Church of the Holy City, Washington

I couldn’t bear another go-round with the UCC this Sunday, so returned to the Church of the Holy City, Swedenborgian, down Sixteenth Street from my apartment, and near my former church. Because of its proximity, I have been there before, and enjoyed it.

This is a very small congregation, and there were eleven of us today. That surely means it is hard to “keep things together” but I have hope for this church because:

  1. Dang they’re friendly.
  2. The service was kept simple. No hymns, but there was high-quality piano music in the role of prelude, postlude, and anthems. More about the service, below.
  3. The sermon preached was good, and spoke personally. More about that, too.
  4. The building is in utter good taste, and though a bit thread-bare in spots, is clean, airy, and well-used.

The Rev. Rich Tafel, a name better known to gay Republicans for his other work, preached on the parable of the prodigal son. He reminds us the story is of spiritual maturity, free choice, and A Father’s Love — the title — more than the wasteful son. The sermon was full of his personality, professional experiences, humor (speaking of other “lost” parables:”Most of us don’t have much experience with lost sheep. A Palm Pilot or cell phone perhaps.”) plus practical insights, and distinct tradition. I didn’t know Emanuel Swedenborg believed that those who died in infancy were taught by angels especially charged to their care. But that those who die in old age will still know more because they had experience and choice.

The service was well-announced (so no getting lost, or getting confused by odd church terms) and was led by a lay member. For instance, even though I had a printed order of worship, I was led first into the “word” (my term) part (with sermon) and the “prayer” part was introduced as the “second part.” This church had “the peace” and here it worked because everyone greeted everyone else. The Swedenborgians have a lovely custom of beginning and ending the service with “opening” and “closing the Word” — a Bible positioned vertically on the altar. The chalice-lighting seen in so many Unitarian Universalist congregations is a parallel, but this was done so effortlessly, and without trying to over-explain or over-symbolize that it works better. Also, in their prayers (which have a “joys and concerns” feel; again, this works because the congregation is so small) the candles (votives in larger-than-usual glass vessels) are already lit, and are held in the hands of those offering prayer. I like the way this came across better than the “are there any candles left?” hunt you see so often. It also put the focus back on the prayer, and less on the flame or act of ignition.

Lastly, since the congregation was so small, coffee hour — announced as with any other announcements, at the very end, after the postlude — was held in the parlor with a circle of chairs. The minister poured a cup of coffee and handed it to me, as if I were a proper and honored guest. And so I felt like one.

I’ll be going back, at least to visit on occasion, and would commend the same (a visit, or imitating their practice) to you.

Church of the Holy City

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