A View from the Balcony
"The balcony is closed." These words would often end the weekly television program At the Movies by film critics Siskel and Ebert, who would review films in an empty theater balcony outside normal business hours for our benefit, presumably. Well, Plymouth took steps a little over a year ago to ensure our balcony is always open–albeit a virtual balcony!
When Pastor JT Smiedendorf referred to the online viewers last Sunday as being in the "virtual balcony," that struck me as rather profound. Pandemic aside, the 21st century church has been redefined by technology allowing for meaningful outreach to corners of the world we never thought possible. People are being inspired–transformed –by the Spirit and message of love and inclusion transmitted globally from our worship services now. You will hear testimonies from viewers about how this has impacted their faith and worldview in coming weeks. It is beautiful that we can now share the Good News from our sanctuary to others searching for spiritual sustenance.
Our Audio Visual Team is an amazing group of people who run the sanctuary audio and livestream broadcasts each week. Co-chaired by Stuart Yoshida and Nic Redavid, their leadership and technical expertise has allowed our dedicated volunteers to learn the ropes of the new installation and bring quality broadcasts to you and our "virtual balcony" each week. C. Habit Blunk is contracted primarily to operate the video and livestream applications of the system, and we thank them for their enthusiastic and consistent service to Plymouth this past year. As a Deacons Board liaison to the AV Team, I know the challenges they meet and the gung ho spirit of this group and thank them for all their work. By all means, stop by the sound booth and say "Thank you" as well. They deserve it!
We are always looking for new volunteers to assist with audio and if you are interested please let myself or a member of the team know. All this is to ensure that at Plymouth we lean into the new virtual church realities of this digital age. While nothing can replace the sense of community of personal interaction in a live sanctuary worship setting, worshipers online are being reached and filled with the Spirit through our digital efforts. And that is no less the mission of God's church as well.
Let's keep the balcony WIDE open.
In case you missed last Sunday's Organ Encounter (or want to see it again):
Mark Heiskanen is Plymouth's Dir. of Music and Organist. Learn more about him and read his weekly Music Minute here.
Hal's Sabbatical Blog
En Route (post from 9.15.22)
Travel is nearly always an enriching experience, even though it comes with moments of frustration when things don’t go as smoothly as planned. (Travel writer Cameron Hewitt’s apt phrase is “Jams are fun!”) Back in my undergraduate years, while studying at the University of St. Andrews, I spent some time on European railways to see as much as I could. (One memorable “jam” was spending a cold winter’s night on the floor of the Florence train station.) But there were, of course, enlightening moments as well.
One of the great epiphanies of that trip was being in a train compartment with my young, American traveling companions, a compartment we shared with a middle-aged German man who spoke no English. At that point, I’d had a few years of high school German, and so I piped up and offered him an orange. “Möchten Sie ein Apfelsine?” I asked. And I was absolutely gobsmacked when he understood and accepted the orange.
I think one of the things Europeans may not understand about Americans is that it isn’t that we don’t want to speak their language, but that we have so little chance to use it. Simply asking a traveler if he’d like an orange in another language and being stunned by the fact that my German worked was a watershed moment for me. It connected me with someone from another nation, and it did so on their terms. (The possible exception to this is studying Spanish and using it both at home and in nearby nations. )
I know that it is a privilege to travel. I’m even more aware of that because I’m sitting in a business class seat. Hurrah for MileagePlus! I’m also aware of the rare privilege of having sabbatical time to decompress, study, travel, and explore. I am grateful to have this opportunity, and I hope to share some interesting insights.
I’ve also thought that history is somewhat like foreign translation: one has to try and speak another’s language in order to understand. (Certainly, historical figures, art, architecture, and archaeology are not going to speak our language!)
One of the paradigms I’m going to try on Christian art and architecture is one that I learned many years ago from a wise and wonderful professor, Ed Everding. In studying the New Testament, Ed proposed that we use a simple approach in examining a text: read rest of post
Rev. Hal Chorpenning is senior minister of Plymouth Church. He is on sabbatical through mid-November, 2022. Learn more about Hal here.
"Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good." - I Cor. 12:7 (NIV)
The Apostle Paul’s image of the body is one of the best metaphors of community that I have ever heard. It integrates unity and diversity. As a body of Christ, we at Plymouth Church have a common mission to bring more fully and to make more visible the Realm of God on earth. Yet, like the parts of the body, all the people of Plymouth are different and will contribute to that common mission in different ways.
In the church, we use the term “call” to express the discernment of and the energetic pull to engage both our shared common call of ministry and our particular call in expressing that larger ministry. My particular call (from the early 90’s) was to serve the Realm of God through ordained ministry; leading, teaching, counseling, and preaching in the local church. For some people, being a pastor is a good match for their best ministry.
Yet, ministry is for everybody in the church, not just pastors. We are all called to serve God’s mission in some way. Everybody can do something. At Plymouth, we have nearly a hundred different expressions of ministry that call for different gifts and graces. Some are quiet and behind the scenes and some are right up front in greeting and engaging others. Some are one-time projects and some are ongoing efforts that take time. Matching people to their best ministry is the goal.
