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Posts Tagged ‘Highland’

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Good morning, friends. Here we are in week 9 (I think). The weekends do still feel a little different, mostly because I’m not trying to work from my kitchen table.

The past few Sunday mornings, I’ve been tuning into a livestreamed church service from Highland, my church in Abilene. This is a little fraught, I admit: Highland is where I spent countless hours singing on the praise team with my ex-husband, who was the worship leader there. We had our rehearsal dinner in the Highland atrium, and we lived across the alley from the church when we were first married. It was our place, and it is still full of people who love both of us.

Many of you know that we lost our church community here in Boston in September 2018, a loss which has echoed through the following year and a half, especially when my marriage subsequently fell apart. I did make a few attempts to find a new church, or just a place to sit and cry, after we stopped going to Brookline, but it was always hard. (The exceptions were special occasions, like the glorious carol service at Memorial Church in early December, and the lovely, twinkly Christmas Eve service at my childhood church in West Texas.)

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In this time of quarantine, I couldn’t walk into a church if I wanted to, and while that is tough, I’ve also felt a sneaking sense of relief. I’ve been turning back to the things that comfort me (haven’t we all?), and the familiar sight of the Highland auditorium, and a few faces and voices I know, is a deep comfort to me. They start with singing – my favorite part of any church service – and then a child recites the Lord’s Prayer via video. I’ve enjoyed seeing a few of the elders, whom I know, get up and lead prayers, too. Sometimes I skip the sermon, but when I’ve listened, I have found wisdom and grace there.

I’ve also been enjoying some of the “Daily Thought” videos from St Aldates, the big, vibrant, loving church in Oxford where I went as a student. And the best “sermon” I’ve heard in this strange time came from my friend Richard Beck, who spoke at the last virtual chapel of the semester for ACU, my alma mater, last week. He reminded the graduating seniors, and all of us, that status and productivity and wealth don’t really matter: what matters is that we are deeply, inherently loved. (His talk starts about 30 minutes into the video.)

Where are you finding encouragement – spiritual or otherwise – in these times? I’d love to hear.

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1. My Highland/ACU/Sojourners/Lifeteam/coffee-night family. (I squished all of them into one item because they often overlap.) I often wish I could beam myself to Abilene to hug one, two or a dozen of these folks.
2. Tuesday nights at Mezamiz, trading stories and drinking tea with some of my favorite ladies.
3. Random, hilarious gossip sessions in Amber’s office, with Amber and Amy and Tessa (no boys allowed).
4. Sunday mornings at Highland, singing on praise team and hearing Jay clap and hugging so, so many people before and after service. And the smart, funny, thought-provoking hour that is Sojourners class.
5. Sunday nights, at the Donagheys’ house or elsewhere, sharing communion and dinner and prayer and laughter and life.
6. Rosa’s Cafe. Particularly chips and queso.
7. Los Arcos – especially their homemade salsa and enchiladas.
8. Being able to drive anywhere in ten minutes.
9. Not having to worry about, or pay for, parking.
10. Always seeing someone I know when I’m out and about.
11. Yoga classes with McKay (though she, too, has now left Abilene).
12. ArtWalk, downtown every month.
13. Being two hours from my parents and sister, and three and a half from my grandparents.
14. High school football games.
15. Knowing where everything is.
16. Game nights with our crew of friends.
17. Lunches with Julie and other girlfriends.

I do love our new life in Boston. But I miss Abilene, which was home for eight years, and in some ways will always be home.

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the Lord’s Prayer

As a church kid, I’ve known the Lord’s Prayer practically all my life. I memorized it in Sunday School and then again in Bible Drill; our pastors referred to it frequently; and when my church served communion once a quarter, the Lord’s Prayer set to music was always the finale. At the end of the service, we’d all stand and join hands across the aisles, and listen to the organ swelling, and then join our voices in the prayer Jesus taught us (though I admit that musical version gets a little operatic at the end).

At Highland, at St Aldates and now at Brookline, the Lord’s Prayer is a weekly occurrence, recited in unison by the congregation and whoever’s up front. And each time I hear it, wherever I am, I hear other layers of voices in my head – and for a moment I’m all three places at once.

I’m at St Aldates, where the accents are British and the Lord’s Prayer comes as part of the liturgy they use every week. (That liturgy is interspersed with praise songs, but they still use the Book of Common Prayer for confession, communion, etc.) I can see Charlie in his gray suit, or Simon in his black jacket, and hear both their voices saying, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”

I’m at Highland, where the prayer usually comes after a few songs, sometimes after another prayer or another Scripture reading. I’m often on stage at Highland, in a line of nine people holding microphones (usually standing next to Jeremiah), reciting the prayer with a thousand other voices. Sometimes I close my eyes; sometimes I look out over the congregation at the faces I love. I can hear Mike’s voice, and Jeremiah’s, and the voices of many elders and church leaders. (At Highland, we say “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”)

And I’m at Brookline, where we’ve been spending Sundays since we came to Boston, where all 30 or so of us recite the prayer, Asian and Russian and Middle Eastern accents blending with American, our voices echoing in the quiet, blue-walled sanctuary that used to be an art gallery. At Brookline, we say “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

But at all four churches, we ask forgiveness. For what we’ve done; for what we’ve left undone. We ask humbly for our daily bread; we ask for God’s Kingdom to come on earth, His will to be done as it is in heaven. And at each church, and at thousands of others across the world, we say my favorite line: “For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.”

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I’ve only been a member at three churches in my life. I was a part of several more as a little kid, but there are three church families I’ve been truly involved in and cherish: First Baptist Church Midland, where I grew up; St Aldates Church, Oxford, my home across the pond; and the Highland Church of Christ in Abilene, where I’ve been since 2004, give or take a few summers/semesters away.

