Community

I wrote this article for The Upper Room’s “From the Center” newsletter. Sign up for this monthly resource of soul care for spiritual leaders.

I have the honor to serve as worship leader for our Upper Room Two-Year Academy for Spiritual Formation retreat in Alabama. I plan and lead the 14 services we hold during our weeks together (a week each quarter).

We are people from all over the U.S. — different ages, cultures, genders, sexual orientations, races, and backgrounds. We are knit together as a community over this time of retreat. Our format in community is a monastic (Benedictine) pattern of prayer that brings us together three times a day for morning prayer, afternoon Eucharist, and night prayer. At the end of night prayer, we go into the great silence, which is broken at the start of morning prayer the next morning. This shared participation in a common rhythm creates deep connections between us. It is the “container” that holds our community together as we hunger, learn, and struggle with what it means to be followers of Christ in this broken world.

At our last gathering, we rented a 60-passenger bus and went on a civil rights pilgrimage into downtown Birmingham, Alabama. We visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. We walked together through the displays that told the stories of those brave saints and martyrs who marched for civil rights in the decades of the 1950s and 60s. We walked across the street and stood in the Kelly Ingram Park, where, in the first week of May 1963, children and high school students were met by police dogs, fire hoses, and arrest.

We met, finally, in the sanctuary of 16th Street Baptist Church to hold our service of Eucharist. This is the church where, on Sunday, September 15, 1963, a bomb exploded under the steps of the church, killing four girls and injuring 22. During our service in the sanctuary of that holy place, we sang together and heard the scriptures read and the Word proclaimed. We broke the bread and poured the cup. We remembered the brokenness of Christ, the brokenness of our history, the brokenness of these days. And we affirmed the hope that we carry as followers of the One who came to bring peace, to scatter love, to bind up wounds and whisper comfort.

At the end of that long day, we arrived back at the retreat center tired, full, teary, grateful, and troubled. We met for night prayer and prayed the familiar words:

“We have wounded your love.
O God, heal us.
We stumble in the darkness.
Light of the world, transfigure us.
We forget that we are your home.
Spirit of God, dwell in us.”

-From “Prayer of Confession” (Night Prayer), A New Zealand Prayer Book: He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa (New Zealand: William Collins Publishers Ltd., 1989), 168.

The liturgy, the community of love and trust and struggle that we experience together … all these things have become the “container” that allows us to journey together into uncomfortable places and inconvenient truths.

Back here at home in between our sessions, I miss these people, my siblings in Christ. I miss the shared commitment to daily prayer and worship. I hunger for the authentic relationships that develop in this special community. I yearn to find a community like the Academy in this place where I live the rest of the year.

I hope and pray for this: In the fractured, contentious, hateful times of this day, may we find communities of love, trust, and liturgy where we can be nurtured, sustained, challenged, and loved.

This article was reblogged from The Upper Room.

Holy Week at The Upper Room

Such an honor to be leading The Upper Room in worship during Holy Week. I hope you will consider joining me Wednesday or Thursday.

For Friends Far Away
An online gathering on Holy Wednesday: Prayer and Practice

9:00 a.m. (Central Time) – Prayer and practice using Zoom, an online tool for meeting with others. Join us: https://zoom.us/j/191740575. (That would be 10:00 a.m., Eastern; 8:00 a.m., Mountain; 7:00 a.m., Pacific)

For Nashville Area Friends
Services in the Chapel

Holy Wednesday:
10:45 a.m. — Morning prayer in the chapel

Maundy Thursday:
10:45 a.m. — Service of Eucharist in The Upper Room Chapel

1908 Grand Avenue, Nashville, TN.

Are You Thirsty? Come to the Water

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
-Psalm 42:1-2, NRSV

You Are Invited: Join Me in The Academy for Spiritual Formation

I will be serving as worship leader for the upcoming Two-Year Academy for Spiritual Formation at Camp Sumatanga, Alabama. Our first session is August, 2018. In a Two-Year Academy, the community comes together for a week each quarter for study, prayer, worship, silence, laughter … all drinking from the flowing streams of God’s love and grace.

