One of Saint Oscar Romero’s Final Conversations

Carolyn Forché, an American poet and author, [1] then 27-29 years old, lived in El Salvador, January 1978—March 1980. Her memoir recounts her amazing sojourn in this country, which then was on the precipice of a brutal civil war.[2]

As an admirer of Monseñor (now Saint) Oscar Romero, I was especially interested in her accounts of seeing him on four occasions and conversing with him on the last of these.[3]

Mass in the Cathedral

Forché first saw Romero while he was celebrating mass in the then unfinished Cathedral of San Salvador, the capital of the country. He was “in his white vestments before a spray of microphones, giving a homily with a litany of names of those disappeared or found dead that week, some of whom were in coffins lined up at the altar, with windows cut into the lids to reveal their faces, except the mutilated. “ (Pp. 193-94)

“In shafts of sunlit dust sent from the louvers of the two bell towers we stood shoulder to shoulder; women in scarves or mantillas, men holding their straw hats, children sitting along the altar rail as the homily was broadcast to thousands of radios throughout the country, to machine shops, bodegas, to pickup trucks, and the battery-operated radios in the villages. When his homily giving guidance and counsel came to an end, Monseñor walked toward the coffins with an aspergillum [liturgical implement], sprinkling holy water on the dead, and then he walked through the congregation, and we parted to make a path for him, the water sprinkling down on our bowed heads, as it had on the coffins.” (Pp. 193-94.)

Upon later reflection, “I would understand that here the dead and the living were together, and those who stood alive before him, he was blessing in advance.” (P. 194.)

Lunch at the Carmelite Convent

On another occasion Forché went for lunch with the Carmelite sisters at their convent where they operated the Hospital of Divine Providence for cancer patients. Monseñor Romero, who lived in a small casita on the hospital grounds, came late for lunch. Apologizing for his lateness, he said, “there were so many meetings this morning, so many problems to address, that he lost track of time.” Forché heard someone mentioning her name, and Monseñor nodded his head yes, glancing at me.” (Pp. 213-15.)

But the two of them did not have any conversation on this occasion although she later recalled hearing his voice from the convent kitchen, saying,“ We must hope without hoping. We must hope when we have no hope.”(P. 336.)

It should also be mentioned that the hospital’s small, modern chapel is where Romero was assassinated while celebrating mass on March 24, 1980. (P. 332.)

Another Mass at the Cathedral

Presumably in early 1980, Forché attended another mass at the Cathedral,  “hoping once again to receive Communion from Monseñor, to feel the raindrops from his aspergillum land on me. . . . I took photographs of him at the altar, speaking into what appeared to be a telephone held by an altar boy . . . .[To] the left of the altar is Father Ignacio Ellacuria, arms folded, not wearing his glasses, his eyes appearing to focus on Monsignor’s raised hand.” [4] (Pp. 311-13.)

After mass that day, Forché “noticed a man wearing sunglasses, who was, inexplicably, carrying an attaché case . . . He paused near one of the side altars as if offering a special prayer. The following day, a priest found an attaché case carrying seventy-two sticks of dynamite behind that side altar. It had been set to detonate during a funeral Mass for a civilian member of the junta, scheduled for that afternoon, but the detonator had apparently failed.” (P. 312.)

Conversation with Romero

On March 14, 1980, Forché and a Venezuelan journalist met with Romero in a community room at the Hospital of Divine Providence. Responding to questions from the journalist, Romero said finding a solution to the conflict had not been exhausted. “For if that were true, we would already be in the midst of a full civil war.” (P. 327.)

Another question prompted Romero to say, “My relation with the [guerrilla] organizations is one of a shepherd, a pastor with his people, knowing that a people has the right to organize itself and to defend its right of organization. And I also feel perfectly free to denounce those organizations when they abuse the power and turn in the direction of unnecessary violence. This is my role as pastor: to animate the just and the good and to denounce that which is not good.” (Pp. 327-28.)

Romero continued, “As I have told you, I do not have a political role in El Salvador, but rather a pastoral one. As a pastor, it is my duty to construct this Church, my community, the church. That is what I am responsible for. And this Church, as a people, illuminated by God, has a mission too among the people in general.” (P. 328.)

