As a student of ancient languages and theology, I have always had a very keen interest in where words come from and where they go. When I sat down to write up a little reflection on the art installation that hung in our sanctuary throughout the season of creation, it struck me that the title of this installation, “Deeply Rooted; Branching Out,” already has a dynamic three month history of circulating within conversations at St. Luke’s, a history that promises to continue with the new stewardship campaign. Something about these words, I think, connects a number of impulses within the life of our church right now. So, as we think back on this community art installation and try to connect it to what comes next for this church, I think it is good to focus on these words that have caught our imaginations.
The phrase first came up at the Social Justice Committee meeting on August 12, 2012 and was meant for the signage at our church’s booth at The Boulevard. The phrase was a play on words: an art project made of branches at a publicity tent for the church. As a new intern, the idea was (suitably for this church) overly ambitious in its concept. We wanted to connect with this neighborhood and its people, hear from them, share ourselves with them, make art, beautify the sanctuary, connect with theme of creation, gain a larger presence at our neighborhood festival, bring the words of these people into our space, remind ourselves of our mission to this community and the call to be good neighbors to its people and its spaces. And the question on our minds was: Doesn’t it all connect? Can’t we do all of this at the same time?
The project itself was rooted in the congregation, who brought in the supplies to make it happen, pieces of paper and cloth, branches pulled together from all of our homes to the booth where they could be put to a second use. Those who came to the tent helped to branch out, talking with the people as they passed, asking them to share memories and hopes for the neighborhood, realizing that Logan Square is a holy place already for so many who raised families here, fell in love here, went through hard times here, and want a good future for this place. Their thoughts filled our branches on a sunny Friday and Saturday and came back to the church with us on a rainy Sunday to rest in our sanctuary. On Sundays throughout the season of creation, those thoughts surrounded us in our worship, hanging silently on those branches, taking life again every time someone from the congregation stopped for a moment and read a piece of cloth or paper, connecting to the roots of this neighborhood, its needs, its people.
In the season of creation, as the branches surrounded us, we thought about our responsibilities to this earth, to the places we inhabit and live. We challenged ourselves to think more globally to the connections we share with those around the country and the world. As we branch out, we are branching out into what we already have connection with, into systems in which we are already play a great role (for better or for worse). But wherever we go, our deepest roots are in the love we learn in this Christian community. We can remember that as a church we are never disconnected from each other or from that love that longs to branch out. When Ben and Heather Kulp left a few Sundays ago, I thought to myself, this is the church branching out. When we leave the sanctuary at the end of Sunday worship, we take the project of connection and growth with us. Into our jobs, our homes, our histories, our relationships, we bring the depths of the power of life-giving growth from the full assembly of God’s people, gathered on Sunday around the Lord’s Supper, into a world longing for transformation and growth.
We bring our lives into this church and we bring life out of this church. We are connected and rooted to each other and yet always branching out. Our interconnection is already a reality and yet it is always increasing. St. Luke’s is a church that knows its roots in the eyes of humanity, the people sitting around us on Sunday, the people we love who are elsewhere, the people we just met. Our roots are in each other and in each totally new Other. Our branches reach for more: more creation, more forgiveness, more we can do, more commitment to one another, more community of the saints.
My hope is that throughout the process of collecting materials, brainstorming the plan, making the booth, meeting with the neighborhood, worshiping among these branches, reading there messages, we found this reality come alive here and there. And as our church continues with this phrase of “Strongly Rooted; Branching Out” into its stewardship campaign, I pray it continues to find this mission renewed and strengthened.
I’d like to close by sharing just some of the messages (from the hundred or so we got) that filled out our branches, messages of rootedness, thankfulness, and reaching for something greater:
- “Our first dog Dilbert and our first home together”
- “This is where I have chosen to raise my son because it is a supportive, friendly, and beautiful community”
- “Let’s all be on the same team!”
- “So grateful for the community and diversity we have”
- “A community in conversation”
- “Sharing Logan Square with France and Canada – good food, good music, good outdoors, Logan – making Chicago look good”
- “My dad used to live in Logan Square and I like to come here”
- “Biking the Boulevard”
- “End to Violence”
- “Harmony and Abundance to all things in Logan Square”
- “Get weird, stay weird”
- “That the children would know the history of this place”
- “This is where my family began”
- “Keep Logan Square the fun, eclectic, charming and amazing place it is J”
- “Cease the violence and embrace our common bonds of life”
- “Walking with Iain and Digby in the Park while eating Mike’s Italian Ice”
- “I like to run to the Eagle and hang out there”
- “I fell in love with my wife in Logan Square.”