I hope you will consider whether you are being called to join with me on this journey. We have the most amazing leadership team: Pat Luna, Blake Kendrick, Don Saliers, Kathy Norberg, and me. We are very excited about the faculty we have recruited. They include Roberta Bondi, Loyd Allen, Roger Owens, Amy Oden, Grace Imathiu, Barbara Brown Taylor, Luke Timothy Johnson, and Luther Smith. (See the entire list of faculty.)

If you would like to have a conversation with me as a part of your discernment, please reach out to me. I’d love to visit with you about The Academy. Contact me.

My Academy Story

I had worked at The Upper Room for fifteen years before I attended The Academy for Spiritual Formation. I “knew” about The Academy because I worked at The Upper Room. I watched my colleagues, one by one, attend the Two-Year Academy at Camp Sumatanga, Alabama.

When I saw The Academy brochure, it didn’t speak to me. Reading the prospectus just brought back memories of Divinity school: Trying to stay awake as I trudged through text books. The pressure of reading and exams and sitting through lectures.

It was my friend, Jerry Haas, who finally lured me into The Academy for Spiritual Formation. He invited me to attend the Five-Day Academy in Arizona. It was at Picture Rocks Retreat Center — I had never been to Arizona, so the location hooked me. (There will be a Five-Day Academy at this location in 2019.) Additionally, I was excited to meet Flora Slosson Wuellner, one of the faculty presenters. And my friend and colleague, Elise Eslinger, was to be the worship leader.

I attended that five-day experience and fell in love with The Academy for Spiritual Formation. It was nothing like Divinity school. It was nothing like anything I had ever experienced. A few months later, I joined the Two-Year Academy in California in its second week. And the experience nurtured, shaped, and changed me. (Note that there is a Two-Year Academy in California beginning in July, in case Alabama is too far away.)

I discovered a thirst I didn’t even know I had — a thirst for community, for silence, for a daily rhythm of prayer. I discovered a thirst for the Holy One. I count myself fortunate that I was enticed into The Academy experience.

I hope you will listen to the longings of your spirit, your thirsts, your hungers. I hope you will consider whether you are being called to join me on this journey. (Learn more.) Contact me if you’d like to visit about this opportunity.

A New Adventure

In May of this year, I started a new job at The Upper Room. After years and years of editing, I accepted the job of Director of Prayer and Upper Room Worship Life. The introverted part of me is still adjusting to the change — working with people more than words has been a big change.

A central part of my job is planning and hosting The Upper Room’s weekly worship services. The organization has been holding weekly services for staff since the chapel was built in the 1950’s. These days, we welcome each week staff from Upper Room, Discipleship Ministries, Higher Education and Ministry, and guests from the Nashville area and from around the world.

I’m grateful to have this opportunity to live out my calling to create liturgy. Some days, I’m amazed I get to do this job. Other days, I’m terrified that this is now my job. I guess that means I’m in the right place.

If you are coming to Nashville, join us on Wednesdays at 10:45 in The Upper Room Chapel. 1908 Grand Avenue, Nashville, TN 37212.

Homecoming

I sit and write,
Preparing to go home
To the place of my birth, my nurturing,
To Oklahoma, landscape of my heart.

Big sky and brilliant sunsets
Red soil and scouring wind.
Land that nurtured me and my kin.

Bless my planning, fingers on computer keys.
Bless the hosts who prepare, who welcome me.
Bless the friends of old and friends to come.

Bless our coming together,
Our hearts and minds.
Bless our eyes, our ears,
Our spirits joined together
In worship, music, prayer,
In talking and listening,
In love and fellowship.

Bless my coming home.


Oklahoma, I’m coming home. I’d love to see you.

Friday, March 24, 7:00 p.m.
St. Stephen’s United Methodist Church, Norman, OK. I’ll be speaking about my book of Celtic-style blessings and reflecting on my own Celtic roots. For more information, contact ststephensumc@coxinet.net.

Saturday, March 25, 9:00 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
St. Stephen’s United Methodist Church, Norman, OK. Workshop on “Spiritual Tools for Survival.” For more information, or to register ($10 for lunch), contact ststephensumc@coxinet.net.

Sunday, March 26, 8:30 and 10:50 a.m.
St. Stephen’s United Methodist Church, Norman, OK. Preaching and joining in worship. For more information, contact ststephensumc@coxinet.net.

Tuesday, March 28, 2:00 – 4:00 p.m.
Oklahoma City University. Gathering with area clergy for a time of listening. Contact me if you want more information.

