Lancaster Theological Seminary Journal
August 29, 2006/Tuesday
It is the first day of class. I am apprehensive and excited at the
same time. Meeting new people is not my “forte’, so I dread what lies
ahead. I wonder what these new people will be like and how will I relate
to them. It’s 8:30 in the morning…time for class to start and meet the
professors. Let’s see what happens…
Where do these people come from? Who are these people? They all speak
a language I am not familiar with. They speak about being “saved” and
“called”. They interject every other word with amen’s and hallelujahs.
Surely, I am on another planet, or perhaps the “twilight zone”. This
type of comment is just the thing that makes me cringe. Right or wrong I
associate the words “saved” and “hallelujah” with bad hair and pleas
for money on Sunday morning TV.
The vast majority of the class has been involved one way or another
with the church. Not me. I left the church over 20 years ago due to
personal and spiritual reasons. A “recovering catholic” is what I am.
After speaking to some of the students I questioned my decision to
attend seminary. I am not like them! What am I doing here? Is the UCC
right for me? Is seminary life where I belong? I do not know. I hope I
find out the answers to these questions pretty darn quick!
Well, class has officially started. One by one the professors
introduce themselves. I like them. They appear to be very approachable
and friendly, not to mention knowledgeable. One of the professors, Lee
Barrett, was one of Dr. True’s former graduate teachers. It is a small
world. Anyway, Prof. Barrett begins class by asking what sort of changes
if any, will we experience in seminary. We make a list: challenged,
healing, breaking, grace, despair, faith stretched, etc. We discuss how
we are going to be changed by the experience, or at least how we should
be. (SIDE NOTE: The word seminary derives from semen. Supposedly, a
seminary experience is supposed to bring ‘new life’ as (once again
supposedly) semen does. This word thing is going entirely in the wrong
Next, we are asked to introduce ourselves to the group. This is where
I get scared. Wow! What am I going to say? I just became involved with a
church not even a year ago...that I am lost and confused, and looking
for guidance. That I cringe at the mention of Jesus…and by the way, He
is mentioned multiple times in class…that I am a Buddhist at heart. What
have I gotten myself into!
My turn to speak came and went. I think some people were mighty
confused by my words. I did not hide my true self and to tell you the
truth it felt good to be completely honest. Even though my reasons for
attending seminary differed from most of the students somehow I knew… it
would be ok.
August 30, 2006/Wednesday
Today we discussed the topic of “Material Christianity” and visited a
church in the neighborhood. Each of the students had to talk about what
sort of icons they remembered from their childhood, and what icons they
now have in their houses. When my turn came I told them about the
crucifix in my room that I had as a child but could not remember
anything else. Then told them about the Buddha statue and Celtic cross
in the yard. It was interesting to hear others talk about their
childhood memories on religious art. Some remembered having nothing
around the house others mentioned multiple objects including bibles,
paintings, medals, rosaries and sacred music. There was a woman who
built an addition to her house that she specifically made into a
‘praiseroom’ she carpeted this area so that anyone who wished to
prostrate themselves before the Lord would not be uncomfortable. (Please
tell me I’m in the right place, I don’t even have a crucifix up in my
house) The professor elaborated by saying that people empower
non-religious objects with religious powers by use and context.
Immediately following the discussion we went to visit a church a few
blocks away. We were to observe and discuss what we saw and experienced
while at the church. My observations were influenced by my catholic
background as I found the church to be extremely plain in architecture
and art. The only thing I saw that caught my attention was the stained
glass in the sanctuary. Oh yes! And the small tapestry of the Virgin
Mary inside the pastors’ office. That made me happy. Not the Virgin per
se but the idea of diversity in belief. The experience was interesting
but not moving or enlightening.
Changing the subject.
I find myself wandering in thought and feelings while in class. Where
others find excitement I find nothing. Perhaps is too soon for me to
actually feel comfortable in this new environment. I need to give it
August 31, 2006/Thursday
Today we spoke about the purpose of the church. We had to describe in
our own words what we thought identifies a church as a Christian
church. We discussed Church as praise, reservoir of grace, community of
the holy, herald, agent of social change, managerial and therapeutic
institution, community of right experience and right belief.
