• Storied Church

255,000 deaths in the US due to Covid-19. Someone’s loved one. Most of us know people who have died or been affected by the coronavirus. And it is devastating.


Devastating would be a good way to describe this year. Compounding upon this is the continued election drama.

We are all stressed and anxious. Those who see the world the way I do and those that don’t. Stressed. Anxious.


Stress and anxiety are no respecters of persons.

If one is happy… the other isn’t. Sounds like my kids…

We now can guess who you voted for president if you wear a mask or not.


And where is God in the midst of this chaos? And where are you?

The lectionary text for the first week of Advent comes from Mark 13. This isn’t the story we read to our children. It doesn’t have the elements of Advent and Christmas.


Jesus is forecasting to the disciples that a time is coming when the temple will be no more. God had a place… and it was the temple. As long as the temple stood… God was and is with us. It was the heart of social, political, and religious life.

God was predictable.

We didn’t have to search too hard for God.

And Jesus was telling his disciples that a time was coming when the temple would be rubble.

Where will God be then? And what does that mean for us?


What an image for a season of life for those of us that attended church in a church building when we no longer could attend.


We, like them, are struggling to perceive a faith absent from the building.


Where is God? Where are you?


Advent is about waiting and expectation. The story begins in Isaiah when Isaiah prophesies to a king that a “child shall be born”. The challenge at that moment is how to defeat the rising enemies. And God’s offer was a vulnerable child… that would come… not now… but later.


God’s answer to impending darkness was vulnerability.

And this child wasn’t born in a castle but in a humble stable out of the view of all with the exception of foreign sages and lowly shepherds.


God came when no one was looking or expected veiled in the darkness of night.

God is mysterious. You can’t pin God down.


John Milton wrote a poem called Comus in the 17th century. For which he said this…

“I see ye visibly, and now believe

That he, the Supreme Good, to whom all things ill

Are but as slavish officers of vengeance,

Would send a glistering guardian, if need were

To keep my life and honour unassailed.

Was I deceived, or did a sable cloud

Turn forth her silver lining on the night?

I did not err; there does a sable cloud

Turn forth her silver lining on the night,

And casts a gleam over this tufted grove.”


The silver lining of the cloud helped us to see that what seems to be pure darkness is never devoid of light or possibility. “Casts a gleam over this tufted grove…”

Where is God? Where are you?

There have been a few times that parishioners have asked, “why don’t we see miracles?”


Maybe it’s that we look in all the wrong places.


Maybe it isn’t in the cosmic event of life that God comes… but maybe in the dark and mundane.

I know that isn’t what we want to hear. We want to hear a dualistic, absolute answer. And there isn’t one.

For me? My silver lining in clouds? They come often in simple ordinary moments.


One of those moments was a few nights ago when I was putting my son Isaac to sleep. This is special because for the last few months he hasn’t let me put him to bed and read him a book. At the end of the book, we clasp our hands together and pray what millions have prayed generations past, “Our Father…” I lay him down. Tuck him in. I make sure he has everything he needs. He likes his water, Olaf, Eyeore, and fan on. I checked all the boxes… said “I love you.” And I walked out of the room. Then he screams. I walk back in and ask him what he needs.


“Daddy you forgot hug and kiss.”

It’s all I needed.


Where is God? Where are you?


Where is the silver lining in the midst of this chaos or what seems like hell?


God is here in these moments breathing life and light into our darkness. Or reminding us, “daddy you forgot hug and kiss.”


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  • Korie Dean

Writer: Korie Dean journalism student at UNC Chapel Hill.


It’s 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, and Louise Shulack and Elaine Berry are ready for church.

In the couple’s Mebane home, Gus, a 72-pound golden retriever, and Toby, a 2-pound fluffy white Maltese, play underfoot as Shulack, wearing a purple polo with a Baltimore Ravens logo on the left chest, logs in to her Zoom account.

