The good news of the Gospel is that God is love and when you abide in God -when you act in accordance with love- you accept and take in God and God does the same. God takes you in. The gentle Nazarene was charged with this divine mission: Love. When Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life”, he was saying, essentially “Love Is The way, love is the truth, and love is the life. Love one another as I have loved you.”
Helen Keller wrote in her book Light in my Darkness,
“Jesus always visualized the opposite of love as hatred, the opposite of God in every detail, great or small […] No matter from what angle Jesus started, he came back to this fact, that he entrusted the reconstruction of the world to the nobler ideals and sentiments of people, to love, which is the mover of the will and the dynamic force of action. Love Is an active, creating and dictating power. Love is our inmost essence. Love keeps our faculties and senses alive. Love weeps at being left out. Love is the connector energy and intention in us. Love involves the whole body of conscious thought. Our intention, our purpose, are endeavoring, motives and impulses. Love is the all-important doctrine. Love is not vague, love is not an aimless emotion. Rather, love is the desire for good to be United with wisdom and fulfilled in right action. Love seeks to render others as blessed. Love is the power that saves.” (1)
All of these reflections on love are a perfect introduction to sharing some of the happenings of the Annual Convention of the Swedenborgian Church of North America in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. Why? Because the gospel of love shone brightly at our convention! Love was on display all week long.
The theme this year was drawn from Helen Keller’s “The Practice of Optimism”. Essentially, as we practice what is good, that is, live with charity, we become open to see and to perceive what is good in a new light.
God was in our midst. We opened to heaven’s light. We saw a much bigger reality. We stepped into the flow of life. Solutions emerged in our meetings among our clergy and delegates, peace settled in us, individually and as a collective body. It is the doing of right action, that the interior door of the mind is opened, for the Lord enters when we do good, and a higher perspective is granted. The angels can work with us creatively, deeply.
At Convention this year, our youth group took it upon themselves to help our handicapped elderly. They made sure that they were wheelchaired to meals, worship services, mini-courses, the ordination service, and special events. Youth today experience service for a higher cause and usefulness as true worship. In other words, what puts teens in touch with God, is helping others. Making a difference.
Especially because of the isolation of the pandemic years, we see how much we need each other, and how much we need to love and be loved. Swedenborg teaches us that loving makes us free and that love has the power to lift us out of the isolation we feel so deeply in these troubled times. Our teens purposely helped others and they were a significant part of the workings of convention and our gatherings. They laughed a lot, played a lot, and offered a very honest worship service about their loneliness, and being in the dark. And seeing the importance of helping each other through it, seeing God’s light and angels all around us, who help in our need. The youth group service literally started in the dark, the entire auditorium was dark while they shared their anxieties, one by one. And then, small lights were lit in the darkness and a large angel with glowing eyes floated around the room. It was powerful!
The gospel of love was felt during Rev. Dr. Devin Zuber’s ordination service. Rev. Jane Siebert asked if I would pray for Devin right before he went out to the sanctuary to receive the laying on of hands by the Rev. Dr. Jim Lawrence. The Lord gave me an image of divine hands on Devin in his mother’s womb. These were hands of light, caressing the baby. God ordained him in the womb, covered him with holy hands. While his mother carried him. I shared this with his mother and father right before Devin’s ordination. His mother seemed moved and in a state of awe, to hear that God had a plan for her son so long ago, from his beginnings, as this holy moment unfolded.
The gospel of love was shining so brightly that day. The Bridgewater church was so beautiful, a perfect sanctuary of light for a glorious day of promise and hope. The convention choir offered love’s song, and Karen Conger sang a solo of “The Holy City” so beautifully, it seemed that even the angels wept. And at the start of the evening, a jazz piano prelude rocked the house. Love was sounding!
As a church, we experienced comfort and healing with our Annual Convention Memorial Service. We remembered loved ones who crossed over to the other side of life, clergy and members and friends who we have loved through the years.
Love spoke through the sermon given by Rev. Rich Tafel on “Where is This World Going?”. Rev. Sage Cole preached and demonstrated the mystical sense: “Becoming Everyday Mystics: Helen Keller and the Inner Call of the New Church”. She said that something new is being born in us, and that something new needs to be born as the church continues to unfold and change with the times. Rev. Jane Siebert offered a powerful ordination message, “The Cloud of Witnesses”.
I co-led the Council of ministers communion service with licensed Pastor Robbin Ferriman, offered a morning devotional for early risers on the experience of being in awe, and sang in the convention choir, a small but mighty group of volunteers. One highlight for me was singing the duet “Jesus King of Angels” with Licensed Pastor Paul Demming during the Council of Ministers Communion Service.
The gospel of love was everywhere!
Perhaps most notably, Heidi Barnaby led the children’s program for the week, and they offered an uplifting worship service with music videos from around the world. They spelled the alphabet with sign language, and handed out “Hug in Your Pocket” rocks!
We learned how love moves and grows in the human brain with Eleanor schnar’s mini course, and we learned about the history of black ministers in Convention. We were guided in the basics of church archives and in saving Swedenborgian stories. There was a mini-course entitled “The Gay Talk”, which encouraged discussion of some of the questions many have but often don’t ask. We explored the optimism in Daoism and Buddhism, with cross references to Swedenborgian beliefs.
The Presbyterian Minister serving our Temenos Retreat Center in Pennsylvania, Rev. Yung Me Morris, offered a mini-course on trauma theory as an interpretive lens through which we can understand biblical stories. In other words, individuals and communities in the Bible suffered many traumas and these were expressed through existential cries that are eventually resolved through stories, song and poetry of God’s interest, deliverance, and prescription for a peaceful and just world known as the Kingdom of God. Viewing the scriptures through this lens, the reader may feel seen and heard for the first time. Creativity can be offered, then, as a healing modality for trauma.
Rev. Donna Keane led a discussion group on “Wonderful Worship in Small Churches”. We celebrated the blessings and benefits of small churches. Licensed Pastor Connie McOsker was approved and that she serves the Garden Church in San Pedro, California.
The gospel of love opened the inner reaches of our minds to many new ideas and experiences. And whenever we learn with a group of others, the learning goes into the understanding in a much more creative, expansive, and useful way. Now, as we move forward this summer and fall, we enter into the year of “Spiritual Uses”, or spiritual service to others. That is the theme for this upcoming church year.
So let’s continue together, as a church community of friends, seeking for ways that we might be useful to each other and to our larger community and world. In service with our beloved community of brothers and sisters, we find true happiness, a sense of purpose and satisfaction. So that one day, when we cross over to the other side of life, we may hear the Lord’s words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
(1) Keller, Helen. Light in My Darkness. West Chester: Chrysalis Books, 1994.
Rev. Renee Machiniak has been the minister of the Royal Oak Church of the Holy City for the past 25+ years, serving as a staff chaplain for both Beaumont Hospice and Oncology for 9 years, and now a volunteer chaplain with Beaumont’s Ovarian Cancer Support Group and the Royal Oak Police Department. She resides in Royal Oak Michigan with her husband, Joe, her parents, Rev. John and Sharon Billings, and dog Gertie.