I never quite gave in any thought, as I have been away from the
church for a long while. To me the church was simply a place where
people went to worship and receive communion. It never occurred to me,
until recently, that the church was so much more.
Before we discussed the purpose of the church we had a quick history
lesson. Prof. Barrett, in a very short period of time, gave us an
overview of the church’s history. He started with the early church and
ended with the disestablishment of denominations in the United States.
(What did you say? In my childhood the Protestants were the ones who
were going to hell because they weren’t Catholics. No one knew anything
about them other then they went to public school and had Sunday school
instead. We on the other hand were very busy buying pagan babies so they
could know Christ) I was sort of lost as I know nothing about
protestant denominations. It is frustrating to go to class and feel so
inadequate. Most of the other students are aware of the differences and
similarities between denominations. I on the other hand do not. St.
Paul’s did have several classes on the history of the UCC. I remember
Congregationalists, and another denomination coming together and that it
took forever to form the UCC, but, Calvinism...the Reformation... that
was way back in some European history class I took long ago. I feel
September 1, 2006/Friday
Today we learned about how Judaism treats the study of the Torah as
prayer. Study and the law are not seen as a burden but as a joy. The
Torah is a gift and never seen as work, and that nothing is accidental
in the Torah. I found this short introduction to Judaism very
interesting specially when the professor spoke to us in Hebrew and
showed us a prayer shawl.
The second half of the class was taught by Prof. Barrett. The second
half had to do with classism in the church. Classism became a conveyor
of prestige and power within the church. It also was an indicator of
social class and function. It allowed some people to be valued more than
others due to their position in the church. This classism affected not
only individuals but actual denominations as well. For example,
Presbyterians were valued more than Baptists, etc.
According to Calvin the church should be like a seminary. This
predisposed the need for literacy and economic privilege. In other words
the church becomes accessible only to the educated an upper class
people instead to all. The Reform tradition attracted the upper class.
Three denominations where established in the colonies and they where the
Presbyterians, Episcopalians and Congregationalists. The Lutherans were
the most privileged.
I remember from my childhood being told that only the uneducated and
poor belonged to other denominations. Catholicism was the religion of
the upper class and the educated in my country. Something else I did not
think about until now. How class affects religion.
September 5, 2006/Tuesday
The class will be visiting different churches every day this week.
Today we visited Grace Lutheran Church just a few blocks away from LTS.
The day started early for me as I did not get much sleep thanks to Ewok,
(bad elderly dog bladder) Anyway, it was a damp and rainy day and I
felt somewhat sluggish. Not the perfect combination to visit a church
and be alert and learning. We walked to the church in the rain. A
multitude of umbrellas parading in the street except me…I didn’t have an
umbrella; Sharon took it out of my car.
We finally reached the church located on a corner. It appeared to be
quite large on the outside but the real surprise awaited us inside. The
entrance to the building was spacious, but almost business-like instead
of church-like. Wide glass door separated the entrance from the
sanctuary. The sanctuary itself was quite large. But before we visited
the main sanctuary we were guided to the chapel somewhere else in the
building. There the pastor greeted us and we spent most of the morning
listening to the history and mandate of his church.
The mission of the church was to “make Christ known in the world. In
response to God’s grace, forgiveness, and transforming love, we worship
with the saints, see Christ in others, and serve God’s people near and
far.” I do not know what it is, but I still find it arrogant that we
need to “make Christ known in the world”. I believe there are many paths
to God and Christianity is only but one of those paths. All in all, the
pastor seemed to be a smart and likable person. In terms of the mandate
to see Christ in every person I found it lacking. He had trouble with
homosexuality even to the point were he actually said there no
homosexuals in Grace Lutheran church. (Except the 5 of us in the LTS
class) So therefore the issue of homosexuality was a ‘moot point’ as far
as he was concerned. Other issues were also avoided as not to make the
congregation uncomfortable. (I thought Christianity wasn’t supposed to
be comfortable, I missed that in the gospels)
I saw the congregation leading the pastor and not the pastor leading
the congregation. The pastor was, I think, very aware of his wealthy
patrons and how they influenced the church. I believe this church was
well-off therefore had no need to really change and grow even though
this was the pastor’s intention.