They meet up with David Gaddy and pastor Jason Gaskin through the computer screen.

Gaddy, sitting in front of a poster that reads, “Love God. Love people. Nothing else matters,” begins the virtual service with announcements: someone in the congregation is hosting a podcast series on composting, and two Sundays from now, there’s a church-sponsored trip to the local early voting location.

Shulack and Berry unmute their mic and follow with a call to worship, reading from the second chapter of Philippians and centering themselves and those tuning in on Facebook Live on the ideas of humility and joy.


At some churches, a married same-sex couple leading worship might cause jaws to drop or eyes to nervously dart around the room.

But not at Storied Church.

It’s exactly the affirming, inclusive faith community Gaskin prayed for when he founded the church a little over a year ago—a place for people who have been hurt, let down or broken by traditional churches to find joy and heal their wounds.

And it all started with Edward.

***


Gaskin had been the pastor of a small United Methodist church in rural Caswell County for five years when, one Sunday in January 2017 he saw Edward for the first time.

He was sitting alone in a pew on the last row of the sanctuary.

No one knew who he was. The mostly elderly congregation gave its implied welcome with judgmental glances and hushed side chatter.

“There was a real xenophobic reality playing out in that community,” Gaskin said.

When Gaskin invited the worshippers up to the altar to renew their baptism, Edward raised more eyebrows by darting to the front of the line, bypassing the conventional front-to-back flow of the service.

Edward stood at the altar, trembling and shaking as he sobbed inconsolably. Gaskin dipped his thumb in the water and made a cross on Edward’s forehead.

“You are a child of God,” Gaskin told him.

In his 10 years of ministry, Gaskin had never seen such an intense reaction to a renewal of baptism. He was sure that Edward would be embarrassed by his outpouring of emotion and never return.

But he did. And after a few months of attending Sunday services, Edward met with Gaskin at the pastor’s home, which doubled as the church office and a Bible study space.

“Jason, I’m gay,” he said through a steady flow of tears.

Gaskin could see the shame Edward had carried for so long weighing down on him.

“Edward, that’s how God made you,” Gaskin said. “Who you are is so beautiful.”

It was the first time someone at a church told Edward he belonged. But he knew he would never feel comfortable bringing a partner to a service or telling the congregation who he really was—and Gaskin knew it, too.

He dreamed of founding a progressive, affirming church that would openly and willingly accept people like Edward.

He shared his vision with his wife, Kiah, on a walk in their Mebane neighborhood.

“You should share your dream with someone,” she told him.

And he did.

In 2019, with the blessing of the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church’s New Faith Communities initiative, Gaskin began to form a group of like-minded people in the Mebane community who shared his theology of acceptance.

He offered to meet anyone who would listen to him at local coffee shops in Mebane, like Reed’s—where he met Gaddy, and later Berry and Shulack, who were all hurting from past experiences at church, too.

Like Gaskin, Gaddy struggled to reconcile his own beliefs with conservative leadership at the churches where he worked.

He had been a youth pastor in Mebane for close to 8 years, but when his support of a same-sex couple came into question, he knew it was time to find a new community.

Like Edward, Shulack and Berry, who had been a couple for close to 30 years and married for five, never thought they would be accepted at a traditional church because of their sexuality.

No matter how many volunteer trips they went on or lay councils they served on at Berry’s home church in rural Orange County, they always felt out of place.

“Even though most people knew we were a couple, I wasn’t comfortable putting my arm around Elaine and comforting her,” Shulack said.

Using their respective pain and feelings of betrayal as a source of hope for long-awaited healing, the group worked together to bring Gaskin’s vision to life.

They brainstormed a set of shared values, committing themselves to become a community that embraces everyone, realizes the power of doubt and questioning in faith and knows that everyone’s story matters.

It was a markedly different tone from the conservative churches they were surrounded by in Alamance County, and it wasn’t the right fit for everyone.

