I had the good fortune to attend the New England Association for United Church Educators conference on Tuesday night, Weds and Thursday morning of this past week. The theme of the conference this year was “Be who God meant you to be…”
As we have been figuring out here at Pilgrim Church who/what God means for us to be, I thought I might pick up some tidbits that I could bring back to you folks to help our process. Well, as we all know, God may hear our prayers and know our thoughts before we utter them, but often- the answer to those thoughts and prayers is not what we were expecting! Such was the case for me at NEAUCE this year!
I did pick up lots of cool ideas for Church School/Faith Formation, youth group, fostering intergenerational connections and some fabulous alternative worship ideas. We will unpack those later and hopefully go on some field trips to further explore some of the connections I made at the conference.
But for now, for today, I want to focus elsewhere.
The theme “Be who God Meant you to be” actually comes from a larger quote from St. Catherine of Sienna, a mystic from the middle ages. St. Catherine wrote a letter to the leaders in Vatican City Rome on behalf of one of the candidates for the papacy in 1376 calling them to task, urging them to vote for a certain candidate. The larger quote from her letter actually read, “Be who you are meant to be and you will set the world on fire!” (repeat)
She was, of course, advocating that voting for a certain Papal candidate would create a zeal or passion for the church and thus spread Christianity even further. This quote, however, has been used in a variety of settings from wedding homilies to Youth Summits to the titles of retreats and conferences and the interpretations of the quote vary just as widely.
Some folks see this quote as referring to our inward lights, the stardust in each one of us that the Holy Spirit sets ablaze, others interpret the quote to mean that is how we find our true purpose or calling, we will set the world a glow, still others feel that this quote from St. Catherine is a directive that we must do something momentous with our lives!
This seemingly innocuous quote from a letter written over 640 years ago has caused quite a stir!
As I sat in this conference and listened to the keynote speaker Pam Shelberg, former New Testament Professor at Bangor Theological Seminary, unpack this quote and its relevance to faith formation, something else was unfolding for me. Of course, I could see the connection between Christian Education and wanting to stoke people’s passions for growing in their faith, for the church, for a relationship with God. I also totally related to what Pam was saying when she remarked that this quote seemed like a tall order each of us to take on. Set the world on fire?!?! Oh my!
But, then I thought, isn’t that just what we are trying to do here at Pilgrim Church? We are getting clarity about our mission/vision statement, about our purpose in the world, so that we can focus on what we are passionate about, right? So that we can go out in the world and do amazing things, right?!
Well, not quite-this quote from St. Catherine is about being who God means you to be NOT doing what God wants you to do. If we simply are who we are meant to be, our inner stardust will shine- it will glow like no light you have ever known!
Throughout her keynote speeches at the conference, Pam chose to focus on the apostle Paul’s individual experience meeting the risen Christ and his writings in the book of Acts and general letters to illustrate how he set the world on fire by being who he was meant to be. Clearly, the Apostle had a huge impact on the communities around him!
As I was sitting in the workshops and lectures at the conference; I began to realize that in addition to discerning who we are as a faith community and who we want to be in the wider community, each and every one of us needs to spend some time getting to know ourselves and reflecting on our individual relationship with God- Paul had three days of not being able to see anything to reflect on his journey, Jesus took time away often to pray and get some perspective on his ministry.
So, this morning, instead of wrestling further with the mission and vision statement, we are going to take a break from that and focus on our individual relationships with God and the individual ways we can be our best selves.
One of the focus scriptures for the conference was Psalm 139, a favorite psalm of mine. If you are able to join us, you will notice that it serves as the Call to Worship in the order of service for my Installation this afternoon. This psalm has been so important on my faith journey- it has carried me through some difficult times in seminary, it has been a comfort to me in times of doubt and confusion, it has helped provide clarity when my heart has been muddled. So, this morning, let us pause the process of discernment we have been engaging in, let us take a deep breath and relax for moment; taking a respite from the hustle and bustle of preparations we have been engaging in for this afternoon’s celebration. Let’s take a deep breath, wherever we are on our journey and focus for a moment on our individual connections to God through Psalm 139. This morning, let us pause to breathe and to consider on a personal level- how can I be my best self? How can I be who God meant me to be? How can I let my inner star dust, my little light shine?
We are going to read through the psalm that we read earlier two more times- to ourselves- Daemian is going to play a lil mood music and I am going to ask you, the first time thru, to pay attention to a word or phrase that stands out for you as you consider being who God meant you to be. The second time through I am going to ask you to focus on the feelings or images that come to you thru your reading. I will ask you to share if you are comfortable what came to you after our second time thru.
Please, go ahead and read psalm 139 paying attention to a word or phrase that stands out.
Time for 2 minutes
Now, go ahead and read the psalm a third time allowing images or feelings to come to you.
Time for 2 minutes
Are you willing to share what came to you in this process?
Friends, it is essential on our journeys of faith that we take time out of our lives to just be with God, it is essential that we take time to breathe and let go of our cares and worries, even if it is just for a moment. We need these moments of listening for that “still small voice of God” to fan the flames of our own fire, the stardust within, so that we, in turn, by being who God meant us to be, will set the world on fire!