Friday, November 28, 2014

Services for those who suffer during the holidays

The cues to turn that frown into a smile are nonstop: “Merry Christmas!” “Happy Hanukkah!” “Ho-Ho-Ho!”

For many, though, the holidays can be a dispiriting time. Maybe they – maybe you – battle loneliness or depression, have lost a job or a loved one.

Faced with all the parties and the gifts and the caroling, those suffering often “wish the world would stop being so happy and recognize that there are brothers and sisters who are in pain,” says the Rev. Gary Butterworth, rector at All Saints Episcopal Church in Gastonia.

So Butterworth’s church is inviting those coping with sorrow, loss, pain and isolation to attend a “Blue Service” on Dec. 19.

It’s the third year All Saints has held this gathering, which features an inclusive liturgy.

“It’s the one time of the year that we get people of all faiths and denominations as well as the un-churched,” he says. “And there are lots of tears.”

Those who attend are given strips of cloth and a Sharpie pen. They’re invited to write down their pains, struggles, broken relationships, the names of those they’re remembering. During the service, they are asked to bring those strips to the Christmas manger “and give them to Jesus,” Butterworth says. The strips remain in the manger until the feast of the Epiphany in January.

In his past Blue Service sermons – he calls them meditations – Butterworth has acknowledged the pain of those who have come and then spoken of Scripture as “God’s love story with humanity, including lots of struggle, pain and joy.”

“We honor and affirm where they are,” he says, and then offer them this message: “There is hope.”

The 45-minute service is 7 p.m. at All Saints, 1201 S. New Hope Road, Gastonia.

 Details here. You can also call 704-864-7201.

Remembering children

The Charlotte chapter of the Compassionate Friends will be there next month for those bearing a special pain: the loss of a child.

Parents, family and friends are invited to a candlelight service at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 14 at St. Matthew Catholic Church, 8015 Ballantyne Commons Parkway. It will held in the small chapel on the Rea Road entrance.

Names of the children being remembered will be read. Those who come are invited to bring a picture.

Details: 704-315-6913 or email

-- Tim Funk

Monday, November 24, 2014

Looking for uplift? Attend Tuesday's interfaith Thanksgiving service

If you’re distressed, as I am, by all the acrimony at home and abroad, I have a suggestion that could bring you some peace and uplift.

Show up Tuesday night (Nov. 25) at Mecklenburg Ministries’ 39th annual citywide interfaith Thanksgiving service.

You’ll find people of various races, cultural backgrounds and faith traditions praying and singing together – not judging and bad-mouthing each other.

The event will start at 7 p.m. at The Park Church, 6029 Beatties Ford Road. Get there early – it’s one of the best-attended events in Charlotte. (Last year, more than 1,000 people were there.)

In fact, come at 6:30 p.m. for the musical prelude.

As always, the night’s accent will be on gratitude. Delivering that message from the pulpit will be a trio of women clergy: Rabbi Judy Schindler of Temple Beth El, the Rev. Ophelia Garmon-Brown, M.D., of Novant Health, and the Rev. Christy Snow of the Spiritual Living Center of Charlotte. The title of their talk: “Committed to Love Amidst Paradox.”

Among the other speakers: Bishop Claude Alexander, who pastors The Park, and Imam John Ramadan of Masjid Ar-Razzaq. Ramadan also chairs the board of the sponsoring Mecklenburg Ministries, an interfaith group with about 100 member congregations.

The service will open with a Hindu Thanksgiving ritual prayer and include readings from the sacred texts of various religions. Sharing a story for the children will be the Rev. Sofia McGuire of Sufi Order International.

There will also be glorious music, led by 200-plus singers and musicians from the Interfaith Adult and Children’s Choirs and from the Queen City Ringers, the Gaston Choral Society, The Park Choir, and the Friendship Missionary Baptist Church Choir.

One last thing: If you’re coming, bring some canned goods to benefit Loaves & Fishes, which feeds our hungry brothers and sisters during the holidays and all year round.

More details:; 704-565-5455.

Also for your calendar ...

Here are some other upcoming holiday events:

  • Dec. 5: Franklin Graham and others from Samaritan’s Purse will lead a celebration of the 2.4 million shoe box gifts prepared in Charlotte for shipment to kids all over the world. 10:30 a.m. at the Operation Christmas Child Processing Center, 7100 Forest Point Blvd.

  • Dec. 12-13: The Choir School at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church will present its popular Christmas concerts. 7:30 p.m. each night in the church sanctuary, 115 W. Seventh St. uptown.

  • Dec. 16-17: The Congregation of Ohr HaTorah will mark the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah with two menorah lightings. 5 p.m. Dec. 16 at SouthPark Mall and 5:30 p.m. Dec. 17 at Trade and Tryon uptown.

