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 Building Re-Dedication

Sermon - 10/30/11
The Reverend Drs. F. Wayne & Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Let me just say a word about the sermon line in today's bulletin today, because it's a little unusual. I normally don't use titles, except for more formal occasions. This was sort of one of those, but there was an additional opportunity today, and the reason I've chosen to put that title in there because I thought it would just look fun to see "The Reverend Drs. F. Wayne and Dan Bryant" together on one line :)

I've been in the pulpit in his church before, and he has been in this pulpit before (as well as the pulpit in Fresno when I was down there), but I don't know that we've ever shared the pulpit together in this way. So another historic occasion.

And the reason for that is that our history committee, in looking through the history of our church, discovered (not that it was any secret), that Dad gave the dedication sermon for our Chapel (and office and education wing) when it was built, the ground broken for the centennial of the founding of the congregation in 1866, so the groundbreaking was held in 1966 (there are pictures in our hallway where you can see that). But the building was not built until the following year, and then dedicated in January of 1968. Dad, being the new, young preacher in Oregon, having graduated from Seminary at Drake just a couple years before, was invited to come and to give that sermon.

As I began reflecting on gee, how we were going to use Dad in the service today, I began thinking of all the building projects that he has been involved. I remember very well the church that was built in St. Helens when I was just 5 or 6 years old, when Dad was the pastor there. The extension to the church at First Christian Church in Albany (and we have a couple people from Albany here this morning), the Fellowship Hall was added on to that church. And then the incredible project at Portland First Christian Church, where Dad retired from ministry after a little stint with Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon and also as our Regional Minister. Those who remember that church before that renovation -- what they called the miracle on the Park Blocks -- well, it was just a fabulous, incredible renovation of that historic building, and they have now significantly added on to that as well.

As I began thinking about that, and all those building projects, I thought this was an opportunity too good to pass up, to invite Dad to share in the reflection this morning, as we think about the significance of this building.

Just to clear up any false information that may be out there, Dad is not as old as this building :) He's just the oldest preacher I know who can still preach :) So am I pleased to welcome the original Reverend Dr. Bryant to our pulpit this morning [Applause from the congregation].

Thank you Dan, it is good to be here to share in this historic occasion. When we think about how many of us here, many of us not part of the congregation now, but at some time in our life were touched by the activities and ministries that took place at First Christian Church of Eugene. So it's great to be welcomed back to share another time.

As Dan said, in 1968 I was three years into our ministry at First Christian Church of Albany, and just that short time out of Seminary. I had served two other churches prior to that, in Salem and in St. Helens. But I was new, and one day in 1968, Carlton Buck, that wonderful old gentlemen from this church who composed the music we just heard by the choir (an amazing gentleman and pastor in Oregon for many years) called me and invited me to bring the dedication sermon for the new office wing that had just been completed.

Why me? Well, he went on to say that he just felt it was important from time to time to have one of the younger, rising pastors in the region officiate or dedicate or speak at this kind of occasion. So I was invited, and I gave this sermon. Which I understand is buried in the Cornerstone. There's many that think some of my other sermons should have been buried somewhere too :)

Reflecting on it, that was 44 years ago. And here we are today, on the 100th anniversary of this beautiful old building, filled with memories of the past and rejoicing in the improvements that are being done, and the modernization that is nearly complete. I'm pleased to see this pamphlet about restoring the stained glass windows that are part of the original construction. These windows were made by the Povey brothers, and David Povey, the designer and glass artisan out of Portland. We have 119 Povey windows in First Christian Church in Portland.

The other thing I was reflecting on, for a long time, I was in Portland, Dan was here, and I sort of felt like we were anchoring the Willamette Valley between us and the two congregations.

Dan's brother Steve is the President of the congregation in Albany. He's the only Bryant we left when we all moved away :) And he invited me to preach on the occasion of that congregation's 50-year anniversary of their building earlier this year. And suggested I tell stories. Actually, he said there were 3 things I needed to keep in mind: I'd like you to tell stories about the past, and remember this is the day we're receiving pledges, and also we are remembering the anniversary of our congregation. And you have 20 minutes :)

Dan suggested I do a similar thing, at least he left me free to tell stories, and then said: you have 10 minutes :)

Like Dan, I do not remember ever having shared the pulpit with Dan. I have preached for him on occasion, and he has preached from my pulpit from time to time, but this is a new experience, and I'm pleased to be a part of it.

