Do You Love a Graduating Seminarian?

If you’re looking for a special gift for a graduating seminarian, how about this one: a portable communion set handcrafted from beautiful wood.

Imagine using a gorgeous item like this to bring the sacrament to the bedside of someone hospitalized, or homebound. The carrier is worthy of its purpose. It communicates to everyone involved that they are indeed partaking of a sacred moment.

Portable communion set, with chalice.

Portable communion set, with chalice.



Portable communion set, closed.


Portable communion set, with individual cups.

Portable communion set, with individual cups.

There are a number of options available, depending on type of cup. Each communion set comes with its own glassware. Since each communion set is handmade, and the craftswoman uses different types of woods, each box is one-of-a-kind. I predict that it will be difficult to choose from the options, but what fun!

I cannot recommend this work highly enough!

For more information, check out Sharon Newton’s website.

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Superhost! What if Guests Reviewed a Church Like an AirBnb

airbnb-superhostHospitality is important to me. I grew up in a home where it was common to have guests for dinner, even though we were a family of seven without a formal dining room. Simply getting everyone around the table could be a squeeze, but I don’t remember a person ever complaining. We were happy to sit down to my mother’s good cooking and the clink of bowls passing. I grew up knowing that to host an unexpected guest you simply added water to the soup, or corn muffins to the menu. I thought everyone hosted other people in this way.

Pastoring a church is essentially the practice of hospitality. People are looking for something when they come to church, even if they don’t know exactly what they’re looking for. And that’s great. That’s perfect! Nobody has to have anything figured out before they walk in the door of a church. They just need to be ready to receive. The people who are already there should spring up to (metaphorically) squeeze the extra chair at the table and stir up a batch of corn muffins, to provide whatever’s needed.

Christians believe that Jesus wants us to be hospitable. The theme is undeniable in scripture. Jesus was frequently a guest and once, pivotally, a host. He was the guest at many tables such as that of Mary and Martha, and other random “sinners” like us. He was the host at a particular table, the one that defies our comprehension, where he served the meal the church has named after him, “The Lord’s Supper.”

Plus there are the stories Jesus told, which so frequently feature dinner parties and banquets. The Jesus we meet in scripture liked to sit at a table where the bowls clinked as they passed, and the wineglasses were refilled.

Done right, the practice of ministry instills in us simple habits of hospitality: providing enough bulletins and hymnals for all, assuring the presence of empty pews and parking spaces, and generating a culture that’s ready to greet and chat and offer a cup of coffee, if it’s welcome. Churches thrive on hospitality, but it occurs to me that these practices are not rewarded very visibly, or assessed very honestly.

I can’t help but contrast that to my experience as an AirBnb host. For the second year I have been awarded the title: Superhost! People have asked me why we do it. Why do we have strangers stay with us? Is it even a bit dangerous? (To answer, I’ve blogged about AirBnb before.)

One answer is that it’s a way to earn a little extra money when you live in an area like DC, with high housing costs. But besides the income, I like the idea of making the world just a little more hospitable. I especially enjoy having people stay with us more than a night or two. If they’re here for a while, they’re probably in some sort of job transition. We can make that process just a bit easier. Our house is not especially large or beautiful, but it is a place of welcome. Would you like a cup of tea? A conversation? Or simply the promise of coffee in the morning as you face yet another day?

Let’s face it, these guests could choose to stay in a rent-by-the-week place instead, somewhere with a private entrance and their own TV to drown out the rest of the world. What do we offer that’s beyond those conveniences?

Increasingly I think it’s this: Simple human connection. As our interest in our cell phones reveals, we all crave connection.

I will ask a guest: “How was your day?” And I will listen to the answer. Because a day isn’t done until you’ve told someone about it. No guest has to talk, but if they want to, I as host will listen. This is not a hardship for me.

At the heart of the AirBnb process is a system of references. This is how total strangers can feel comfortable, rather than vulnerable. The references assure both host and guest of something quite basic: that we are just regular people who have/need a bed. There is no further agenda. This is a safe place. All shall be well.

I wish churches had the safeguard of a reference system. Hospitable churches could be designated “Superhosts.” Guests who visit could post a reference, an honest one. Potential guests could read and think: I could try this place. Or maybe: Nope! Not this one!

The post-Easter season is a good time for churches to honestly assess how they did with the basics of hospitality. How would their Easter guests fill out a review? Not just about parking spaces, but about the atmosphere as they walked through the door? Was the culture in that place a culture of hospitality?

As disciples we know that hospitality is basic to the life of faith. How might we lift up that value and quantify it for today’s connection-craving world? I envision some sort of “AirChurch” system of verifiability, with a focus on hospitality and a way to quantify success or failure through actual experience.

I also toy with a related idea: What if church members could be AirBnb hosts and funnel the money directly to their churches? Wouldn’t that be a beautiful way to tithe and support a congregation? I think Jesus would approve. In this day when churches need income streams, the idea seems timely.

