The Witnessing Church – masked Christians

The Walk with the Holy Family last Saturday was a very moving event for the 140 walkers, local  shopkeepers and onlookers. We assembled at Christ Ascension Lutheran church and made our way up Germantown Avenue, stopping at stores, thanking the owners for helping raise funds for the Interfaith Hospitality Network and hearing staggering statistics about food and home insecurity in the midst of the Covid 19 pandemic. Store owners, already under immense economic pressure, smiled and thanked us for including them in this demonstration of solidarity. They were also collecting funds in wonderfully decorated boxes, made by local children. Young and old walked together as the outside diners at local restaurants looked on with some trepidation at these waves of people carrying a large lantern star and ringing a bell. Some thought it was a religious protest. I overheard one diner saying: “Yea, it seems to be a church thing, but they are all wearing masks?”

We greeted passers-by with “Merry Christmas!” on this perfect evening, as the sun set while making our pilgrimage to Bethlehem across the avenue, onto the Pike and into the St Paul’s gates. Choir volunteers greeted us with carols and we passed through a row of luminaria (made by John Faggotti) to enter the beautifully decorated church (thanks to Flower Guild, and staff) as Andy played the organ. Incense, flowers and candles ensured ALL the senses were stimulated as we made our way down the aisle and out the side door. Judy Smith was one of many greeters holding signed pointing the way to Bethlehem as pilgrims followed their own group star and made their way to a makeshift stable in front of the rectory. Another choir, led by Karen Richter, sang two favorite carols -the Stable Light lullaby and Silent Night. A reading of Luke’s account of Jesus’s birth, some prayers and an invitation to place lights at the crib and by the “Empty Chair Memorial” (for absent loved ones at this holiday time) all created the perfect outdoor Christmas celebration.

Some pilgrims were dressed in pageant costumes and most came to worship the new born king just as they are. The video captured by Abby, gives a sense of the journey. It was an ecumenical witness that called attention to not only the sacredness of all human life because of this one birth 2000 years ago, but it spoke volumes to the community about the divides in our society right now, because of our collective response to Covid 19. The comment about the Christians who were wearing masks reminds me that a significant portion of our fellow Christians and fellow Americans are living on their own planet, devoid of respect for science and other forms of empirical reality. The fact that our mask wearing was at all controversial for some, indicates the damage that Christian nationalism and Christian Trumpism has done to the faith community in general. We are all tarred with the same brush and may be seen as a little crazy, given this alternative reality has been fueled by religious and political leaders -often for their own self-serving. Here were six local congregations, marching and demonstrating a different “incarnational moment” where science and religion, faith and compassion, spiritual and physical needs were acknowledged and addressed in a very public way.

I felt proud of St. Paul’s and our fellow Christians who were marching to a different drum as we made our way to Bethlehem in 2020. I was also surprised by the reaction to the Christians who were wearing masks and reminded we all have a lot of work to do on Germantown Avenue and beyond. Support your churches that are fighting to survive in the midst of an anti-science emerging theocracy. All the more reason why we all need to support our mainstream churches, so we can continue to witness inclusion, celebrate diversity and grow in compassion. All of these churches are struggling to serve increasing social and spiritual needs with shrinking resources, including St Paul’s. We are still 30 pledges behind this time last year and while the vast majority of members have increased their giving, St Paul’s continues to lean heavily on fewer and fewer members. All of the churches who took part in this remarkable witness to God’s love and human solidarity are facing the same existential questions, while the anti-science, anti-democratic and theocratic Christians pour millions of dollars into congregations, private schools and Political Action Committees to fuel another gospel. I had no idea our demonstration would have had the reaction it caused for some people. Maybe it is a reality check, as we travel together into a new year, that we all have a lot more work to do in having conversations with others like the man who commented on the Christians who wear masks. Thanks to everyone who made this possible and let’s keep travelling together, masked and on the road to Bethlehem, led by a star and a prayer.