You know, I retired in 1999, after 17 years of ministry at First Christian Church in Portland. Which is the longest pastorate in that historic congregation's 130-year history. Now, Dan, you've already celebrated 20 years of ministry with this congregation. So he has a longer history than I do. But who's counting? :) Just a side-light, but his sister Katherine is being honored this very day, this very morning, at First Christian Church in Carbondale Illinois for her 12 years of ministry with that church. It was a surprise, she didn't know it was happening.

Well, Dan's tenure here may be longer than mine, but I have led in more building projects than he has :) I counted up in preparation for this morning. Dan talked about a couple of them. There were three brand-new buildings: one in St. Helens, one in Eldora Iowa while I was a student at Drake Seminary, and an additional building in Albany (the Fellowship Hall). And there were two major remodeling projects: one at University Christian Church in San Diego, and one at First Christian Church in Portland. All with Church-Extension, capital fund-raising campaigns and the subsequent mortgages which follow.

I once heard a well-known Oregon minister say that he liked to keep his congregations in debt, because that made sure that they would be actively involved in the life of the church. If that's a criteria for an effective ministry, I probably rank in the top 10 in the state of Oregon I suspect :)

The point is, those were not just duties to be done, not just things that were done out of sheer necessity, they were done because they provided opportunities for those congregations to expand and to develop their programs and ministry. And they were exciting occasions. More than that, each one in turn was a very positive experience, in keeping up with that which was happening in our communities. New schools. Institutions being built around us. Housing being created. In some instances, those of you who may remember the old church in St. Helens (which was an old frame building, and which as I recall when I first went there, there was a log stump up in the sanctuary which served as a place to site from time to time), it was an old, ramshackle building that needed to be replaced if the church was going to be part of the 20th century.

But new and upgraded facilities were not the goal of those congregations. In each instance, it was a tool for effective and growing ministry. And so here, in this place, where great music, excellent preaching, effective mission and ministry have been hallmarks of this congregation's history. This renewed and upgraded building will continue to house Christian education programs for children, and youth, and adults. The expansion of global ministries and local programs of help for those most vulnerable within the community. And a place for everyone, everyone -- regardless of their status in life -- is welcome to participate.

In my experience, it was always exciting to watch beautiful buildings rise from foundation to completion and dedication. They were not only exciting times, to see that happen, I have to say that it was fun. I really left my mark on the church in St. Helens. I was younger in those days, and I volunteered to climb the steep roof and paint the steeple. I spilled nearly a full gallon of brown paint down the tan roof of that sanctuary. The last time I was there, that was still there :) But that was my mark.

In Albany, we bought an old church next door to the sanctuary (the people had built a new building and moved out of town). And here was a building right next to ours, we were short of parking, we decided -- I suggested -- if we bought that building, eventually we could tear it down and build a parking lot. The church agreed to do that, so we bought the building, and since we had an empty building, we decided to make that our teen center, so we let our youth use it. The city did not have a Senior Center at that time, so they asked if they might use that building during the week for a senior-citizens center. And we agreed to do that. The youth, and Dan was one of them, promptly name the building the "Niles Center". For juveniles and seniles :)

When we did get around to demolishing that building to build a parking lot, we had to take it before the city planning commission. By this time, Dan's brother Steve was the department head, the chair of the City Planning Commission. They looked at our plans for a parking lot, and decided that we needed to make a lot of alterations, which might have looked nice but gave us far less parking. So someone had to appear before the city planning commission and argue our case. I did. My son, Dan's brother, argued the other side :) It was right after that I decided to leave Albany for Southern California!