The church itself was beautiful with its high vaulted ceilings and
elaborate altar. The chapel downstairs was equally charming. It actually
looked catholic in its ornamentation.
September 6, 2006/Wednesday
Today we visited Trinity UCC. Upon entry to the church we were
greeted by the pastor and a vast array of refreshments. (Always a good
sign) The meeting room was set up with several tables and a TV monitor.
Each table had multiple packets full of information for each student. It
was very obvious the pastor was not only happy to see us, but was also
proud of his church. He introduced the church’s mission and mandate both
verbally and visually.
After we watched the church video he took us to the sanctuary. The
sanctuary was different as the pews were designed in a semi-circle
around the altar. (This reminded me of the post Vatican 2 changes in the
Catholic Church) There was a lot of symbolism within the sanctuary
starting with the placement of the altar, to the design of the stained
The primary purpose of the church is to be the body of Christ and to
follow in word and sacrament. They are open to all denominations and
even though they are not ONA they welcome all. We are all broken people
trying to find our way back to God. Word and sacrament appeared to be
very central to this church. They are also a church of community. Pastor
Harry appeared to be a nurturing and easy to talk to person. He was
very authoritative within the church.
I felt comfortable enough to revisit this church. He made me feel
welcomed and at ease. He spoke repeatedly of nurturing and service to
others as the mission of this church. He also spoke of the church as the
extension of the Incarnation. I like the fact that he was formally
dressed as a pastor. Being dressed in a suit with a clerical collar made
me think he appreciated symbolism and felt a certain amount of
reverence toward his position as pastor.
September 7, 2006/Thursday
Today we visited Hempfield United Methodist Church. I have one word
for this experience. Big! This church was huge! I felt like I was at a
convention center. Anyway, we were taken to what used to be the
sanctuary and now it is a multipurpose room. The pastor and a manager
introduced us to the church. There was a lot of talk about the physical
building and how it has changed throughout the years. The key word here
is change. There was a lot of talk about the growth and changes within
this church. The congregation is already over a thousand people strong
and growing. People are willing to give up tradition in order to
accommodate change. The church is under “constant change” was a
prevalent theme during the introduction.
The mandate and primary purpose of the church is to know Jesus and to
make Jesus known in the world. They believed in the priesthood of all
believers and that people are “dying for something to die for”. This
church mentioned three initiatives: being holistic, building small group
communities and serving.
Now, this church is huge! It is on its way to becoming a mega-church.
The main sanctuary had the feel of a theater with stadium seating and
balconies. The technology within the building is simply amazing. The
service on Sundays is full of imagery due to videos and graphics. It
almost felt like the service is more about showmanship than religion. I
saw no emphasis on word or sacrament. I am not saying they are not
religious but that it simply felt that way due to the size and layout.
I’m not much on strict definitions, but a church should be more
intimate. Even if it’s this big they need to find a way to make people
feel bigger than the building that they are in.
September 8, 2006/Friday
Ray’s Temple Church of God in Christ
We went to downtown Lancaster just a few blocks from school. The area
was kind of run down and more ethnic. Less middle class. The church was
an old gothic Lutheran church on a corner and even though we knew it
went through a major remodeling, it still looked like it needed more
work. We were finally invited inside and the foyer of the church was
quite small with an “old” feeling too it. Sort of musty and small. In
other churches there were lots of pictures about the congregation and
information about the church, there was none of this. It is an
Afro-Celtic worship style and has 150 members. It was not what I thought
a Pentecostal Church would look like because it had some remnants of
its Lutheran history. We were introduced to the pastor who was VERY
well-dressed. He is an alumnus of LTS. So, the pastor begins speaking
about how the church is part of the community and that mission and
service is very important in the community and around the world. The
main place mentioned was India. He spoke about how the Church‘s purpose
was to help people recover from difficult times. The main requirement
of this church is that you must have an ‘experience’ to become a member.
