This week, we asked our bloggers to name a few things that they wish they had learned in seminary. Visit the Outlook Outpost blog each day this week for a new perspective on the question and join the discussion.
On Christmas day, after leading the church’s annual 7 a.m. “ringing of the bells” service, I hopped on a plane and headed to Kansas City to spend time with my mom’s extended family. Sitting next to me was a father with his young daughter who was all decked out in red and green and cradling a stuffed kitten. As I drifted, dipping in and out of a light doze, the little girl started to talk.
“Kitty was born in a stable on Christmas. She was in a manger.” The girl said this in an explanatory sort of way, as if telling the cat’s story was an important matter indeed.
“Like Jesus,” her father said. I opened my eyes, curious. The little girl was nodding and petting the stuffed toy. Then she picked it up from her lap and held it in her arms like a baby. She was clearly imitating a mother – and if I had to put money on it, I would have said she was imagining herself in Mary’s shoes, putting herself right inside the Christmas story. She was figuring out where she belonged in this holy narrative.
Finding out where we belong in the Biblical drama is, perhaps, one of the benefits of the annual Christmas pageant. Done well (with careful preparation, discussion and prayer), actors – whether adults or children – get to step inside the story, imagining how the characters felt, and imagining how they might react if they were in the characters’ shoes. This kind of imagining, this exercise of figuring out where we belong in the story – not just the Christmas story, but the whole of the biblical narrative – is an important part of spiritual formation. It helps us to grow as disciples because we find ourselves within these ancient texts, not removed from them.
So it troubled me some when the youth of our church emphatically stated that they did not want to do the pageant this year. It troubled me, but did not surprise me because, with one exception, they aren’t little kids; they’re in middle and high school. Pageants are a thing of their childhood, and they are far too mature to engage in such things. And, honestly, the kind of playful imagining that goes on in a pageant is something that many adults might consider childish too.
So what to do? How do we draw people into the story? How do we encourage one another to imagine ourselves within these holy narratives, apart from the yearly play? And more specifically, how do we do this in worship? Certainly through preaching, but what else? I’ve heard brilliant pastoral prayers that have drawn me in, and the book our church used for lent last year had some guided meditations that could be incorporated into a Sunday morning service.
But I wonder if any of you have any other ideas. Any creative thoughts on how to facilitate this stepping inside the text on a weekly basis? Because, in the spirit of this month’s prompt, this is one thing that I wish I’d learned in seminary and didn’t.
Jennifer Barchi is serving as the Solo Pastor at Dickey Memorial Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, MD, where she lives with her dog Cyrus.