It's always been interesting. I recall in Portland, the miracle on Park Avenue, it was amazing in that in our committee meetings, board meetings, congregational meetings, we never had a negative vote. We just proceeded as the architect had suggested. But right after we had taken the congregational vote to proceed with that huge project, a delightful old gentleman met me in the hallway (he didn't always hear so well) and said: "Did I understand correctly that was a unanimous vote?" I said "Yes it was, isn't that great?!". He said "No, it's not. I want to change my vote. I'm going vote no". I said "Why?" He said: "Because I don't believe in unanimous votes, I don't think they're healthy". So we had one negative vote :)

In San Diego, the city bureaucrats (dealing with bureaucrats in these things is really what is part of the fun), a planning commission person who was responsible for working with us, decided that we needed a ramp from the chancel area down the center aisle. I said "Why would we want a ramp?". And he said: "Well, someday you might have a minister in a wheelchair". And I said: "I'm not going to stay that long" :)

But there it was. And we didn't want a ramp. Now, I might have felt differently, but in those days I didn't want it, and neither did the church. I called up one of our Elders, he happened to be head of the planning commission for the city of San Diego, and I told him one of his deputies has asked us to do this, is that necessary? And he said: "I'll take care of it". That was it. So sometimes it's not what you know, it's who you know, and that was one of those cases where you have to use the system in the best way you can. Well, that's enough of that.

So now you're completing a major remodel of this beautiful, historical church. I would suggest that the changes you will be making, and are making, will assure your visible and important place in the city of Eugene for another century of ministry and mission. I commend you in what you are doing. I trust that it will not be considered just something that you have to do because it's necessary, because the building is decaying. It's more than that -- that it will be an experience that you can enjoy, and understand its significance in the life of this church in the years that come.

And may it be to God's glory in those years as it has been in the century now passed. God bless.

Thank you Dad. I remember that brown mark on the roof of the church at St. Helens. And that reminds me of when the light went out on the cross on top of the dome. How many of you know how to replace a fluorescent tube inside of a cross on top of a dome? I didn't think there were very many :) So I'm up there inside the cupola (we learned last night what a cupola is), and I discovered the nail barrel that is permanently incased up there. I'm up there, I get this light down, we take it down, put a new fluorescent tube in it, and I'm putting it back up, and it has an extension cord that runs somewhere. As I'm putting it up, I'm holding on to this metal (and I had to turn it on to make sure it worked, before I put it back up inside the cross -- so every time you look at this, remember this story :) fluorescent fixture with one hand with the light-bulb on, as I reach out and grab the metal frame that is the base of the cupola, and it's then that I discovered that there was a short in the fixture :) You left your mark, I almost left my body permanently encased up there!

We all know the church is not a building.

That the building is simply a visible manifestation of the body of Christ. But when we reflect on all the significant things that have take place here, the weddings, and the funerals, the baby dedications, and the baptisms, the flowering of the cross on Easter, and those beautiful candlelight services on Christmas Eve. And the table and the pulpit, the broken word and the spoken word.

It's no wonder that we become so attached to this place. That this building becomes almost synonymous with church. And so we have to remind ourselves on occasions such as this, especially such as this, that the Church is not the building. Or, that the church is so much more than the building.

But let us not also go too far in the other direction and say it is only a building, as if this place was no more significant that a warehouse where we keep our Bibles and our stories about God. For there is truly something unique and wonderful that happens here, even though it is true that God is not any more present here than anywhere else.

But there are things that do happen here that don't happen in other places. This may be the only place where some things happen. In that passage that John read for us from the prophet Isaiah, there is a vision of the household of God on earth. It begins with these words from the Lord "Maintain justice and do what is right". And let us always remember, as our preacher from three weeks ago (John Dominic Crossan) reminded us, that justice, biblically speaking, is always about distributive justice and not retributive justice. Justice is where everyone in the household gets enough of the world's stuff for a decent life.

And so the prophet, speaking for God, cites two groups as examples -- symbolic of all the outcasts who typically are excluded from society, who are objects of retributive justice rather than the beneficiaries of distributive justice. The Eunuchs, and the foreigners. Those rejected on the basis of their gender identity and those on the basis of their nationality.

And in the most stunning vision of the radical inclusivity of God, the prophet informs us that even those who everyone knows are not included in God's household, that in fact they shall be -- that in my house, the household of God, shall be house of prayer for all people, including the outcasts that shall be gathered in.

So, hear the good news of God, people: that vision is becoming a reality here in this place, in ways that those who built this beautiful building could hardly even imagine.

The Eunuchs of Isaiah's day would be the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered people of our world today. Social outcasts because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, not welcome in most houses of worship. The open and affirming policy that we adopted at the beginning of this year to officially end such religious discrimination was not just the result of a year of discernment concluding with that consensus process without a dissenting vote in the end, in reality it was several decades in the making, not just one year, as we joined with hundreds and even thousands of congregations across the country, responding to the call of God by recognizing that faith in Christ is not limited or determined by one's gender identity or sexual orientation.