Wednesday, March 29, 6:00 p.m.
Mosaic United Methodist Church, Oklahoma City, North campus. Preaching and leading worship for “Space for Grace” chapel service. A lite supper is served at 5:15 p.m. For more information, contact Mosaic at 405-751-0766.

Thursday, March 30, 3:00 -5:00 p.m.
St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, Tulsa, OK. Gathering with clergy from the Tulsa area for a time of listening. Contact me if you want more information.

Saturday, April 1, 2:00 – 4:30 p.m.
Mosaic United Methodist Church, Oklahoma City, OK. A workshop on Celtic spirituality. For more information, contact Mosaic at 405-751-0766.

Sunday, April 2, 10:30 a.m.
Mosaic United Methodist Church, Bishop Angie Smith Chapel on the campus of Oklahoma City University. Preaching and join in worship. For more information, contact Mosaic at 405-751-0766.

In the News

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Last Sunday morning, I was preaching at Edgehill United Methodist Church, the church that’s been my home since 1979. I was filling in for our pastor, John Feldhacker, who was away that day. We celebrated Black History Month and the congregation’s history of diversity. I told stories about Edgehill saints: Marjorie Campbell, Laura McCray, and Moses Dillard. The scripture was the challenging text from Matthew 5: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

At the second service, I officiated over the Eucharist. It was the first time for me to have the honor to do so, having only recently received sacramental authority from the bishop here in the Tennessee conference. (A change in The United Methodist Discipline gave the option for deacons to be able to receive sacramental authority with permission of the resident bishop.)

It was such an honor to be able to welcome all people to the Lord’s table, to pray the prayer of Great Thanksgiving, to break the bread, to lift the cup, to share the gifts of bread and cup with the congregation.

A reporter who was at the service gathering footage for a story on Sanctuary Churches captured the moment when the bread was broken. This image ended up on the front page of the local paper on Thursday. A video from the service was in an article in USA Today on Wednesday.

Our church is just beginning to explore what it would mean if we declared ourselves a sanctuary church. It seems to be a strong calling for us. Edgehill has always responded to those who were in need of a home and I trust that we will find our way to be in ministry in a deeper way to immigrants here in Tennessee.

This week I saw, first hand, the power of social media. My photo was not just in the local paper. It showed up in papers around the country. On Saturday I was contacted by a long, lost friend in Germany who had seen the video on Facebook.

The experience has been a bit overwhelming to this introvert. I’m still recovering from my own intense experience of the “24-hour news cycle.” And … I’m grateful for the ability to share the Good News with the world about the ministry of churches like Edgehill who are listening to God’s calling and responding to the needs of the world.

Join Me in May

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Join me in May at a retreat — a 5-Day Academy for Spiritual Formation — on the topic of the Psalms. I’ll be serving as the worship leader. For more information or to register, click here.

Psalms for Life: Praying Alone and Praying Together.
May 4-9, 2015
Camp Sumatanga, Alabama

Faculty: Roberta Bondi and Don Saliers

Roberta will focus on the many ways the Psalms can be used as a tool for Christian formation and prayer. For centuries, people have turned to the Psalms for solace, guidance, renewal, celebration and so much more. The 150 Psalms reflect a wide range of experience and expression. Roberta will guide the participants into a greater understanding of the Psalms and how to use the prayerbook of our forbearers to deepen our prayer life and our walk with God.

Don will focus on the use of the Psalms in corporate settings including worship and small groups. The Psalms are both personal expression and communal formation; Don’s lectures and worship leadership will explore this relationship in a number of ways, and invite us to bring our own lives and communities of care and ministry to the Psalms throughout the week.

An Amazing Opportunity!

I can’t say how awesome it will be! With Roberta and Don teaching us in the model of the Academy for Spiritual Formation. Incredible lectures, inspiring worship, times of silence and times of fellowship. All in a beautiful setting! I hope you will consider joining us for this amazing week!

For more information or to register, click here.

Download the brochure.

Who Are Your Shepherds?

Beth with Dad
Beth with Dad

Excerpted from a sermon I preached on Psalm 23, April 20, 2010, Scarritt-Bennett Center, Nashville, TN.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” – Psalm 23:1, NRSV

I wonder — Who are your shepherds?