The journalist then asked about Monseñor’s own safety. The response, “ I have a great confidence in the protection of God. . . One does not need to feel fearful. We hear from Jesus Christ that one should not tempt God, but my pastoral duty obliges me to go out and be with the people, and I would not be a good pastor if I was hiding myself and giving testimonies of fear. I believe if death encounters us in the path of our duty, that then is the moment in which we die in the way that God wills.” (P. 328.)

After the journalist left. Forché and her friend Leonel, who also was there, discussed with Romero a meeting she had had with a Salvadoran official who was going to defect. Romero then told Leonel that “It is for the best” that Forché leave the next day (March 15), and Leonel agreed. (Pp. 328-29.)

Forché, however, did not want to leave and said to Romero, “But Monseñor, forgive me but it is so much more dangerous for you.” He replied, “My child, my place is with my people, and now your place is with yours.”  Romero added that he wanted her to “speak about the sufferings of the poor, the repression, and the injustice,. . .[to] say what I had seen.” He “assured me that the time would come for me to speak, and that I must prepare myself and I could do that best through prayer.” (P. 329.)

Forché left El Salvador the next day (March 15), and Romero was assassinated on March 24. (P. 332.)

Conclusion

On April 26, 2019, before I had read her book, I heard Forché speak about it at a “Literary Witnesses” meeting at Minneapolis’ Plymouth Congregational Church.

I asked her whether she had any comments on the impact on Romero of the March 12, 1977, murder of his friend and fellow priest, Rutilio Grande, and the opinion, often expressed, that this death converted or transformed Romero to be more outspoken against the human rights abuses of the Salvadoran government. (Pp. 28-29.)

In response, Forché said that Grande was murdered just before she arrived in the country, but based upon what she heard about Romero and her conversation with Romero, noted above, she disputed any contention that Romero was converted or transformed by that murder. He always expressed solidarity with the people and spoke out against repression.

For anyone interested in El Salvador, this well-written book is highly recommended.

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[1] Carolyn Forché , Poetry Fnd; Carolyn Forché, Wikipedia.

[2] Forché, What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance (Penguin Press;  New York; 2019); Goldman, A Young Poet, a Mysterious Stranger and an El Salvador on the Brink of War, N.Y. Times Book Review (April 20, 2019); Meyer, How to Write Poetry About Conflict. The Atlantic (Mar. 25, 2019).

[3] This blog has published many posts about Romero, his life and death, his continuing inspiration for many people throughout the world, including this blogger as well as various legal proceedings regarding his assassination. See the posts listed in the “Oscar Romero” section of List of Posts to dwk commentaries—Topical: EL SALVADOR.

[4] Father Ellacuria at the time was Professor and Rector of the Jesuit University of Central America (UCA) as well as a Jesuit priest, philosopher and theologian On November 16, 1989, he was was one of the six Jesuit priests who were murdered near their apartments at UCA. This blog has published many posts about these priests, their brutal murders and various legal proceedings regarding that horrible crime. See the posts listed in ”The Jesuit Priests” section of List of Posts to dwk commentaries—Topical: EL SALVADOR.

 

Interfaith Worship Service at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church

On Thanksgiving Day, November 26, a moving Interfaith Worship Service at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church was organized and conducted by clergy from the Downtown Congregations of Minneapolis.[1]

This service was the perfect incarnation of a message given that same day by Pope Francis at a meeting of religious leaders in Nairobi Kenya. The Pope said there was a profound “need for interreligious understanding, friendship and collaboration in defending the God-given dignity of individuals and peoples, and their right to live in freedom and happiness”. Indeed, said the Pope, “ecumenical and interreligious dialogue is not a luxury . . . [or] something extra or optional, but essential, something which our world, wounded by conflict and division, increasingly needs.”[2]

Calls to Prayer

There were three Calls to Prayer at the Minneapolis service. Cantor Barry Abelson of Temple Israel sang one in Hebrew. The Westminster Choir in English sang “God Be in My Head” by Gwyneth Walker.[3] Muezzin Elijah Muhammad of Masjid An-Nur (Mosque of the Light) sang his Call to Prayer in Arabic.