--Tim Funk

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Days before death, Sunday school teacher got to see her book published

For more than 50 years, Edith Collins taught young children at Myers Park Baptist Church.

And during those decades of Sunday school and Through-the-Week school, Collins filed away stories about these 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds whose first and maybe best memories of the Charlotte church were of gentle “Miss E.”

Collins’ dream was to fill a book with these stories.

About Allison, the precocious little girl who responded to a recording of “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” by spreading her arms and “flying” around the room to the rhythm of the music.

About Adam, who riveted the class during Circle Time one Sunday morning with his report on a trip to the doctor and how the M.D. had said that his brain was boiling. (Translation: He probably had a high fever).

And about how, during the reading of “Jack be nimble ...,” one little boy taught the other children compassion by taking the hand of Judy, who had cerebral palsy, and helping her jump over the imaginary candlestick.

This dream-of-a-book was finally published this year, in April, as Collins, 87, struggled with illness.

Because of her declining health, her family and friends at Myers Park Baptist got the publisher, Lorimer Press in Davidson, to rush the first copy off the press.

When “Sprouting Acorns” by Edith Collins was presented to the author, “she just beamed and held the book,” says Myers Park Baptist member Ed Williams. “You could see the joy in her face.”

Four days later, Collins died.

But at 7 p.m. Thursday (Nov. 20) at Park Road Books, members of Collins’ church will gather to read from her book.

Among the scheduled readers: Bill Walker, retired WSOC-TV anchor; the Rev. Robin Coira, executive minister and the first woman ordained by Myers Park Baptist; poet-historian Mary Kratt; poet Kathie Collins; writer Lisa Rubenson; lawyer Ray Owens, the son of former Myers Park Baptist pastor Gene Owens; and Williams, former editorial page editor at the Observer.

They’ve now published enough copies of “Sprouting Acorns” to sell, for $12.99, at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road, and at Myers Park Baptist, 1900 Queens Road.

Teacher Collins dreamed up that title because she considered her work to be turning tiny acorns into great oaks – or “sprouting children,” as she explains in the introduction.

“She just loved children,” Coira says. “And she had a magical quality that drew the children to her.”

The book’s stories, written with grace and wisdom and featuring the kids’ charming drawings of cats and birds and space rockets, offer a master class in how to deal with children, featuring an ever-curious and always-encouraging Edith Collins.

-- Tim Funk

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Anonymous donor honors Pope Francis with Habitat house in Huntersville

Today (Oct. 18) at 10:30 a.m., Our Towns Habitat for Humanity will raise the walls on The Pope Francis House at 11908 Titan Ave. in Huntersville.

An anonymous donor wanted to honor the pope with a house built for a family in need.

Volunteer and additional monetary support is being provided by two Catholic parishes – St. Therese in Mooresville and St. Mark in Huntersville – as well as the Davidson College Habitat chapter and Catholic Campus Ministries.

The donor, according to Habitat for Humanity, wanted to salute the pope for his commitment to social justice, support Habitat and provide a “celebratory opportunity” for Catholic and non-Catholic volunteers.

You can volunteer here.

-- Tim Funk 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Muslim and Jewish women to gather to share stories and traditions

Need a break from all the dispiriting headlines about Ebola, ISIS and nasty election-year TV ads?

Check out this news item: Muslim Women of the Carolinas is inviting local Jewish and Muslim women to gather later this month for “Tea for Two.”

“There’s not very many opportunities for Muslims and Jews to meet,” said Rose Hamid, president of the Muslim Women’s group. “I wanted to create some space to just build connections, ask questions of each other and ease fears.”

The plan is for the women to share stories and traditions about their separate religious holidays – this month, the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur and the Muslim holiday of Eid Al Adha fell on the same day.

There will be desserts and, as the event's name promises, tea --several types of tea, in fact. “Because Muslims come from all over the world, teas are a big part of their cultures,” Hamid said.

The event is 3-5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 26, at the Islamic Community of Bosniaks (they’re from Bosnia), 6200 Wilora Lake Road in east Charlotte.

Space is limited and organizers want a good mix. So, if you’re a Jewish or Muslim woman and want to go, RSVP here

-- Tim Funk

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Pope Francis sends greetings to Charlotte

Every week, it seems, another group holds its national convention in Charlotte.

But how many of them get a video greeting from Pope Francis?

Just one that we know of: This month’s meeting of Catholic Charities USA – professionals and volunteers from dioceses around the country who work to reduce poverty.

“My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,” the pope, speaking in Spanish, began his video message. “I send you my warmest greetings of peace and abundant joy as you gather together in Charlotte, North Carolina.”

Or “Carolina del Norte” – North Carolina in Spanish.

The pope spoke for more than 12 minutes and stressed, as he has repeatedly in his papacy, the need to care for the poor.

“They will precede us into the Kingdom of Heaven, they will open the gates for us,” he said. “We are called to be a church, a people of and for the poor.”

