Disruption comes in many forms. There is the disruption that we plan and manage. And then there is the disruption that comes unbidden and unwelcome but often brings unexpected gifts. I’m mostly talking about when things go wrong. There was the Sunday the toilets overflowed. There was the Sunday without electricity. And then there was the Wednesday we almost burnt the church down.
One year at the Ash Wednesday service, the congregation was invited to think about sin – those things that separates us from God and then write those things down on a piece of paper. Later in the service, folks came forward and were invited to throw that piece of paper into a fire pit.
Yes, we had a fire pit in the sanctuary. We started out with a little fire going in the fire pit and then the fire got a little bigger with every paper that people threw in. Unfortunately, the fire pit was not set up to handle such a large volume of paper. Evidently the congregation had a lot to repent for and the flames grew quite high, twenty feet in the air high.
It was not good.
But, we were prepared. We had a fire extinguisher. I foolishly thought once we used the fire extinguisher that things would instantly calm down. But that was not the case. The extinguisher was very loud and resulted in quite a bit of smoke and debris filling the sanctuary. It was hard to breathe. It was chaotic and not at all what we had planned.
What I will never forget is how everyone pulled together that night. A volunteer fire fighter handled the fire extinguisher. Others opened windows. Others checked in with anyone who looked frail to make sure they weren’t experiencing any breathing problems. We learned a lot about each other in those moments.
I will never forget this group of middle school boys who had been forced to attend the service. They were all sitting in the front row. They had their shirts over their mouths – it was kind of hard to breathe. I remember thinking maybe they will leave. They weren’t leaving. You could see it in their eyes that were wide with wonder. Church had never been this interesting before.
My colleague said something about sin being a powerful thing and we somehow finished the service. In a very strange way, it felt like church – a community of folks facing a challenge together – worshipping God in the midst of it all.
Ash Wednesday has always been a night to remember our mortality, our vulnerability and the ways in which we need God and need one another. This we did that night – in ways profound and dramatic – not the way we had planned – but in a way that none gathered there that day will ever forget.
That’s the power of disruption.
“Church should be the place where we get to ask those tough questions in worship and in the class and in conversations. At the same time, church is the place where we get to bathe in the glorious good news that we are loved and claimed by God! My hope is that the church can be a place where all can experience the presence of God and talk about those things that are most important to them.
A life-long Presbyterian, I grew up in Dayton, Ohio, and attended Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey. Following graduation, I studied in Northern Ireland where I received a Masters of Social Sciences in Irish Political Studies from Queen’s University of Belfast. Upon returning to the United States, I earned a Masters of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary in New York City.
I served as associate pastor at Central Presbyterian Church in Denver, Colorado, and senior pastor and head of staff at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Des Moines, Iowa before coming to Broad Street.”