Voices Around the Table

The participants in the service then gathered around a common table in the front of the Sanctuary for the reading of passages of sacred and other texts from their different faiths. In addition to those mentioned below the participants were Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen, Westminster’s Senior Pastor; Rev. Phil Boelter, Vicar of Gethsemane Episcopal Church; and Rev. Judy Zabel, Lead Pastor of Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church.

Rev. Dr. Carla Bailey, the Senior Minister at Plymouth Congregational Church, read these excerpts from “A Litany of Thanksgiving” by Howard Thurman, an influential African-American theologian, educator and civil rights leader (1899-1981):

  • “Today, I make my Sacrament of Thanksgiving.”
  • “I begin with the simple things of my days:
    Fresh air to breathe,
    Cool water to drink,
    The taste of food,
    The protection of houses and clothes,
    The comforts of home.”
  • “I finger one by one the messages of hope that awaited me at the crossroads:
    The smile of approval from those who held in their hands the reins of my security;
    The tightening of the grip in a single handshake when I feared the step before me in the darkness;
    The whisper in my heart when the temptation was fiercest and the claims of appetite were not to be denied;
    The crucial word said, the simple sentence from an open page when my decision hung in the balance.”
  • “I pass before me the mainsprings of my heritage:
    The fruits of the labors of countless generations who lived before me, without whom my own life would have no meaning;
    The seers who saw visions and dreamed dreams;
    The prophets who sensed a truth greater than the mind could grasp and whose words could only find fulfillment in the years which they would never see;
    The workers whose sweat watered the trees, the leaves of which are for the healing of the nations;”
  • “I linger over the meaning of my own life and the commitment to which I give the loyalty of my heart and mind:
    The little purposes in which I have shared with my loves, my desires, my gifts;
    The restlessness which bottoms all I do with its stark insistence that I have never done my best, I have never dared to reach for the highest;
    The big hope that never quite deserts me, that I and my kind will study war no more, that love and tenderness and all the inner graces of Almighty affection will cover the life of the children of God as the waters cover the sea.”
  • All these and more than mind can think and heart can feel,
    I make as my sacrament of Thanksgiving to Thee,
    O God, in humbleness of mind and simplicity of heart.”

Hamdy Dr. El Sawaf, the Senior Iman of the Islamic Community Center of Minnesota and the Masjid Al-Iman (Mosque of Faith), read the following passages from the Holy Qur’an in Arabic with the following English translations by Maulana Muhammud Ali:

  • “Blessed is He Who made the stars in the heavens and made therein a sun and a moon giving light!” (25:61)
  • “And He it is, Who made the night and the day to follow each other, for him who desires to be mindful or desires to be thankful.” (25:62)
  • “And We have enjoined on man concerning his parents — his mother bears him with faintings upon faintings and his weaning takes two years — saying: Give thanks to Me and to thy parents. To Me is the eventual coming.” (31:14)
  • “So he smiled, wondering at her word, and said: My Lord, grant me that I may be grateful for Thy favour which Thou hast bestowed on me and on my parents, and that I may do good such as Thou art pleased with, and admit me, by Thy mercy, among Thy righteous servants.” (27:19)
  • “And He it is Who made for you the ears and the eyes and the hearts. Little it is that you give thanks!” (23:78)
  • “And certainly We established you in the earth and made therein means of livelihood for you; little it is that you give thanks!” (7:10)
  • “O people, keep your duty to your Lord and dread the day when no father can avail his son in aught, nor the child will avail his father. Surely the promise of Allah is true, so let not this world’s life deceive you, nor let the arch-deceiver deceive you about Allah.” (31:33)
  • “Surely Allah is He with Whom is the knowledge of the Hour, and He sends down the rain, and He knows what is in the wombs. And no one knows what he will earn on the morrow. And no one knows in what land he will die. Surely Allah is Knowing, Aware.” (31:34)
  • “Even as We have sent among you a Messenger from among you, who recites to you Our messages and purifies you and teaches you the Book and the Wisdom and teaches you that which you did not know.” (2:151)
  • “Therefore glorify Me, I will make you eminent, and give thanks to Me and be not ungrateful to Me.” (2:152)

