. Lutherans confess. We study ecumenical dialogues. We have a welcome table.

Couples are married, children are born and baptized. Faithful ones go to their rest.
Reconciling in Christ, opening arms to our hurting LGBT sisters and brothers. Crying at Mother’s Day messages, washing each other’s feet on Holy Thursday. Supporting the lost, celebrating the found.

Building a labyrinth, planting trees. Watching our people walk and grow. Hands upon hands a banner spans, bridging the gaps. Proclaiming and partying, Twenty Five years. Blessed by so many. Deep roots, deep roots.
Happy 25th anniversary, Mission of the Atonement. Thank you for being God made manifest in my life.

"In the faces of men and women, I see God." --Walt Whitman

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