If you’re interested in these ideas, email me or leave a comment. I’d love to pursue this.

Oh, and I meant to ask: Would you like coffee in the morning? Or are you a tea drinker?

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Hermitage Hildegard

During Holy Week my husband and I spent a few days with the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, staying in a hermitage at their monastery, and visiting their ministries in inner-city Erie. Our hermitage was named Hildegard. I took a picture of the signpost the day we arrived:


And I snapped another picture the morning we left:


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Lent Pilgrimage, Home

This is the final installment of a Lent devotional series based on my book about pilgrimage. To begin at the beginning, click on Ash Wednesday. Welcome, Pilgrim!

Easter Sunday

I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. ~Revelation 21:2

Scripture calls Jerusalem home, but it has always seemed far from my home. This pilgrimage has been too brief. The places we’ve visited don’t really feel like home, not yet. But I have been changed here, in this place God chose as home. No wonder that as I prepare to leave, a powerful homecoming energy pulls at me to stay. It is illogical. This Holy Land is a place filled with great conflict, yet it shimmers with a vision of hope. Someday I will return. Someday we will all return to the new Jerusalem!

On this Easter morning may you glimpse a vision of what we cannot see but only believe.

Prayer: O Creator, welcome me into your heaven.

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Lent Pilgrimage, Golgotha

Holy Saturday

May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. ~Galatians 6:14

Slide24We are in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built over the place where Jesus died. We have the opportunity to stoop over, crawl beneath an altar, and reach through a hole and touch the bedrock of Golgotha. I know it is just a rock. I know it is grimy from other people’s fingers. But when I touch it, I am pierced with the knowledge that a sinless Jesus suffered for the love of us pilgrims with our grimy hands and besmirched hearts.

How might you place yourself at the foot of the cross this Holy Saturday?

Prayer: Jesus, Lamb of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

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Lent Pilgrimage, Good Friday

Good Friday

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? ~Psalm 130:3

Headed toward the last of the stations of the cross, we pilgrims pass beneath a high window where some schoolgirls cluster. We can see them, wearing their school uniforms. The girls toss water balloons on us and yell: “It’s disgusting!” I stop and call up to them. “What’s disgusting?” They gesture toward the 4-foot cross carried by our leaders. “Your cross makes me want to vomit!” Splat goes another water balloon. My mother-heart is simultaneously full of love for them, and the urge to punish them. I wonder what Jesus would think, or say, about this interaction.

Has your religious upbringing ever told you who to love and who to hate?

Prayer: O Lord, forgive them, and forgive me, for we are all blind and foolish.

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Lent Pilgrimage, The Upper Room

Maundy Thursday

Then Jesus took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you.” ~Luke 22:19

The Upper Room on the Via Dolorosa was built by the Crusaders in the 11th century, so it is not “authentic” to the Holy Week story. The building was built a thousand years too late for that! Yet, our guide tells us, this spot may have similar aspects to the place where Jesus celebrated the Last Supper. We look around the empty space, picturing the scene in this high-ceilinged room. Other pilgrims sing a hymn. The acoustics are lovely, and the singing devout.

How might you enter the Upper Room this Holy Thursday, even in your home church?

Prayer: O Lord, I want to receive your sacrament.

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Lent Pilgrimage, Drowned by Noise

Wednesday of Holy Week

“The Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him.” ~Mark 10:33–34

We pilgrims are walking the Via Dolorosa through the Old City of Jerusalem. We tromp up many steps, passing people who are arguing loudly. I can hardly hear the readings because so many schoolchildren in uniforms and backpacks stream by. We offer prayers for mercy, but they are drowned out by the roar of a diesel engine on a small tractor pulling a cart.

What circumstances have made you feel as if you can’t shout loud enough, as if even God couldn’t hear?

Prayer: O God, save me and help me.

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Lent Pilgrimage, Stations of the Cross

Tuesday of Holy Week

Jesus took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him. ~Mark 10:32

We enter the Damascus Gate before dawn, in silence, to walk the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Suffering. Pilgrims take turns leading our group, carrying a 4-foot cross. The stations of the cross, a series of 14 stops along Jesus’ path to the cross, are not familiar to me or to the other Protestants in our group, but the readings at each stop resonate deeply with many of us. A Coptic priest hurries by, but pauses to make the sign of the cross over the cross we carry.

In what way does Jesus’ suffering give us solidarity with other Christians?

Prayer: Holy Spirit, unite me with all who love you.

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Lent Pilgrimage, Ancient Roots

Monday of Holy Week

“Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” ~Luke 22:46

The olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane.

The olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane.

The roots of the olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane are purportedly 2,000 years old. Olive trees are known to live a long time, and these particular trees have been lovingly tended since Jesus prayed under them. The knobby roots of the trees are a reminder that prayer itself is an ancient practice, worth tending. Asking God for help in the most desperate of moments is the very core of Christian hope.

How might you pray for help today?

Prayer: O Creator, keep me from the time of trial.

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