Senior Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman of Temple Israel read Leviticus 19: 9-18 in Hebrew from the Hebrew Bible with the following English translation:

  • “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest.You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.”
  • You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord.You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning.”
  • “You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.”
  • “You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor.You shall not go around as a slanderer[a] among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood[b] of your neighbor: I am the Lord.”
  • You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself.You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”

Rev. Laurie Feillle, Senior Pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) read this passage from the Christian Gospel (Matthew 6:25-33) in English:

  • “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?  And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Sermon

The Sermon, “Gratitude for Dreams,” was delivered by Rev. Peter Nycklemoe, Senior Pastor of Central Lutheran Church. Here is a summary of his message.

The above passage from Matthew stresses personal piety, almsgiving, prayers and calls for forgiveness. The text also tells us not to worry. But often being told not to worry just makes the situation worse. Matthew, however, points the way forward: “strive first for the kingdom of God.”

A helpful understanding of the kingdom of God comes from Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian pastor and author, who said:

  • “If we only had eyes to see and ears to hear and wits to understand, we would know that the Kingdom of God in the sense of holiness, goodness, beauty is as close as breathing and is crying out to born both within ourselves and within the world; we would know that the Kingdom of God is what we all of us hunger for above all other things even when we don’t know its name or realize that it’s what we’re starving to death for. The Kingdom of God is where our best dreams come from and our truest prayers. We glimpse it at those moments when we find ourselves being better than we are and wiser than we know. We catch sight of it when at some moment of crisis a strength seems to come to us that is greater than our own strength. The Kingdom of God is where we belong. It is home, and whether we realize it or not, I think we are all of us homesick for it.” [4]

We all are homesick for hope in this world, and the gathering at this common table of representatives of three great religious traditions is a sign of that hope.

The words of Leviticus that were just read by Rabbi Zimmerman also are important: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien.”

These words from the Hebrew Bible reminded Rev. Nycklemoe of a celebration organized by one of his congregants in the State of Washington, Olaf Hanson, who owned an apple and potato farm. After harvesting what he needed, Olaf hosted a Gleaning Day for his guests to gather the gleanings of the fruit and vegetables and put them in paper bags for the poor and needy.

We too need to share our longings, our lostness, our need for love and the gifts of one another.

Responding in Gratitude

The solicitation of offerings to support the work of the Downtown Congregations to End Homelessness was provided by The Very Rev. Paul Lebens-Englund, the Dean of St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral.

Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamations

President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Proclamation Establishing Thanksgiving Day was read by Fr John Bauer, Rector of The Basilica of Saint Mary, Here are its words:

  • “The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.”
  • “Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.”
  • “No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”
  • “It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”
  • “And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.”

President Barack Obama’s 2015 Presidential Proclamation was read by Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, a member of Westminster Presbyterian Church:

  • “Rooted in a story of generosity and partnership, Thanksgiving offers an opportunity for us to express our gratitude for the gifts we have and to show our appreciation for all we hold dear.  Today, as we give of ourselves in service to others and spend cherished time with family and friends, we give thanks for the many blessings bestowed upon us.  We also honor the men and women in uniform who fight to safeguard our country and our freedoms so we can share occasions like this with loved ones, and we thank our selfless military families who stand beside and support them each and every day.”
  • “Our modern celebration of Thanksgiving can be traced back to the early 17th century.  Upon arriving in Plymouth, at the culmination of months of testing travel that resulted in death and disease, the Pilgrims continued to face great challenges.  An indigenous people, the Wampanoag, helped them adjust to their new home, teaching them critical survival techniques and important crop cultivation methods.  After securing a bountiful harvest, the settlers and Wampanoag joined in fellowship for a shared dinner to celebrate powerful traditions that are still observed at Thanksgiving today:  lifting one another up, enjoying time with those around us, and appreciating all that we have.”
  • “Carrying us through trial and triumph, this sense of decency and compassion has defined our Nation.  President George Washington proclaimed the first Thanksgiving in our country’s nascence, calling on the citizens of our fledgling democracy to place their faith in “the providence of Almighty God,” and to be thankful for what is bequeathed to us.  In the midst of bitter division at a critical juncture for America, President Abraham Lincoln acknowledged the plight of the most vulnerable, declaring a “day of thanksgiving,” on which all citizens would “commend to [God’s] tender care” those most affected by the violence of the time — widows, orphans, mourners, and sufferers of the Civil War.  A tradition of giving continues to inspire this holiday, and at shelters and food centers, on battlefields and city streets, and through generous donations and silent prayers, the inherent selflessness and common goodness of the American people endures.”
  • “In the same spirit of togetherness and thanksgiving that inspired the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag, we pay tribute to people of every background and belief who contribute in their own unique ways to our country’s story.  Each of us brings our own traditions, cultures, and recipes to this quintessential American holiday — whether around dinner tables, in soup kitchens, or at home cheering on our favorite sports teams — but we are all united in appreciation of the bounty of our Nation.  Let us express our gratitude by welcoming others to our celebrations and recognize those who volunteer today to ensure a dinner is possible for those who might have gone without.  Together, we can secure our founding ideals as the birthright of all future generations of Americans.”

Music

Interspersed throughout the Service were pieces of wonderful music.

The Preludes–“America the Beautiful” (Calvin Hampton for organ), “Variations on Simple Gifts” (Michael Burkhardt) and “The Promise of Living” (Aaron Copland)–were provided by Westminster’s Minister of Music & the Arts/Organist, Melanie Ohnstad, and the Westminster Choir directed by Dr. Jere Lantz.

Jon Romer on a Native American flute played two Ojibwe pieces—“Song of Welcome” and “A Song of Love.”

The choir and assembled people sang the following hymns: “O God, Show Mercy to Us;” “This Is My Song;” “ We Praise You, O God;” “Now Thank We All Our God;” and “O Beautiful for Spacious Skies.”

Conclusion

This was a powerful and meaningful worship service, especially in these days of too frequent expressions of hostility towards Muslims and Syrian refugees. This service was exactly what Pope Francis called for in his previously mentioned remarks in Kenya and on November 30 at the Grand Mosque of Koudoukou in the Central African Republic:[5]

  • “Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters.  We must therefore consider ourselves and conduct ourselves as such. . . . Those who claim to believe in God must also be men and women of peace.  Christians, Muslims and members of the traditional religions have lived together in peace for many years.  They ought, therefore, to remain united in working for an end to every act which, from whatever side, disfigures the Face of God and whose ultimate aim is to defend particular interests by any and all means, to the detriment of the common good.  Together, we must say no to hatred, no to revenge and no to violence, particularly that violence which is perpetrated in the name of a religion or of God himself.  God is peace, God salam.”

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[1] The bulletin for the service is available online,  So too is a video of the service.

[2] The Pope held the meeting at the city’s Apostolic Nunciature (diplomatic mission of the Holy See) with leaders of different Christian confessions (Anglican, Evangelical, Methodist, Pentecostal and others) and of other religions (Animist, Muslim). Holy See, Ecumenical and Interreligious Meeting: Address of His Holiness Pope Francis (Nov. 26, 2015); Interreligious meeting in Nairobi: service to the common good. News.Va (Nov. 26, 2015).

[3] A prior post discussed this anthem, its composer and its derivation from the Sarum Primer of 1514.

[4] Other references to Buechner are contained in previous posts: Honorary Degree (Aug. 14, 2011); My General Thoughts on Vocation (Feb. 6, 2014).

[5] Pope Francis visits Grand Mosque of Koudoukou in Bangui, News.Va (Nov. 30, 2015)

The Order of Worship at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church

Westminster Presbyterian Church

Worship services at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church are divided into three sections: Preparing for the Word; Listening for the Word; and Responding to the Word.

Note that the focus of all three sections is on what the worshiper should be doing: preparing, listening and responding.