He signed off with a blessing and this humble plea: “I also ask you to pray for me because I need it.”

Catholic Charities USA met in Charlotte Oct. 4-7.

(Video courtesy of Catholic Charities Diocese of Charlotte.)

-- Tim Funk

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Q&A: Theologian coming to Charlotte to talk about treasures of darkness

Barbara Brown Taylor -- theologian, Episcopal priest, college professor -- lives on a organic vegetable farm in the Georgia foothills of the Appalachians.

It’s a perfect place to experience the natural seesaw between the light and the dark– and to ponder the metaphorical and theological aspects of both. Taylor, 63, writes about these things in her latest book, “Learning to Walk in the Dark,” which was the subject of a Time magazine cover story this year.

Taylor, named one of the 12 most effective preachers in the English-speaking world by Baylor University, will speak this weekend at Charlotte’s Myers Park Baptist Church. The Observer talked with her Tuesday. Here’s the full transcript.

Q. In your writings, you have pointed out that the word “darkness” has become shorthand for every bad thing out there. But you also point out that many of the most important stories in the Bible occurred in the dark. Give me one or two. And what does that say about God’s supposed preference for the light?

A. The one I’m working on right this minute is Jacob wrestling an angel by the River Jabbok.  Not in the middle of the night, but all night long. And it changes his life. God gives him a wound and a blessing and a new name.

I don’t know anything about God’s preference . . .

Q. I'm referring to God saying in Genesis, “Let there be light.” And Christians like to talk about Jesus as the Light.

A. Yeah, that’s cause we like light. We want God to be the way we like. But Exodus 19 has God saying to Moses, “I will come to you in a dark cloud.” So God doesn’t seem beholden to our fondness for light. I think anyone who professes faith in one God professes faith in a God of the dark and the light, of the night and the day, who put the sun and the moon in the sky. So a lot of what I’m up to in my writing and in my talks in Charlotte this weekend is doing my best to retrieve the wholeness of the vision of God and how God works.

Q. Clearly, many churches and religious books today are selling certainty and a sunny spirituality. But there is this rich contemplative tradition in Christianity that says the darkness is where the soul will find God. Is that how you see darkness as well?

A. Yes, but let’s keep both in there. Because what I find is that (because) I travel with a book called “Learning to Walk in the Dark,” people think I’m setting up a new opposition. I’m keeping the same old battle between dark and light; I’m just switching sides. And I don’t want to be in a battle at all. I want to talk about the cloud of unknowing and the drive to know God. I want to talk about the dark night of the soul. And I want to talk about the bright light in the morning and embrace all of those as parts of our whole life. I’ll talk about learning to walk in the dark as learning to walk the way of unknowing, a sacred way of unknowing, but there’s a sacred way of knowing as well. I’m trying hard not to play into a new opposition, but to do my best to hang on to the full package.

Q. How does living on a farm shape your spirituality and your befriending of the darkness?

A. I think there’s a lot less protection here from the elements. From darkness. From hawks that swoop down out of the sky and take your favorite chicken. And a horse that falls in a hole and breaks its leg. It’s not more exposing than living in a battlefield or a refugee camp, but there are certainly ways that living on a farm leaves me open to a lot more grief and joy than living a more protected city life.

Q. We live in polarized times where everybody wants to cloak their side in the light and cast those on the other side as purveyors of darkness. Is this the way to truth or just to more rancor?

A. We all like to be right, don’t we? If we want to be right, we’ll go to the biggest symbols and totems for rightness we can find – light and sun and God and nation. It’s real hard to be a human being who wants to be right without all those things. So, sure, I think we recruit them for our side and then, if anything, what we’re living through now is the consequences of that. We’re mired in opposition.

Q. You live on a farm and teach at small Piedmont College. Yet this year Time magazine turned its national spotlight on you and your work. Does that feel like being bathed in the light or blinded by the light?

A. Yeah, blinded by the light is a good metaphor. I live here on purpose, I teach at Piedmont on purpose. And as grateful as I am for Time’s (exposure), I like living a human-size life. So I’m happy for the attention and really happy that people have a short attention span.

Want to go?

Barbara Brown Taylor will speak this weekend (Oct. 17-19) at Myers Park Baptist Church, 1900 Queens Road. There's limited space for her $60 Saturday (Oct. 18) workshop on “Lunar Spirituality” (call church phone number below). She’ll also be speaking:

-- Friday (Oct. 17) at 7 p.m. in the sanctuary. Topic: “The Wedding of Heaven and Earth.” Will include a Q&A. Free.

-- Sunday (Oct. 19) at 9:30 a.m. (free) in Heaton Hall and at the 11 a.m. service in the sanctuary. Sermon topic: “The Treasures of Darkness.”

Details:; 704-334-7232, ext. 15.

-- Tim Funk