But for others, it worked.

The church’s Sunday services started with only six or seven people, but soon grew to 20 or 30, forcing them to relocate from a small side room at Reed’s to larger community spaces, such as the historic Woodlawn School in Mebane.

In early March, at their last in-person gathering before the coronavirus pandemic, the one-room schoolhouse was filled with close to 60 people, dressed in coats because the heating system had been dormant all night.


The pandemic would keep them from gathering in person for close to six months, but on that cold Sunday in March, they were already feeling the pain of separation.

Berry got a call a few days prior.

One of her friends, an early supporter of the church, was in a minor traffic accident months prior.

Now, he was on his way to an ICE detention facility in Georgia, where he would be held for the next three months because of his undocumented status.

Leaning on her wife for support, Berry made the painful announcement to the congregation.

And with tears streaming down their faces, they all held hands as they prayed for their friend’s safety and, in the same breath, publicly demanded progressive policy actions.

It was more than Gaskin ever prayed his vision would become.

As he looked around the room and saw everyone who had journeyed with him to this point, he felt a divine presence.

Amid the deep pain they felt, they each found solace and hope in the community that they had built together, driven by their past brokenness.


The healing had begun.

  • Jason Gaskin

The beautiful thing about Storied Church is that we come from eclectic church backgrounds. Some of us come from backgrounds where there is was a high emphasis on the lectionary (the worldwide churches weekly appointed church readings) and the yearly church calendar. While some of us come from a more thematic background with less emphasis on Church high holy days.


We want to take a moment to talk through why a deep appreciation of the Christian yearly calendar matters and that we might find a fondness for it.


It begins the first week of Advent (beginning of December/late November) and culminates with Christ the King Sunday (late November). We are most familiar with the Christmas and Easter seasons.

Each season and holy days have immense value. One of those high holy days is All Saints, which is November 1st. It is the day after Halloween or All Hallows Eve. Most churches celebrate the Sunday after Halloween.


Most of us are familiar with Halloween, which falls the day before All Saints.


Most High Holy church days were pagan celebrations prior to being a Christian celebration. Christmas for example was the celebration of the god of the sun. It was celebrated during the winter solstice. And Easter was the celebration of the goddess of fertility, which was celebrated in the spring.


Many of these holidays had some connection with the seasons.


When Christianity went from a persecuted religion to an empire religion around the 4th century the church began to “replace” pagan high holy days with Christian ones.


Sorry, Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th.


Halloween has a similar story. It comes from a Celtic tradition of Samain. It was a mystical, pagan celebration that ushered in the coming season of darkness as the days got shorter and colder. And it recognized the coming death of the winter when deaths were more prevalent during the colder seasons.


Like Christmas and Easter, All Saints found its home during the pagan season of Samain. It began in the 7th century as a celebration of the lives of early church martyrs. Then later became a celebration of those in our own families and for the ancestors that have gone before us.


So each year the church celebrates those who have passed on from this life to the next.


Various places and cultures celebrate it differently. People in Mexico celebrate the day after All Saints called All Souls day. They make altars to the dead. Celebrating their lives by bringing them their favorite food, drinks, and toys for children.


Typically we name people who have died on All Saints Sunday in our praying of The Great Thanksgiving liturgy because


we believe the meal for which we taste of God’s goodness is the meal that they feast.

In the American tradition, we struggle with mysticism. But we do believe in some way, unexplained, our loved ones who have died… are with us… in a mystical and mysterious way.


And so this Sunday we will carry on this tradition and practice in celebrating the lives that have passed before us and celebrate their place at God’s abundant table.


I hope you will join us virtually on Facebook Live this Sunday @ 10:30a. Here is what we want you to have at the ready to participate.
  1. Bread and juice for communion

  2. A candle and a lighter to light during our online gathering.


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©2020 by Storied Church

PO BOX 1234 | Mebane, NC 27302

A United Methodist congregation.