You must be ‘touched by the spirit’ and be turned into a holy person to
receive communion. There is education to help you become a Christian,
but you must have a transforming experience and be re-baptized. This
church believes that infant baptism, doesn’t count. It is a testimony
church. People speak in tongues and dance around the church. When they
were asked what their purpose was in India, was it for humanitarian
effort or was it to open churches. The pastor said they did both, but
his explanation was strictly limited to discussion of conversion to
Christianity. He talked about Hinduism as have ’30 million gods and he
stated that this worship is done in idolatry. I believe their main
purpose in India was to change their religion, not to help them with
daily needs. When asked for an example of someone in the United States
who would be committing idolatry, he stated that anyone who was a
Buddhist, who would ‘worship’ Buddha, would be committing idolatry. I
was very angry. Buddha is not a God and he is not “worshiped”. This
makes me quite angry as it brings out everything I hate about mainline
Christianity. We’ll welcome you, but you are wrong and you have got to
change. Church’s say they are welcoming and open, but in fact they just
want to make you into their image. They are not interested in you as a
person and what you bring to the church. This Church’s mandate is to
preach and spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. Not just to bring people
to recognize Jesus, but to make them worship him in THEIR WAY, because”
They are right” (a quote from the pastor).
I left this Church feeling like I had stepped back hundreds of years.
To me, this church was not truly Christian; in that it did not “Love
their neighbor” they just want to make you into their image.
September 11, 2006/Monday
After getting slightly lost we finally reached our destination.
Today’s visit took us to the Beachy Mennonite Church in Kinzers. This
church stood out in stark contrast against the other churches we
visited. Its sheer simplicity spoke of humility and service to God. The
building itself had no icons, no banners, no crosses and no altar. A
large room full of pews was all that greeted us today. A small stand at
the front of the building acted as a lectern. There was no color on the
walls, any candles or flowers.
We spent the morning listening to the Brothers lecture us about
Mennonite history and the purpose of the church. They spoke on how the
early church was full of conflict and opposition. History is very
important to them as it links them with the past and educates them about
their present and future. Their roots are Amish, but they accept modern
conveniences if they are of help to them. Technology can be helpful
but also detrimental to the Christian experience.
According to these Mennonites the purpose of the church is to bring
honor and glory to God, and to help one another through Jesus.
Brotherhood and family is also very important and part of the mission of
the church. But what really touched my heart were the stories told by
one of the brothers. As he went on with the story he would get all
choked up. As the story continued he would break into a smile and tell
us, “That’s what it’s all about! People helping people!” His stories
spoke of his community and how important helping each other really is.
God is primary, and we all must be available for Him. But community
is very big for the Mennonites. They are a church of right belief, right
behavior and right experience. The pastors are chosen by the Lord and
only males can achieve this position. They truly try to live their
faith. I saw a passionate example of people who believe in the Bible,
but at the same time keep people as their main focus in day to day life.
September 12, 2006/Tuesday
Our last visit found us at the Vision of Hope Metropolitan Community
Church. The actual physical church was sort of gothic looking with
stained glass and wooden accents around the sanctuary. I am not sure
which denomination used this church before the MCC moved in. The
sanctuary was small and very colorful with posters and banners all
around. Two rainbow flags were proudly displayed in the back of the
sanctuary. Multiple crosses adorned the chapel.
When I walked into the sanctuary music was being played, and the
students had musical instruments to play along with the music. Following
the music the pastor introduced herself. The church is Christ centered
but also very much community centered. People are encouraged to question
to aid them in the process of learning. The church ministers to all
people but especially to the LGBT community. The pastor made it very
clear it is not a gay church but a Christian church that happens to
minister to the gay community.
I felt liberated while in this church. The idea that here I am not a
minority did empower me and made me feel truly wanted. The pastor did
come out to the class and made it very obvious she was extremely
comfortable with her sexual orientation. There were a lot of brochures
on AIDS, gay adoption, and community support. The church was, at least
for me, a place of comfort and safety.
