Friday, September 25, 2015


We have a lot of bridges here in Harrisburg.  Anyone who’s been here for a while can list their names quite easily:  the George Wade Memorial Bridge, the Harvey Taylor Bridge (also known as the Forster St. Bridge), the Market Street Bridge (once known as the Camelback Bridge during the Civil War era) and the Walnut Street  Bridge (also known as the People’s Bridge) …  I’m just getting to the point of attaching names to these impressive structures.  As my husband and I have made our way around, trying to “learn” the city (by walking and biking, mostly) we’ve developed favorites- mine is the footbridge across to City Island, and his is the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad Bridge further south.

We’ve heard, several times, the story of the Walnut Street Bridge that washed away in the 1996 winter storm. Imagine how odd that must have looked, the entire center section of the bridge being lifted off of its footings and washed downstream. You can see it for yourself, here, in this YouTube video:

I spent last weekend with our diocesan deacons on retreat at the Kenwood Camp and Retreat Center in Lebanon.  It was a wonderful way to begin my episcopacy;  the retreat took place just five days after my ordination and it was just what I needed-  a chance to rest a bit in the beauty of the wooded hillside, to be fed good food thrice daily, to sleep a generous amount of hours in a room with the window wide open, and to immerse myself in learning about the life, work and ministry of this faithful group of leaders.    Deacons are often said to be “bridges” between the world and the Church.  One of the primary tasks of the deacon is to bring the concerns of the world to the Church and to find ways to empower the people of the Church to use their gifts for the healing of the world, joining the work of God’s mission of reconciliation and restoration.  Empowering, inviting, organizing and inspiring.  That’s the job description, if you will, of a deacon.

We are all called, by virtue of our baptisms, of course, to do God’s work… and the deacon’s role is to serve as part of the infrastructure of the Church:  the “bridge.”

I have a friend who lives and works in Texas.  She is a Christian educator and formation specialist.  Amazingly creative, Emily has developed a curriculum and written a book using Legos  as a tool for Christian formation, specifically as a method for learning bible stories. It’s called Building Faith Brick by Brick.  You can find it here:   

Last week I looked with interest at some pictures that Emily had posted from an event at her church in which the students were building the walls of Jericho.  Not with bricks or Legos, even, but with Rice Krispie Treats.  Yup.  It seem that they cooked up a bunch of those delicious, sticky treats and cut them into tiny rectangles to resemble bricks.  Then they built the walls of Jericho.   If you know the story from Joshua 6: 1-27, you know what happened next:  The walls came a tumblin’ down.

Now, in the story of Joshua, these tumbling walls represented the  conquest of the Canaanite city of Jericho by the army of the people Israel as they claimed the city for their own.  It’s a story of conquest and triumph that, in this war-torn and violent world, I find a little tough to swallow.  But …when we consider Infrastructure, the Work of Deacons, the Mission of God and our Call as God’s missioners… then… I like tumbling walls.

If you’ve heard me speak at all in the past couple of months, you know that one of my favorite topics is to talk about how we are called to dissolve boundaries (tumbling walls), do away with the us/them dichotomy, recognize all people as the People of God and see that in serving God, we receive as much as we give.   When we assist someone in filling up a grocery bag at a food pantry, the relieved look on the recipient's face is a gift to us, in return.  When we spend an hour in a nursing home, holding the fragile, tissue-skinned hand of one of our elders and praying the Lord’s Prayer, we are blessed.  A backpack filled with back-to-school supplies for a child in need fills our hearts to overflowing. These are classic and good ways that we can serve… and they give us gifts in return.

But there’s more.  When we tear down the walls between Church and Community, when we find the bridge to be a smooth crossing and not something to be navigated out of a sense of duty, we enter a new dimension of “Church.”  Church beyond bricks and mortar, Church beyond service, Church as an embodied spirit within us that carries Jesus into the neighborhood with our words, our actions, even in the way we hold our bodies.  Church (classically) is the gathered Body of Christ, but I like to think of Church also as a moral code that we followers of Jesus bring to the world through our thoughts, attitudes and actions.  Smiling at the grumpy woman in line behind us at the post office.  Believing in hope as a resurrection force that can transform the depressed, the grieving and the destitute. Knowing that boldness, direct-ness and speaking the truth in love can be life-giving, and trusting in God to hold us in those difficult confrontational moments. That’s “Church,” for me, in action and attitude.  “Church” is also the place where we go to worship in community and receive the sacraments…  so that we are strengthened to be “Church” in the world. It’s a joyful movement of giving, receiving, giving, growing, transforming, and making the world whole.

When we all become “Church” in this way, then we won’t need bridges… because the chasm will be gone.

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  1. Thanks for the wonderful comments about Kenbrook! We're so glad that your stay was just what you needed. Wonderful writing!