You can see from my list above that denomination doesn’t matter too much to me. I’m not interested in arguing theology, though I am interested in thinking and talking about how to be God’s person in the world. I enjoy several different worship styles; there are things I love about traditional/contemporary/praise band/a cappella music. But the big thing for me is community. I need my church to feel like my family. And for the last six years, I’ve had family at Highland. And I love them so much.

I came to Highland as a university student, lonely and looking for a place to plug in. I started going on Wednesday nights, then for a few Sundays right before I left for Oxford. After I came back, and after my friend Cheryl died in a car crash, I spent many Wednesday nights sitting at Highland and crying while the praise team sang. I eventually found a home in the quirky, thoughtful, loving Sojourners class, taught by one of my favorite professors and several others who’ve become my friends. And in 2005, after a year of gentle prodding by my friend Lorin, I joined a Sunday night small group, and they’ve been my family ever since.

Highland is where I learned to sing a cappella harmony – which is different than harmony with instruments. It’s where I’ve spent countless Sundays and Wednesdays singing on the praise team, frequently with Jeremiah by my side. It’s where we grew into our relationship, made friends, attended a few weddings (and our own rehearsal dinner), listened to dozens of sermons by the inimitable Mike Cope and many other brilliant friends. It’s where we’ve asked questions in Sojourners, received too many hugs to count, shivered when the a/c kicked up too high (nearly every week), watched Jack and Jill Maxwell paint their way through a sermon, listened to Val sing “Arise, My Love” every Easter Sunday, heard so many people share their communion stories. It’s where we’ve come to worship God, and to ask again how we can be His people in our jobs, at school, with each other, with our families and friends.

We’re heading toward a new church in Boston; I don’t know which one it is yet. But I “know in my knower,” as my friend Simon likes to say, that we’ll always have family at Highland. There will always be a place for us to hug Calvin and smile at Frankie and watch Julie lift her hand and listen to Jay clap like crazy (with no rhythm, but lots of joy). There will always be a place for us in Sojourners, where Kathy and Mike make the coffee and Bill makes jokes and someone always says, “We’re having coffee.” There will always be a place for us with our Lifeteam, where we laugh and talk and pray and share communion and tell stories and love on each other. And wherever we go, our Highland family, there will always be a place for all of you.

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A year ago Sunday night I got one of those phone calls that change your life forever.

“Katie, this is Kayla. I need to let you know that some of the Highland youth had an accident on their way back from Winterfest. The van flipped over and one boy was killed. They’re taking some others to the hospital. People are gathering at the church to pray.”

I don’t know if she said those words exactly – the whole night is such a blur. I hung up the phone and rushed to Jeremiah’s house. After receiving more phone calls from friends and Highland members, we went to the church, where people were gathered – praying, shaking their heads, trying to comprehend. We tried to piece together the conflicting detail reports. One boy killed. Six teenagers and an adult, the driver of the van, seriously injured. Two released that night; several who were in the hospital for days or weeks. One, still one crutches a year later.

This past Sunday night I walked into the Highland auditorium with members of my Life Team, to take part in a grief and lament service. David Lang spoke a few words about the year of loss it’s been for many of us. Sarah Campbell, our youth minister, shared her thoughts from the days following the accident. Rob Cunningham talked about Brody Bourland’s funeral, and about the depth of honest faith he has seen played out in the lives of the Bourlands and others from this church.

On the stage, rows of candles had been set up – short votives and tea lights in small glasses, with one central large candle representing Christ. Anyone who had lost a loved one this past year was invited to come up and light a candle in their memory. Jeremiah leaned over and whispered, “If you go to light a candle, I want to go with you.”

So we joined the line of hundreds – literally – that streamed toward the stage, crying, hugging, praying as we went. I think I cried for a solid hour that night. The tears wouldn’t stop coming. They stem from a year of grief and pain and heartache.

I lit only one candle. But it stood for Cheryl, my friend who died a year ago August. And for Randen, my little cousin who died last March. And for Brody, whom I didn’t even know. And for all the other griefs and trials and soul-storms that pressed in on every side last year. I lit one candle, and then I turned and pressed my head into Jeremiah’s chest, and I cried.

I don’t know how long I stood there weeping (although, as his white shirt later showed, the tears were copious). Not ten feet away, four women were doing the same thing; people lined the area below the stage, praying and hugging and crying out together. Perhaps the most touching sight of all was the kids who had been in the wreck, including Jon Westin Bennett (still on crutches), in a knot on the stage next to the candles, supporting one another.

Then the ZOE version of “Blessed Be Your Name” came over the speakers. And one by one, through their tears, people began to sing. By the end of the first verse I think everyone was singing, even those of us who were still crying. And by the first chorus we were all singing with all we had. “Blessed be the Name of the Lord; blessed be Your Name. Blessed be the Name of the Lord; blessed be Your glorious Name.”

I choked up and had to wipe away tears as we sang the second verse, and my voice cracked on the bridge (“You give and take away; You give and take away/My heart will choose to say, Lord, blessed be Your Name”). But I still sang my heart out. We all did – because we had to. When life comes down to its worst, when terror and grief and pain rain down, there is no one else to go to but the Lord. He has the words of eternal life. There is no other name under heaven by which we can – and must – be saved.

I will sing that song today in the opening chapel of my last semester at ACU, on a praise team of dear friends, to a coliseum full of dear friends. And I hope that whatever happens this semester and the rest of my life, I will be able to sing these words:

Every blessing You pour out I’ll turn back to praise
And when the darkness closes in, Lord, still I will say
Blessed be the Name of the Lord – Blessed be Your Name
Blessed be the Name of the Lord – Blessed be Your glorious Name

Amen.

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