This structure helps me to focus and concentrate on the central message and thereby derive greater meaning from the service. Occasionally I have visited other churches without such a tripartite or any other stated structure and with a long list of different parts of the service with the sermon near the end. By the time the sermon is reached, I am tired or bored. They are not nearly as meaningful for me.

Preparing for the Word

We already have seen examples of the musical parts of Preparing for the Word:  the jazzy preludes, the percussive preludes, the Processional Hymn “O Holy One and Nameless,” the world premiere of Palestinian hymns and the choral anthem “God Be in My Head.”

A central part of this first section of the service is the Prayer of Confession, an example of which was set forth in a prior post.

All of the parts of this section of the service are designed to prepare the worshiper for the reading of, and listening for, the Word of God in Holy Scripture.

Listening for the Word

The central part of the worship service is the reading of the Word from Holy Scripture and the Sermon with commentary on the Word.

As an example of the intelligent, challenging sermons at Westminster we have looked at the one by Westminster’s Senior Pastor, the Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen: “How Do We Know God: Human Community.”

We also have reviewed the engaging sermons of two guest pastors in prior posts: Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb of Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Palestine and Rev. Dr. James Gertmenian of Minneapolis’ Plymouth Congregational Church. From time to time future posts will review other sermons.

Responding to the Word

Supplemented by the congregational singing of hymns and the choir’s singing of anthems, this section features the Affirmation of Faith, the Pastoral Prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, the Offertory and on the first Sunday of the month communion.

 An example of the Pastoral Prayer will be provided in a future post.

The service concludes with this Charge to the Congregation: “Go forth into the world in peace; Be of good courage; Hold fast to that which is good; Render to no person evil for evil. Strengthen the faint-hearted; Support the weak; Heal the afflicted. Honor all people. Love and serve the Lord, Rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.”

Especially meaningful for me is the Charge’s emphasis on rendering “to no person evil for evil” and on honoring “all people.” That means everyone; no one is excluded.

This emphasis on total inclusiveness is repeated in the following Benediction; “And now may the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Hold Spirit be with us and those whom God loves this whole world over.”

The worshipers are then invited to the Passing of the Peace, when the people are encouraged to greet one another with the peace of Christ.

The Postlude concludes the service.

“What Do Our Hearts Treasure?”

Westminster Presbyterian Church

 

Rev. Dr. James Gertmenian

This was the title of the sermon by Rev. Dr. James Gertmenian of Minneapolis’ Plymouth Congregational Church at Westminster Presbyterian Church on September 16, 2012. A prior post examined the Processional Hymn that day–“O Holy One and Nameless”–which was written by Rev. Gertmenian. A video of this service is on the web.

The sermon was based upon two passages from the New Testament of the Holy Bible.

The first, Luke 10: 25-28, says: “Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.’Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ [Jesus] said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ [The lawyer] answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind’ and your neighbor as yourself.’ And [Jesus] said to [the lawyer], ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.'”

Rev. Gertmenian said the lawyer, at least on the surface, wanted to know how he might gain eternal life. “It is what we all want, I think, though we use different languages to describe it. Not length of life, really, not just simple persistence into some imagined future heaven, but something that endures by virtue of its depth, by virtue of a quality that transcends time. Our faith tells us that God, the eternal one, has somehow touched us with that quality, that the life spark in us means that we partake of or are connected to the enduring, the unquenchable, the forever.”

The second Scriptural text for the day, II Corinthinians 4: 16-18, states: “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this momentary slight affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”

Yes, said Gertmenian, ”but what are those unseen things? What lasts?”

He said, “Our lives . . .  are over in a flash; we burst forth, sparkle, glimmer, grow dim, and then are gone. In the cosmic scheme of things, flesh is practically as ephemeral and evanescent as vapor or gas; only rocks, ice, dust, and space endure.”

“What lasts? What do our hearts treasure? What is eternal? More specifically, what have been the eternal moments in your life? I don’t mean the big moments, or even the most memorable ones, but the deepest ones which, by virtue of their depth, make the passing of time – and even memory – irrelevant?”