My dad — Charles Richardson — is one of my shepherds. I grew up watching him every Sunday morning as he led worship in little Methodist churches in Oklahoma. Because of him, I wanted to work in the church. Dad gave me many gifts–love of nature, music and photography. When I was ordained, he was here to lay hands on me in the ordination service.

Now he’s walking through the shades of death … the disease of Alzheimer’s. Every day, his world shrinks just a little bit more. When I was with him two months ago, we sat and ate dinner with my brother and Anna, my step mom. Dad said to me, “So, tell me where you have lived.”

I answered, “Well, I was born in Norman, you know, and then we moved to Mooreland.”

Dad said, “Oh, I did a stint there in Mooreland. What’s your last name?”

“It’s Richardson,” I said. (My heart was getting heavy.)

“Well,” he exclaimed, “My last name is Richardson! Who’s your daddy?”

I said, “You’re my dad! I’m your daughter, Beth.”

He turned and looked at Anna and she nodded to him and said, “That’s Beth. She’s your daughter.” He looked a little uncertain, and then he stood up, opened his arms to me and said, “I need to give you a hug.” I stood up and we hugged — a good, long embrace.

We sat back down at the table and he listened as I told him about myself: how I had been to seminary, was ordained in the United Methodist Church, worked at The Upper Room, had written a couple of books. He was delighted to know who I have become.

Our dinner conversation turned to other things, and then he turned to me and asked, “Do you know my daughter?”  And I said, “Yeah. Isn’t she great?” As the rest of us chuckled, he looked at me closely and said, “Oh. You’re her, aren’t you?”

I know there are so many like him — wandering through dark valleys of illness or depression or struggle.

My dad’s shepherd is his wife. He is tethered to life through her presence. But there will soon come a time when he doesn’t know her as his wife. And he will depend on shepherds who will care for him even though he may not know who they are. It’s heartbreaking to think of him in this way, and I trust that God, the great shepherd, will tether his heart in love. That “goodness and love will pursue him every day of his life.”

I need shepherds to guide me through these days of the loss of my Dad. I need to know and trust that he will have shepherds who will take good care of him. And I want to watch for opportunities to be a shepherd to others — to serve, to love, to witness to goodness, to give comfort, to nurture hope.

The sure provisions of my God attend me all my days;
O may your house be my abode, and all my work be praise!
There would I find a settled rest (while others go and come),
no more a stranger nor a guest; but like a child at home.

– “Psalm 23 (My Shepherd, You Supply My Need)”
[Words: Isaac Watts; adapt. by Mary Ruth Coffman (© 1981 The Upper Room)]

I Get Paid for This? Cool!

inside_chapel_largeI had a remarkable experience today helping lead an informal chapel service for a group of communicators from Africa. They were 12 clergy and lay from Uganda, Mozambique, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, and Zimbabwe. They were in the U.S. for a three-week training organized by Nancy Neelley, Program Manager for Central Conference Communications, UMCom. Stephen Bryant invited me to help lead singing in a morning prayer service in the chapel of The Upper Room.

The group has been together for a couple of weeks already and enjoy singing together. As soon as they found their seats in the chapel, they were ready to sing in that place. I was unprepared for what happened when I invited their informal song leader, Emmanuel, to lead us in an opening hymn. He started a song and all 12 pour out of the pews, gathered in the space in front of the altar, and began to sing, clap, dance, harmonize, praise God. Tears came to my eyes, it was so beautiful. As soon as one song wound down, someone in the back started another song. The energy was incredible.

Steven Bryant talked to the group about the mission of The Upper Room. And then, my colleague, Kathryn Kimball, the person who cares for the Chapel and Museum, gave a live interpretation of the carving. (Visitors to the chapel usually sit in the pews and listen to a recording that explains in great detail what is going on in the carving of the Last Supper.  But Kathryn stood there and talked with no script.) She told about the story in the carving — the moment at The Last Supper right after Jesus has said, “One of you will betray me.” She described the different reaction of each disciple and invited us to ponder what we saw and where we might be in the story. Entering a time of reflection, I sang “There Is a Balm in Gilead.” Finally, Stephen led the group in a short discussion of what was seen and where in the story persons might have seen themselves. We finished the service with more singing, led by our congregants.

I was moved by the experience, honored to have been present, incredibly blessed to have been given the gift of music by 12 young communicators from the continent of Africa. God speed, my new friends.