On Tuesday night Allison and I went out on the town in D.C. We dropped Camden off with his aunt and headed to Chinatown. Our destination was Calvary Baptist Church on 8th Street to hear Rev. Nadia-Bolz Weber speak (I know, a crazy night on the town, right?!). Nadia is the pastor of a congregation, House For All Sinners and Saints, in Denver, CO. She is definitely not what you typically think of when you think of a Lutheran pastor.
We arrived just as the house music was ending. The program began with a few readings from Nadia’s (I feel that I can refer to Nadia as Nadia because I feel as though I know her better than I know many of my friends, even though we did not actually meet on Tuesday) memoir, Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint.
Two things from these readings stood out to me.
One, Nadia said that theology should be done in the first person, meaning that everyone in the church (and outside the church for that matter) who has ever spoken of God is a theologian. We all have the ability, and the authority, to speak of God. This means we are all able to speak of how God engages us, about how we see God engaging the world, and also questioning where God is when we see pain and suffering. I think this is a full embrace of the priesthood of all believers.
Two, in describing her experiences during her stint in CPE (which is loathed by seminarians) as a hospital chaplain she was told her job was to, “be aware of God’s presence in the room.” For me, and I am sure for many, I do not always know what to do or feel comfortable in a pastoral counseling situation.
When someone loses a family member or needs to talk but there are no words to say, I often find myself searching for what to do. The simple task of being aware of God’s presence in the room, being aware of the work of the Holy Spirit can have profound implications on not only the lives of those whom we are called to minister to but also for ourselves.
The conversation shifted half-way through the evening when the pastor of Calvary Baptist, Amy Butler, along with National Journal’s Amy Sullivan (a member of Calvary Baptist Church) to discuss ministry from the perspectives of two urban pastors. Questions were submitted from the audience via Twitter with the hashtag #NadiaAndAmy. No topic was off the table.
The two pastors discussed being a welcoming congregation versus toning down their denominational theology or dumbing down the faith. Both pastor agreed that toning down their beliefs to make new members comfortable did a disservice not only to the community as a whole but to the new member as well.
There were a few lighthearted moments. Nadia mentioned, when referring to contemporary praise music, “that shit is awful”, and referred to denominational reports as a “soul sucking activity”.
From a selling indulgence bake sale to using a traditional Lutheran liturgy, Nadia showed that you can in fact be an “old school” congregation while still maintaining relevancy within your community, something that I think all churches should think about.
Personally, I did not grow up in a church that utilized a traditional liturgy. We had an order of service that was used each week but there was no connection (outside outside of the Lord’s Prayer) that connected us with the saints before us. I am coming around to the use of liturgy. Previously I had viewed it as out of date, irrelevant, and obsolete. But after hearing Nadia and Amy speak Tuesday night, as well as experiencing liturgy in other communities I am beginning to think its time to give it another try.
I leave you with a few quotes from the evening that I thought were either hilarious or extremely thought provoking. I will let you determine which category they each fall into.
“A graduate degree from a seminary is like a degree from Hogwarts.” – Nadia Bolz-Weber
“Everyone should have an equal opportunity to be uncomfortable in church.” – Nadia Bolz-Weber
“We must be deeply rooted in tradition to be innovate effectively.” – Nadia Bolz-Weber
“We have a marketing problem.” – Amy Butler
“all I have are my fishnets and will for working” – I come to the Lakeshore
“Clergy shouldn’t try to be people they’re not.” – Nadia Bolz-Weber
“Foamy condoms” – Nadia Bolz-Weber, referring to the foamy condoms on lapel microphones