Gertmenian offered two moments in his own life that upon reflection he regarded as eternal.

One was spending time with his eight-year-old daughter having ice cream after watching Halley’s Comet. “I know that for the momentary gift of [my daughter’s] hand in mine, for the frivolous pleasure of tasting ice cream, for this odd adventure on a warm evening, I will gladly, willingly, joyfully embrace the limits of my life: its brevity, its fragility, its impermanence. It is rich – this life – rich like found treasure and meant, I think, to be spent extravagantly and with exuberant gratitude to God.”

“Eternal life consists in this: in taking even one moment and living it so prodigally, with such abandon, that we do not grudge its going. One moment lived like that is eternal. One moment, lived like that, is heaven. Jesus draws this truth to its deepest level when he says: ‘Whoever seeks to save their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will save it.'” (Matthew 10:39.)

“Think about your own life, your own self. What lasts? What [does your heart] . . .  treasure? What is eternal?”

“Maybe you’ll take a few moments . . . to think about these things. And as you mull them, remember how Jesus replied to the man who wanted eternal life. Ultimately, he said, after obedience to the core commandments, the way to eternal life is in giving up what you have, in opening your hands and releasing the things you cling to. Not just possessions, but everything. Even time.”

I have pondered the question posed by Rev. Gertmenian and will share those reflections in a subsequent post.

 

“O Holy One and Nameless”

Westminster Presbyterian Church

“O Holy One and Nameless” was the beautiful and moving Processional Hymn at the September 16, 2012, worship service at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church.

Rev. Dr. James Gertmenian

The lyrics were written by Rev. Dr. James Gertmenian, Senior Minister of Minneapolis’ Plymouth Congregational Church, and are set to the “Munich” hymn tune by Felix Mendelssohn.[1]  Rev. Gertmenian said in writing this hymn he “wanted to use images and themes which, while rooted in the Christian tradition, spoke of a more universalistic vision. All religions are not the same, and we need not adopt a goal of amalgamating the great families of faith, but humanity’s future depends on our ability to see that the taproots of religion are sunk in common soil and draw from the same nutrients of spirit and truth.” Here are the hymn’s lyrics:


O holy  One and Nameless Who wears a thousand names,

Throughout the ages changing, yet steadfastly the same;  

We gather here to worship in hopefulness and praise,  

Recalling all your mercies that magnify our days.

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In awe we humbly witness that your are greater still

Than any human language could compass or fulfill.

We praise your for the myst’ry in which your truth is sealed.  

We praise you for the story that is your truth revealed.

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That story’s long unfolding from temple, mosque, and church,

Grows ever wide and deeper and sanctifies the search

That leads to your dwelling within the common place,

Where all the world is holy and radiates your grace.

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And yet this wider story is told a thousand ways,  

With each a matchless vision with each a certain praise

So ev’ry human family and ev’ry human soul  

May know you in their language and, knowing, made whole.

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For wisdom free from doctrine, for faith transcending creed,  

For simple, true compassion, for love enshrined in deed:  

We offer up our bodies, our hearts, our hands, our minds    

To find our truest worship in serving humankind.

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This hymn was especially appropriate at this time in light of the recent Muslim rage about the trailer for an outrageous movie about the Prophet Mohamed that apparently was created by individuals who said they were Christians.

I believe that all religions and all religious institutions, leaders and followers are human and, therefore, imperfect or flawed. They all have their positive qualities, and they all have their negative or sinful qualities. We have been seeing too much recently of the latter for Islam and Christianity. This hymn reminds us of their positive and common qualities.

Rev. Gertmenian also delivered the sermon that day, “”What Do Our Hearts Treasure?,” that will be covered in a subsequent post. The entire service, including the Processional Hymn and the sermon are available in streaming video on the web.

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[1] This hymn was written on commission for the 300th anniversary in June 2011 of Green’s Farms Congregational  Church of Westport, Connecticut.  The most well-known lyrics for the “Munich” tune are “O Word of God Incarnate.”

