The Bravery and Beauty of God’s Unexpected People
In the first worship service of General Synod 2015, they said, “Amen!” — that they wanted to do something brave and beautiful. They said, “Amen!” — that they felt the Spirit building. They shouted, “Amen!” — that they wanted to make some noise! And they raised their hands in the air and “shook what God gave them” and the Rev. Molly Phinney Baskette invited them to join in the dance.
“You know you want to!” she cried. “Keep going!”
Unexpected places became unexpected people in Baskette’s sermon. The lead pastor of what she calls the “quirky, lovable, and truth-telling” First Church Somerville UCC celebrated the unexpected Canaanite woman who challenged Jesus when he declined to heal her daughter. She refused to accept that they’d never done it that way before. She refused to accept that only “respectable people” get access to the love of God.
They’d tried that in Somerville, too, Baskette told the crowd Friday night: welcoming the respectable. Though the pews were filled in the 1950s, many waited outside in their “naked need.” And they remained outside as the congregation dwindled.
“We didn’t know we were doing it, but we did it,” she said. “We were tired. We were scared. We just wanted some peace and quiet. But now, in many of our churches, we have a whole lot of quiet and yet no peace.”
She went on to tell the story of how those who came with their naked need became the source of strength and growth for the church. Some of it happened in worship, with the practice of having laity offer personal confessions to the congregation, sharing the stories of how God heard their prayer and gave them healing. “God takes their need and transforms it into strength, right before our eyes,” testified Baskette. “And attending to them, and to their vulnerability, we inhale, and we exhale, and we are stronger too.”
The worshipers roared with approval as she declared, “Black lives matter: And we need to keep saying it until everyone believes that it’s true,” and: “Homophobia is a heresy that must and will die in our lifetime.”
The sermon, and the dancing, crowned a June 26 worship service rooted in the variety of human experience. Hands placed a construction helmet, a butterfly net, police tape, a kite, and a cup and plate around the altar as symbols of work, creation, suffering, play, and peace. Leaders prayed in Spanish, Lingala, Hungarian, Samoan, Amenian, and English. The night’s offering, taken for the Virginia Kreyer Scholarship Fund, supports person with disabilities pursuing authorized ministries in the UCC.
It even included something of a “selfie,” as Baskette opened her sermon by inviting members of her congregation to join her on the stage for a photo with the “Big Boss.” She summoned General Minister and President nominee the Rev. John Dorhauer — and handed him the camera, to take the photo of herself and her quirky, lovable, truth-telling friends, with the Synod congregation as the Big Boss behind.
The honors of the night went to the Canaanite woman, who demonstrated the bravery and beauty of naked need, and who has found her name in so many of Baskette’s congregation: Whitney the survivor, Serenity the drag queen, Carlton and Reuben and George, the asylum seekers, Sophia and Nyla and Amanda, seeking shelter from violence.
“The Holy Spirit doesn’t send us the people we want,” Baskette testified. “The Spirit sends us the people we need. And they all make us stronger.”
And then it was time to join the dance.
“If you know you look ridiculous when you dance, say Amen,” she said — and they did.
“If you know you look ridiculous when you refuse to dance, say Amen,” she said, — and they said, “Amen,” even louder.
“So you might as well dance,” she rejoiced. “If you’re ready to dance, say Amen, Church, say Amen!”
And as they young people streamed down the aisles in bright yellow T-shirts, the Church said, “Amen!” and danced.
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