THE RETREAT (dramatic entrance music)
There was a two day retreat to end the September session. It was held
at a Mennonite retreat center. There were two main buildings which
housed kitchen and administrative functions. The buildings where we
stayed were named and decorated according to each continent. The
bulletin board near the kitchen told me I was in the Asia House. (This
is really funny because I love Asian everything) I put my stuff in my
room and immediately noted that none of the doors had locks. It was an
unspoken thing that nothing would happen to your processions while you
Once everyone had settled we went to morning worship. Each worship
was designed by the students. (Prior to going to the retreat we had to
be on the worship committee or the get-to-know-you committee. Neither is
my strong point.lack of protestant worship and a fear of new people...I
chose the get-to-know-you- one, it was less threatening). We wrote our
feelings on paper and then burned them outside to release our
negativity. After this we went to lunch. I was really worried. I am a
vegetarian and rarely do people think about us. I knew I was going to
live on iceberg lettuce for 2 days. I talked with my fellow students and
had a good time. We wondered what was in store for us next. In the
community center after lunch, we had our first exercise. We were divided
into 2 groups. Our group was told that we were a tribe. We then had to
write on a piece of paper that we would be in the tribe (king, queen,
warrior, stargazer, healer, animal shaman, pottery maker, etc.) I hate
being stereotypical, but most of the men chose to be warriors. Our
scenario was that the food and water were running out and decide what we
were going to do. We decided that we would have to move to another area
of the room. (So, far I’m pretty bored). Then the professor comes in
and says “FREEZE” half of your tribe doesn’t want to stay here they want
to move somewhere else because it’s too small. The queen decides
without consulting anyone to send scouts to other lands. The scouts came
back and say that they have found a land of milk and honey but there is
someone else living there. (Okay this is where I start to get upset)
The first things that came out of the warriors mouth was “Let’s go kill
them” The queen agreed ( I’m not making this up, they really did this)
Now I’m very annoyed because we were all to have a voice, but only the
warriors and the queen had power. There were people offering non-violent
suggestions, but they were ignored. The queen decided to send another
group to talk with them. The group suggested the healers and
story-tellers because they were peaceful. What the queen did decide to
do was put healer tags on the warriors. Some of this felt it was
deceitful. The scouts came back and said the other group was dying of
cholera. The Warriors said that this was great because now we can really
wipe them out (IS THIS LTS OR MICROSOFT???) All the non-violent people
are really upset, they want to help them. We were ignored. Ultimately it
was decided to help them, with the idea that we might still have to
kill them. In the meantime, we found out that the other tribe was having
a worse time than us. Their structure was chaotic; there were all
followers and no leaders. The professor had killed the leader with
cholera. (This was done because the person who was the leader was being
sexist and over-bearing, not as part of his persona.) The women in this
group had decided that they would just go to the winemaker and get drunk
and forget about it. The point of this exercise was to learn about were
we fell in the theological world. (We had learned about this earlier in
class) and to see how the other students interacted. How did we behave
in a group, where did we stand with each other?
After this we had dinner (iceberg again) then we went to the party.
What I mostly did there was play ping-pong with my friend the pastor. I
was laughing my head off. We couldn’t play ping-pong to save ourselves.
We then played Hungry Hungry Hippos and made lots of noise and
apparently irritated people who thought we were having way too much fun.
The next morning there was breakfast and worship and then we went home.
The most fun and enlightenment I had was sitting with my friends in
the Africa house talking about religion and family. I really felt like I
got to know the people around me.
I have not mentioned my home life during this time. I spend lots of
time glued to the computer, stressing over my inadequacies and wondering
if I’m doing the right thing. My partner once again offered to go out
and buy me some self-esteem (because apparently I say the same things
over and over) I read every free minute and it’s become more apparent to
me something that was not a problem before. English is my second
language. The process of reading, interpreting, and writing takes a long
detour in my brain and archaic language makes me tear my hair out.
I’m still getting up and going to class. And Sharon hasn’t thrown me out yet. All is right with the world.
Thus ended my September term at LTS.