a visit to herchurch
San Francisco, California
Sunday, 4 December 2011
Ilyse counted 27 people there - of 27, three were men, and one of those men was the piano player.
Pastor Stacey Boorn, with purple highlights in her hair, uses the core Lutheran liturgy and service design, substituting Christa-Sophia for Jesus, God/dess for God, and working hard to honor and hear voice from female parts of Christianity: Mary Magdalene and The Black Madonna, who was the subject of the 2nd Advent Worship Service (next Sunday is Our Lady of Guadeloupe).
The text for the honoring of the Black Madonna was drawn from the work of Mary Beth Moser, who wrote "Honoring Darkness: Exploring the Power of Black Madonnas in Italy" and studies at the California Institute of Integral Studies in Philosophy and Religion here in San Francisco. At herchurch I imagine we were sitting in a well connected cross-roads of of female-centered spiritual research and intertextuality! It was heartwarming, but also slightly strange to be in a room of 26 visibly white people and one african-american lass singing "Beloved Mother of Wisdom, You are Black and Beautiful."
We stood as a group and moved to speak the Grandmother Invocation by Gwen Jones: "Grand mother I see you sitting in the east, you are sacred and you are looking at me. I pray to you, pray to you. You are sacred and you are looking at me..." Then sung again where we see her sitting in the south, west, north, sky earth, heart.
We sang a number of hymns I had never sung before, all written over long-standing Christian church classics. For example, "O Holy Darkness, Loving Womb," by Jann Aldredge-Clanton. On her web site she writes, "If God can include 3 persons, can't God include 2 genders and more?" As someone who has felt somewhat stifled by traditional male power church arrangements, I felt refreshed and excited to explore another side of the invisible powers presumed to dictate our fate.
There was a silent Quaker-style open prayer moment, for people to speak up about something they wanted to honor. Many voices from around the room rose to honor poignant things. Heartwarming participatory religious pastiche!
Paster Stacey lifted a version of Christian writings that had been adapted for the ceremony, and when the book was in the air we sang "Light and Darkness" repeatedly to honor the object.
My favorite prayer was "Blessing the Bread: A Litany for Many Voices", by Reverend Carter Heyward. A moving alternative to "the Lord is always watching me and hopefully protecting me and gee you're a great invisible dad," instead suggesting "mothers work hard to squeeze us out and feed us and let's help them share nourishment." As multiple voices spoke the prayer from around the room, Pastor Stacey had a fresh hot loaf of bread she ripped in half. We formed a circle and she carried the bread to each of us; we each tore out a piece to dip into alcoholic or non-alcoholic goblets, as we sang "earth my body, water my blood, air my breath and fire my spirit" moving our hands to salute each of these four elements.
During the service, there was a craft table in the back for the young'ins to paste and glue and glitter.
Was herchurch "Christian"? I suggest the service honored Jesus H. Christ elliptically, arriving cribside with the Baby Jesus after spending hours talking with his mom, his aunt, his grandmother, and all the women in his life. Here at herchurch Christ was called Christ-Sophia ("Christ of wisdom"?), because as Pastor Stacey pointed out, when Jesus was resurrected as a sort of glamorous shadow figure, he was genderless, so why do we say he-Jesus at all? Sophia is wisdom, so we're honoring the great spirit of wisdom in the world. Jesus the genderless and wise.
So, Christ Sophia. Black Madonna. Mary Magdalene. We honored our grandmothers. We danced in a drum circle, evolved from someone singing "Let It Be." It didn't feel very traditionally Christian, in fact, I wondered, why not scrap the Lutheran bits all together and go straight for the goddess? Goddess worship has a long if largely buried history in the West; herchurch could resurrect our earth and sky mama in their fabulous hilltop purple sanctuary. But the institution of herchurch probably benefits some from the anchoring in Jesus-fandom and Christian ritual, and the synthesis of male and female is likely where widespread wisdom lies over the long haul.
My favorite character was unquestionably the "Drum Priestess" who arrived running through the room waving a giant purple flag, bravely lead the mid-service drum circle, and touchingly unwrapped the black madonna totem. She brought a tremendous amount of charisma and energy to the proceedings. A decent analog might be Flava Flav's role in Public Enemy - the charismatic lively commentary on the main act. Every ten minutes this woman was proudly parading around the room waving a giant purple flag - channeling her energy and enthusiasm into pageantry. As the service concluded she stood in front of the altar doing martial arts with this giant purple flag. It was serious mojo and it made the church feel alive, physical, active and awake.
The art in the room was provocative and spoke to the hands-on, participatory feel of herchurch - here are two pictures: a provocative picture of a sacred mother painting hanging near the altar - "Will Work 4 Food 4 My Kids". And, my face in a cutout, posing as a divine mother figure (thanks Lily!).
herchurch offered a welcoming, touching service based on a fascinating, live, textual M2F operation on Jesus Christianity. Highly recommended.