That’s why I want you to bring your phone to church this Sunday, September 18th (or have your smartphone or computer handy at home). God may call you on it! Here’s how: We are launching Plymouth Ministry Match, an online survey that identifies your likely best matches for ministry through Plymouth Church. In 5 minutes, you can complete that survey and receive results almost instantly including links to click on to find out more about those suggested ministries. Taking the survey doesn’t commit you to anything. It only suggests where your best service might be. It also helps leaders of ministries to know who in our community of hundreds might be suited for a given ministry. Ministry Match is set up to generate more focused and useful conversations in finding the right ministry match for you through Plymouth Church.
Whether it’s fighting for a cause, welcoming people in, organizing a project, helping with creating quality worship, caring for others in need, or even maintaining the ministry of our building, there’s a ministry match for you at Plymouth Church!
Join us for Ministry Match at church or online Sunday during both worship services!
The Power of a Song
What is the power of a song? It is huge! A song can bring memories, laughter, sorrow, conviction, inspiration to keep on keeping on in the worst and best of times. This morning I have songs that are new to me, but tell a very ancient story, drifting through my mind and heart.
This past Sunday evening, the eve of Labor Day, Hal and I went to the theater – the Buell Theater at the DCPA in Denver. We had been given tickets to the play, the musical, really the contemporary opera, Hadestown. We had very little idea about what we were to see as we left Fort Collins that afternoon listening to the music on Spotify. I left the theater later that night full to the brim with thoughts, feelings, new insights, and new questions about being human at this time human history.
Hadestown is a contemporary retelling of the classic Greek myth of the poet/singer-songwriter, Orpheus and his pure, but ill-fated love with the beautiful, Eurydice. In Hadestown, their story is set within the context of the Persephone/Hades myth. In the classic tale, Persephone is the daughter of the goddess of fertility, harvest and the earth, Demeter. Hades, the god of the underworld, sees her walking in her mother’s fields of flowers and falls in love with her, captures her and brings her to live in the underworld. As Demeter pines for her daughter, the world grows cold and barren – dying. Persephone strikes a deal with her husband, Hades. In a cycle of six-month intervals, she will return to her mother in the upper world. The earth will bloom. There is abundance and harvest for all. Thus, we have the seasons.
Yet in the Hadestown contemporary retelling of the ancient stories and their archetypes, the world is suffering because Persephone’s cycle of movement between the underworld and the upper world is out of sync. Seasons are getting too hot and too cold. Sound familiar? Into this contemporary setting, comes Orpheus, the son of the muse, Calliope, a brilliant young artiste, who wants to heal the world with his songs. He falls in love with the poor, and very practical, street savvy Eurydice, woos her with his songs, with promises of the safety of eternal love and they are wed. But caught up in his composing, Orpheus, fails to see the immediacy of the destruction of climate change and its effects upon Eurydice as she tries to scramble together a living for them. She leaves to seek food and firewood and ends up beguiled by the promises of Hades, king of the underworld. She makes a fatal contract with him so that she will have food and shelter and is ushered into the out-of-control capitalist society of Hades’ kingdom, Hadestown. All the workers there have no memory of their lives above ground in the sun. They toil interminably, singing, “Keep your head down to keep your head!” in the mines and the oil fields of the underworld. They build a wall to keep out the enemy, Poverty, that threatens Hades’ control of his riches. Sound familiar again? When Orpheus finally finishes his song to heal the world of the ravages of turmoil, famine, flood, and poverty, he looks around for Eurydice and finds her gone. His search begins and he is led to the underworld to bring her home.
Yet, we know how the ancient myth ends….in the tragedy of self-doubt when Orpheus cannot keep his rescue bargain with Hades and loses his love forever to the underworld. I sat in my seat, watching and almost trying to will, a different ending to the story! In this retelling, Orpheus does sing his healing song for Hades, Persephone and all those captured in the underworld. Those enslaved are inspired to freedom. They will follow Orpheus as he takes Eurydice home. Even Hades, glimpses a lost love and joy that he had long forgotten. But the musical’s telling ends just as the old myth. And Orpheus’ is felled by the three Fates who predict he does not the strength of identity to pull everyone, including Eurydice, out of hell. We are left crestfallen once again. But the narrator of the story, Hermes, sings to us in sadness and hope that we sing this sad song, over and over, because one day we might sing our way into a new ending. And at the curtain call the cast lifts their voices to the pursuit of Orpheus, the poet, who roams the world seeking to heal it with his songs.
So, what are the songs in my heart that I keep singing two days after this experience? My heart is singing a song of grief and mourning at the ways of humans who want to keep other humans down and out when there is truly enough for all in the world. This is an age-old song. My heart is singing a song of anger and frustration at the voices of “the Fates” who tell us it will always be this way….we cannot beat this cycle. My heart is singing a song of gratitude that as a culture we are still telling the old stories so we can learn from them! My heart is singing a song of hope as I ponder how the story of Jesus entered the Greco-Roman world of these old stories bringing the possibility of new endings. We sing together each Sunday in worship the songs of hope in Jesus the Christ who unlike dear and earnest, Orpheus, entered the underworld through the love of God, conquered death and released the captives.
We must learn from Orpheus, who tried to take on Hades, all alone and lost out to his self-doubt. We are not alone. We live in the promise of God’s beloved community. My heart is singing a song of poignant joy as I remember that the Spirit of Jesus is alive and roaming the world with all of us who labor together to bring about a better world where poverty is not the enemy of riches, but a place seeded with justice and revolution. My heart is singing as I remember to sing the songs of God’s healing love, compassion, forgiveness and justice!
Blessings and with you on this journey,