From the first openly gay member we received at least 15 years ago, to the dozens of GLBTQ members and friends we have today, we can celebrate that we are becoming a house of prayer for all people.  [Applause from the congregation]

And if we are talking about including the outcasts, then we have to talk about the many homeless, including those with mental illness living on the streets who have found here, a welcome. Beginning with our Helping Hand clothing ministry, begun more than 50 years ago, this has been a place that has lived out those words of Christ: "I was hungry and you fed me, I was naked and you clothed me".

In 1990 the church joined the interfaith shelter program that houses homeless families in churches such as ours. When the city council adopted that camping ordinance to allow the homeless to camp in parking lots of churches, a news crew came here and asked if we would allow that to happen, and we said we would. The next day we received a phone call from someone wanting to donate a trailer to the church for that purpose. And so began our trailer emergency housing program that has housed over 100 individuals in the last 15 years.

And then Dary Burkhalter came in what 2004 or 2005, and asked what else could he do? And we said the one thing that is really killing us are all those walking into the church, calling, because they think churches are there to help people. And we just don't have the resources to respond to all those requests. So, our Good Samaritan ministry was born, that has literally served over a thousand people a year, just providing a listening ear and making connections and figuring out ways to respond to all kinds of needs.

And then four years ago, Major Thomas Egan froze to death on the streets of Eugene, just a couple blocks from the Mission. And so the Egan Warming Center was born, and we now enter our third year of participating in that program, where this church is the central location in our community for the Egan Warming Center that provides housing, and partners with other churches for those that come to this place on those nights when the temperature is below freezing.

And then two years ago, after we read about that church in Washington D.C. that serves breakfast on Sunday mornings, in Diana Butler-Bass's book "Christianity For the Rest Of Us", and some of our people say 'we could do that', and so we did! And so our Sunday Breakfast program, serving 150-200 people was born.

The result of all this "Matthew 25" ministry, as I call it, is not only are our brothers and sisters living on the street coming here for food, shelter, and clothing, they are coming here to worship God. Imagine that. That here, the outcasts of our society are finding a place where they too are welcome to sing and to pray with us.

So we can celebrate the challenge and the opportunity that we are becoming a house of prayer for all people.

Finally, there is this business of the inclusion of the foreigners. And never has there been so powerfully manifested in the history of world religion than what is taking place right here on the 11th of every month. That people of all nations and all traditions are coming together to pray in their own religious tradition, in one place.

Wednesday, several of us (about a dozen or so), went up to hear Richard Rohr, the Franciscan priest who is becoming quite well-known, has written many books, very popular, on contemplation, meditation, and prayer. And speaking at Trinity Cathedral (the Episcopal Cathedral in Portland), packed house, I got there late and I had to sit on the floor in the narthex, because it was standing-room only. And I heard Father Rohr say to us: "Jesus did not intend to create a religion to compete with other religions. Look at the diversity of our world, all created by God. God obviously is comfortable with diversity, we are not. Get over it".

Rohr didn't say that, that was my interpretation of what he said :) We are living that diversity of faith right here, demonstrating how there can be unity within diversity without sacrificing anything from our unique faith tradition, the witness that we know in Christ. Other than perhaps the unlike-Christ claim of superiority, that makes Christians at times look like third graders. Not even that -- children, competing. "My religion is better than your religion". We don't do that here.

And others are beginning to take notice. On October 9th, that Sunday when we rededicated our Cornerstone, we received a call from the Interfaith Office from the National Council of Churches, informing us that we were one of five congregations in the nation to receive the "Interfaith Engagement Congregation Award". Which basically means they're going to be telling the whole world about what we're doing right here in Eugene, and telling people if you want to know more about it, don't call us, call those folks in Eugene. [Applause from the congregation]

Now, I suppose that we could do some of these things without this building, but could we do them all? As our preacher from three weeks ago, John Dominic Crossan, said: "It's good to see so much good being done under a big dome" :)

Let us then celebrate on this 100th anniversary of this place, that truly this beautiful, historic, house of God has become a house of prayer for all people. Amen!


 

 


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