A Powerful Prayer

Last Sunday (August 5th) at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church I heard the following powerful prayer as the text of an anthem ,”God Be in My Head:”

  • God be in my head,

    Westminster Presbyterian Church
  • And in my understanding;
  • God be in my eyes
  • And in my looking;
  • God be in my mouth
  • And in my speaking;
  • God be in my heart
  • And in my thinking;
  • God be at my end,
  • And at my departing.

(A video of this worship service is available on the web.)

Sarum Primer, title page, 1555

I was surprised I had never heard this prayer or anthem before. The church bulletin said this text was from the Sarum Primer of 1514, which meant nothing to me.

After I returned home and goggled “Sarum Primer,” I discovered that it was a book of prayers and Christian worship resources in the Roman Catholic Church that was collected by the clergy at Salisbury Cathedral in the south central part of England. It was published in 1514 in the “Book of Hours” (Cambridge) and republished as the “Sarum Primer” in Salisbury in 1558. (“Sarum” is the abbreviation for Sarisburium, the Latin word for Salisbury, which was and is both a city and a diocese in England. “Primer” is the Middle English term for a Book of Hours.)

I remember the beautiful Salisbury Cathedral from a visit in 1962. To the right are photographs of its interior and exterior.

David Evan Thomas

The composer of the anthem is David Evan Thomas, who was born in Rochester, New York in 1958 and holds degrees from Northwestern University (B.A.) the Eastman School of Music of the University of Rochester (M.A.) and the University of Minnesota (Ph.D.). He lives in Minneapolis and in addition to composing sings in the city’s Plymouth Congregational Church Choir. I was surprised to discover that he had been a composer in residence at my church (Westminster Presbyterian Church).

I pray that God will be in my head, understanding, eyes, looking, mouth, speaking, heart and thinking. And eventually in my end and departing.

Intimations of Mortality

I am in excellent health. Like most people I try to take each day as it comes. Each day requires a “To Do” list and running around doing this and that. More of the same, day after day.

Recently, however, there have been reminders of human mortality, including my own.

Over the last several years four of my former law partners at Faegre & Benson (n/k/a Faegre Baker Daniels) have died as have four adult children from this larger group of colleagues. A good friend of mine from our church died last October, and my remarks at his memorial service were recently posted.

Last June was my Grinnell College class’ 50th reunion. As mentioned in an earlier post, I was the de facto obituary writer-in-chief for our reunion booklet. Of the 359 in our class, 53 were deceased. Since then three other classmates have died, one of whom was a friend. I have written their obituaries for our class letter.

For the asset side of  my December 31st family financial statements, I calculate the present values of certain future income streams like Social Security benefits and a law firm pension. The first step in that calculation is looking at the Internal Revenue Service’s Life Expectancy Tables. For 12/31/11, these Tables said my life expectancy was 15.5 years or 186 months. (Statistically this is the median of the anticipated survival time of the entire cohort of people of a certain age or the time when 50% of the cohort will have died.)

All of this reminds me of Frank Sinatra singing September Song, “The days dwindle down to a precious few. One hasn’t got time for the waiting game.”

Memorial services for our departed friends and acquaintances should be times for us to pause and reflect on where we are in our own lives and what should be important for our remaining days or years. Be kind and loving to your family and friends and those people who will come into your life around the next bend in the road. It is not work harder or make more money, important as they may be.

The memorial service for one of my fellow retired law partners at Minneapolis’ Plymouth Congregational Church was especially touching and moving. In early adulthood he and his wife had three children. In mid-life he and his wife divorced after he recognized that he was gay. At the service the minister read a loving remembrance from his male life partner. The deceased’s younger brother made an emotional speech about how much his brother had meant to him. A fellow law firm partner talked about his excellence as a lawyer and leader of the firm as well as his personal concern for the welfare of his colleagues. Three of his grandchildren read the Scriptures. All aspects of his life were acknowledged and celebrated. As the newspaper obituary stated, he was “a devoted partner, loving husband, beloved father and grandfather, caring brother, delightful uncle, and cherished friend.”  Sitting in the pew at the service, I gave thanks to God for the life of this amazing man and for this Christian church’s witness to the unbounded love of God for all human beings.